If the weather forecast holds, it looks like the Terps will have the chance to play their first Tuesday game of the 2014 baseball season. Maryland travels to Harrisonburg to take on the James Madison Dukes (and isn't their team nickname reason enough to pound them?) in a 4 pm scheduled start.
Madison is 4-4 in the early going having lost 2 of three in their season opening series at East Carolina before starting their home season by pounding the Longwood Lancers 14-7 and splitting four games with Binghamton. Although the season is young, the game shapes up as a contest between opposing strengths. JMU is a run scoring machine averaging nearly seven runs per game compared to Maryland's four. On the other hand, Terrapin pitchers have held their opponents to under four runs per game while James Madison gives up over six. Of course, the comparison isn't entirely fair as the Terps have faced much stiffer competition that the Dukes. Still, let's take a closer look.
When the Dukes are at the plate
Madison gets things started right at the top of their lineup with their leadoff hitter third baseman Ty McFarland. Although he was a solid hitter for the Dukes last season, McFarland appears to have made a leap as he enters his senior year. In 2013, he batted .339 with 4 home runs, 12 doubles, and 42 RBI. Through the first eight games this season, he's batting .379 and has equaled his 2013 home run total. He's also smacked three doubles and is tied for the team lead in RBI with nine.
JMU has four other hitters batting over .300 so the threat doesn't begin and end with McFarland. Centerfielder Kevin Husum, who has occupied the cleanup slot, leads the Dukes with a .429 average. He has three extra base hits and 7 RBI. In the three hole, first baseman Matt Tenaglia is batting .385 with six extra base hits and has also driven in nine runs. Shortstop Kyle Weston and catcher Bobby San Martin round out Madison's quintet of .300 plus hitters.
The pattern of being a team that looks to win by scoring a lot rather than limiting their opponents' run production continues what JMU did in the 2013 season when they finished 25-30 but were 19-12 at home. Last season their offense was even more potent as they scored nearly eight runs a game and whacked 38 round trippers. The Dukes are not aggressive on the bases where they attempt fewer than two stolen bases per game. Still, Jake Drossner, who is making his first start of the season after pitching two-thirds of an inning in last Sunday's 8-5 loss at Florida, will have his hands full. If he falters, Szefc may quickly turn to Alex Robinson or Ben Brewster who have been extremely effective in relief in the early season.
Facing JMU's pitchers
Madison appears to have one quality pitcher on their staff - Chris Huffman. Fortunately, the Terps won't face the Duke's Friday starter and his 2.25 ERA. As of this writing, I have not heard back from JMU's sports information director regarding their starter against Maryland so we'll take a look at a number of possibilities. (Now I have. See the update below.)
JMU has played one Tuesday game when they hosted the Longwood Lancers (I just like writing Longwood Lancers). That day's starter Dylan Horne, didn't last the opening inning and was charged with four runs in just one-third of an inning. This is Horne's only appearance of the season so his ERA is a hyper-inflated 27.00.
If Horne doesn't get another start, the Terps could see Taylor Krugh, who started the second game of Saturday's doubleheader against Binghamton but lasted only three innings. Madison has thrown two other pitchers into a starting role Mark Gunst and Patrick Toohers. Each has started two games for the Dukes but neither has been particularly effective with Gunst working to a 7.00 ERA and Toohers only a marginally better 6.43.
Here's the update
After writing all of this I heard from JMU's media relations. Their starting pitcher will be Aaron Hoover. (And people chide me for not being in the prediction business!). Hoover, a redshirt sophomore, has made three appearances this season. He last pitched on Friday the twenty-first against Binghamton entering the game in relief in the seventh inning. He lasted a third of an inning and was charged with five runs - three of which were earned. He was effective in his two outings at East Carolina ceding only an unearned run in four innings of work over two appearances.
Wrapping it up
I'd expect the Terps to continue to continue to run the bases aggressively. Thus far this season, Madison's opponents have attempted 22 steals and been successful 17 times. That's about a 78 percent success rate for those of you who don't want to click on the calculator button. Maryland is 12-14 on stolen base attempts in their first six games. (That's 86% lazy bones.)
Perhaps, given the general weakness of JMU's pitching, this will be the game when some of the slumping Terrapins break out and regain their confidence at the plate. It's also an opportunity for Anthony Papio, Andrew Amaro, and Kevin Martir to continue to pound the ball and pad their stats.