It’s been a rough past few weeks for a Maryland baseball team that was heading into May playing arguably their best baseball of the season. In fact, in mid-late April the Terps had won seven games in a row and were sitting pretty at the top of the Big Ten standings.
Now, after dropping series to middling teams like Northwestern and Illinois the past few weekends, the Terps have now lost their place as firmly in the NCAA Tournament. Maryland most likely needs a good showing against High Point and in the Big Ten Tournament to earn a postseason berth.
In this roundtable, we tackle some of the biggest Maryland baseball questions entering the final weekend of the regular season.
Maryland’s RPI has dropped to 37th, and the team is struggling as of late. What will it take, at the bare minimum, for the Terps to get a bid to the NCAA tournament over the next two weeks?
Greg: I think that if Maryland wins the series at High Point and then wins a few games in the Big Ten Tournament, then they will be in position to take part in the NCAA Tournament. High Point is a decent team, so beating them on the road will take much less pressure off Maryland next weekend. If the Terps lose the series vs. High Point and then wins only a game or gets swept in the Big Ten tourney, then I believe that Maryland may be on the outside looking in when it comes to postseason play. This weekend will say a lot about how well the Terps have to perform in the conference tournament in order to earn that coveted bid.
Andrew: Take the series at High Point and win one game in the B1G tournament. Our RPI would be around 30, off the bubble and squarely in the NCAA Tournament. If we lose the series at High Point, then Maryland would have to make a deep run in the B1G Tournament.
Alex: First and foremost, the Terps need to sweep High Point. Their road record has been disappointing this season, and a final weekend road series sweep, regardless of the team, will definitely help to boost RPI. Right now, Maryland would have the four seed in the Big Ten Tournament. To get a good seed in the NCAA Tournament, on top of a possible sweep, would be to make it into at least the semifinal of the Big Ten Tournament, which is also not at home, so that could be a problem, but a solid run in the conference tournament and a series win at High Point should be enough to solidify them in the NCAA Tournament.
What’s been the primary reason for Terps’ struggles over the last few weeks?
Greg: I think that the team’s most recent slide has happened for a number of reasons; it really varies from game to game. Sometimes I expect the offense to do more with the talent it has. The bullpen has broken down at times too, in addition to Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm’s inconsistencies throughout the year. However, I’m really concerned about how Maryland has played late in ballgames recently. Ryan Selmer gave up a late homer to Indiana two weekends ago. Then a couple days later, the team had trouble holding off a late rally from Towson in Aberdeen. Just this past Sunday, both Ryan Hill and Andrew Miller surrendered late home runs, which led them to drop the series finale against Illinois. I have been impressed many times with the Terps ability to be resilient and storm back when they get down, but it seems in recent weeks that other clubs have turned the tables a bit. I’ll be interested to see how Maryland plays if these games against High Point are close in the late innings.
Andrew: Teams go through cycles during the season and the Terps are in a bit of a funk right now. There are a number of hitters who have cooled off as of late, which has led to squandering major scoring opportunities. When the team was going good it had plenty of two-out rallies. Recently though, too many runners have been stranded in scoring position with less than two outs. Tyler Blohm is going through the wall that many freshman pitchers experience. Hopefully he can get back on point and pitch like he did earlier in the year. But the biggest reason is that the bullpen has not been as good as it was during the middle part of the season. All of the above problems can be turned around, even at this late point in the season, as the talent on the Terps is too good to continue to play mediocre baseball.
Alex: Looking at it on paper, the Terps got unlucky. You look at games like the series finale against Northwestern, Illinois, and Indiana, where the Terps fell short in winnable games. When you look beyond the surface, however, there have been several things plaguing the Terps over recent weeks. Starting pitching has been ok, but it’s really only been Brian Shaffer who has pitched well out of the three. Blohm and Bloom have both had some rocky starts over the past few weeks. Like I’ve been saying, another problem has been play on the road. They’ve lost their last two road series, both conference series, which has dropped them in the Big Ten standings. The bullpen has been shaky because Szefc has had to rely on them more because the starters aren’t going deep into games. The offense has remained the most stable, but hitters have even had problems as of recently. While they’ve been punished by the big inning defensively, they haven’t been able to generate the same offensively. All of these factors have created a negative domino effect on the team’s performance as of late.
How do you expect Maryland to perform against High Point this weekend? Is there a player in particular that steps up and leads this team in the right direction?
Greg: For all the concern over the Terps recent play, I believe that John Szefc’s club will bounce back on the road over the course of these three games. Like always, beating Brian Shaffer is going to be a tall task for any team, especially one that has only seen a few above average clubs this season. Maryland knows that its hold on their postseason spot is loosening, so I think that they will bring their A game to the field for this series. In terms of a player I’m looking at to take the lead, give me Marty Costes. The sophomore outfielder has been the best all around hitter this season without a doubt and remains the the biggest threat throughout the whole lineup. Yes, A.J. Lee has taken a surprise step forward and Zach Jancarski has been a key producer at the top of the lineup, but Costes has been the man for the Terps this season and he’s a top candidate to post some big numbers just when his team needs him to.
Andrew: Normally this would be a series that Maryland could potentially sweep. But the Terps have had some difficulties on the road this year, so I take nothing for granted. High Point is a team that likes to run the basepaths and manufacture runs. So keeping walks and errors down seems like a recipe for success. In terms of stepping up, Kevin Smith can play a huge role in bringing back the team’s mojo.
Alex: As far as necessities, the Terps need to sweep, no question. As far as my expectations, they should take the series, but due to their road struggles this season, they could lose a game. If we’re looking at impact players for this series, I can point out two: Kevin Smith and Marty Costes. From the Northwestern series last weekend, one thing I saw from Smith was that he was eager to hit a home run on every pitch, and he ended up hitting the bottom half of the ball out of play or swung through the pitch. If he wants to be successful, he needs to wait on his pitch and drive them to the gaps. Changing his approach at the plate is not beneficial for him. As for Costes, he needs to step up as the offensive leader of this team, more so than ever. While he was making good contact against the Wildcats, the Terps are reliant on him to come up big in clutch situations. He needs to get into good hitters counts where he has a greater chance of getting a pitch he can drive out of the ballpark, like what he was doing towards the middle of the season.