The Terps started last week with an 11-4 record and ranked No. 14 by D1Baseball. One outrageous week later the Terps are 17-4, riding a 10-game win streak, and moving up to No. 11 in D1Baseball's poll. This represents the highest ranking Maryland baseball has ever received. The Terps are now two wins shy of tying their all-time consecutive wins record of 12, set back in 2002. At that time Matt Swope, current Director of Baseball Operations, led the team with a gaudy .368 batting average.
Terps are made of B1G stuff
This past weekend Maryland played it's first ever series in the B1G. The Terps swept Minnesota by scores of 5-1, 12-9, and 8-3. Although Minnesota is not a powerhouse this year, they do have a respectable squad that drew praises from the Terps. Mike Shawaryn said that "You had to be very careful when pitching to them (Minnesota), as they could hit pitches a few inches above the knees". Matt Fiedler and Dan Motl were particularly tough outs, and combined they scored eight of Minnesota's 13 runs. (Incidentally, at 5-0 this season, Shawaryn's 16 career wins moves him up to #5 all-time for career wins at Maryland.)
Different ball, different game?
There's no doubt that the low-seam baseball has resulted in more home runs. The Terps have already eclipsed last year's entire output, and are on a pace to have four players reach double digits in that category. But the low seam baseball doesn't totally account for the Terps' power surge. A good deal of credit has to go to the players' plate discipline, as well as hitting to all fields. Jose Cuas said that he was "Trying to sit back as much as possible. When I struggle I tend to pull off, and open my front shoulder. I'm working on staying close and driving balls the other way."
Relievers getting it done B1G time
While the starting pitching (other than Shawaryn) has unexpectedly struggled this season, the bullpen has been lights out. In this past week's six games the Maryland relief pitchers gave up a total of six runs in 29 innings, an era of 1.86. At one point the Terps' relievers had thrown 13 straight scoreless innings. It's not just one individual either, but an array of arms that have baffled opponents and kept the Terps in games.
But... there is a fly in the ointment. The Terps have consistently found themselves trailing by three or more runs early this season. Maryland has found a way to win most of these games, the most amazing being Saturday's game: the Terps trailed 7-0 after two innings and ended up winning that game 12-9. But that's a trend that's unlikely to continue when the Terps meet the upper echelon of the B1G. If Maryland can get its starting pitching straightened out, and with Mooney now 100% healthy, the Terps have a legitimate shot of reaching Omaha.
One for the records
At the start of the season junior Kevin Mooney sat at 22 career saves, one shy of the mark set by all-time leader and MLB All-Star Brett Cecil. When Mooney got his 23rd save opening weekend against Old Dominion, it seemed like it would be a matter of days until he surpassed Cecil. However, a back injury and Maryland's potent bats left Mooney standing at 23 saves for weeks. Mooney's chance came Saturday evening with the Terps holding onto a 12-9 win. He made the most of the opportunity, hurling 1.2 scoreless innings for his record-breaking 24th save. Right after the game's final out, Mooney raised both arms skyward in gratitude for all his accomplishments.
Mooney's curve ball was wicked in his two appearances this past week. He felt comfortable throwing it on any count, including a batter's first pitch. Couple that with a 94 mph fastball, and Mooney could reach 30 saves all-time sometime this season. Curiously enough, Mooney is one pitcher who likes the new low-seam baseball. Mooney told me that the lower seam ball "Just has a better feel to it...Now with the new seams it just seems that the ball feels more fluid coming out of my hand." And that spells trouble for the Terps' opponents.