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Maryland baseball: #25 Terps hope to tame #17 Clemson Tigers

Maryland has soared into baseball relevancy after sweeping (then) #11 North Carolina State. The Terps also played Florida State and North Carolina tough. But things won't be easy this weekend as the potent bats of the Clemson Tigers come to Bob "Turtle" Smith stadium.

After last week's sweep of NC State, the Terps have won five straight and stand at 16 - 6 overall. But there's little time for celebration as the Terps take on a ranked opponent for the fourth straight weekend and fifth overall. Coming to town are the #17 Clemson Tigers (15-9), who as a team are batting almost .300. Clemson stands one game ahead of the Terps in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Last year the Terps visited Clemson and took one of three games.

Clemson's season so far

Clemson is 6 - 3 in the ACC, but two of their three series have been against less formidable competition: Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. This past weekend the Tigers did take one of three from Florida State. They managed to do something that few teams have done: knock FSU's ace Luke Weaver around. But are the Tigers for real? Their RPI is a respectable 26 (Maryland is 7) and their SOS is 19 (Maryland is 22). If you take away the series against South Carolina and Florida State the Tigers' record is 14 - 4. However two of those losses came against Eastern Michigan and Western Carolina, schools with RPIs above 100.

Clemson hitting

There's a ton of Clemson batters having exceptional seasons. The first four players in their line-up are hitting above .340, and the hitting doesn't drop off much from there. Clemson has four of the top ten batting averages in the ACC: Tyler Kreiger at .351 leads the way. The Tigers have a sensational freshman in catcher/DH Chris Oakey. (.293 & 27 RBIs). Clemson hits for average and for power. Their slg% is .426, as opposed to Maryland's .346. In addition to Clemson's batting prowess, they also run the base paths well, with stats very close to that of the Terps. All of this has transpired without their most versatile hitter from a year ago, Shane Kennedy, being available until quite recently.

Clemson pitching

The Clemson pitchers have had their struggles. Their combined ERA is 4.61 (Maryland's is 3.06) and opponents are hitting .255 (Maryland's opponents have been held to a .201 batting average). Junior RHP Daniel Gossett is the team's Friday starter, sporting a 2 - 0 record and a 2.50 ERA.  The true surprise has been senior RHP Matt Campbell. He showed some promise last year by recording seven saves, but his ERA was 4.82. This year Campbell has been stellar in the closer role: In twelve appearances spanning 16 innings he has yet to give up an earned run, holding opposing hitters to a .143 average and striking out 25.

Overall assessment

The Clemson bats will be a real test for the Maryland pitching staff.  They are as potent on offense as Florida State. Where they've fallen short is in stopping opposing teams' hitters.  It's imperative that the Terps jump out on top early and force Clemson to use their less than formidable middle innings relievers.

Will good pitching stop good hitting? We're about to find out this weekend.

I had the opportunity to swap three questions with Ryan Kantor from the Clemson SB Nation site, "Shakin the Southland". His answers are below. My answers to his questions can be found here.

1.       It looks like Clemson has one solid starter (Daniel Gossett) and a phenomenal closer (Matt Campbell). After those guys has anybody else been consistently good?

Daniel Gossett has been an absolute ace all season and was at his best last Friday when he shut down the Seminoles and earned a win. Matt Campbell still holds a 0.00 ERA with a .143 opponents batting average, but he has given up some inherited runs. He's a guy who will keep throwing his fastball until someone proves they can hit it. Aside from them, Saturday starter Matthew Crownover is a very good sophomore lefty. He leads the team in wins (4) and sports a solid 3.08 ERA. Clay Bates is a redshirt junior reliever who has been our best set-up man in a mostly shaky bullpen which is likely where Maryland will have to strike. The 6th and 7th innings have been disastrous all season as we scramble to bridge the gap between the starter and closer, Matt Campbell.

2.       How does Shane Kennedy look after returning from a torn ACL?

Shane Kennedy has returned from his pre-season injury and usurped the starting 1B job from the slick fielding Jon McGibbon who was struggling at the plate. Last season, Kennedy played mostly at DH and 3B, but freshman phenom and RBI team leader Chris Okey rotates with Garrett Boulware between C and DH while another freshman, High Point, NC native Weston Wilson, has earned the 3B job with slick defense and a .291 batting average. That necessitated the move to 1B for Kennedy. He's playing a different position so that's something to keep an eye one, but his impact on the lineup is already being felt after just 20 ABs. He has has a .348 OBP and significantly lengthens the lineup down in the seven-hole.

3.       How are the Clemson bats faring against good pitching? I know that you roughed up Luke Weaver from FSU, who's very good.

That's a challenging question due to the small sample size. You make a great reference to Friday's big win over FSU when they roughed up the Seminoles' Friday night starter, Luke Weaver, for six runs. On the flip side, Jameis Winston shut Clemson down across 2.1 IP at the conclusion of the series (which is especially frustrating since he's such a troll). Wake Forest's ace, Jack Fischer held Clemson to three runs over 8 IP, and we only mustered two runs against Jack Wyncoop of South Carolina.

Overall, our hitting has exceeded expectations with a .298 team batting average and 13 home runs. Meanwhile, our pitching has generally been less than advertised posting a 4.61 team ERA as Coach Jack Leggett is still looking for the right combinations for the bullpen and weekday starters.