After going a disappointing 1-2 to start the season last weekend. Maryland baseball is set to take on the No. 5 LSU Tigers. The Terps’ next opponent has won four of five to start their 2017 campaign, and will be trotting out a team that is expected to take two of three of this weekend’s series at the very least.
Maryland fell out of D1Baseball’s top 25 after a 1-2 showing at the Clearwater Tournament to start the season, while LSU its one of the best teams in the nation, coming in at 4-1. Here are a few key points to take note of in the Terps first three-game series of the year.
Maryland’s offense is off to a hot start
Manager John Szefc got some great offensive production from the players you would expect. Sophomore Nick Dunn picked up right where he left off as a freshman. The second baseman went 5-14 in his first three contests, and added a home run against a very solid Louisville ballclub. The 5’10’, 175-pound infielder hit only one home run during the entire 2016 season. Another sophomore with high expectations, Marty Costes, also hit .500 over last weekend, with one of those coming in the form of a triple. However, while both of these hitters were supposed to be reliable middle of the order hitters for Szefc, there were some pleasant surprises to open the season.
Transfer Brandon Gum, A.J. Lee and backup catcher Dan Maynard all had their moments with the bat, which would make the Terps lineup that much scarier. Kevin Smith did not start his junior campaign off well, striking out a rather stunning seven times in a matter of 13 at bats. Still, Szefc said on Tuesday after practice that he was pleased with the team’s performance.
“I thought it was pretty good in general,” said Szefc. “What we work on is getting guys on base. On-base percentage is the biggest number that we’ll normally look at, and strikeout-walk ratio.”
Overall, scoring 19 runs in three games was a great way to start off the year for Maryland’s offense.
The Bullpen poses a major concern
For the most part, the Terps’ starters did well to open up 2017. It was encouraging to see freshman Tyler Blohm was up to the occasion after falling behind early. What wasn’t encouraging was the way many of the team’s relievers fared. Prospective closer Mike Rescigno didn’t get an out after surrendering four runs in his first appearance. Taylor Stiles struggled through his two-thirds inning, giving up three earned runs. Ryan Hill also allowed two runs of his own in just a third of an inning. These three pitchers are expected to play large roles in the Maryland bullpen, and Szefc will need them to get more comfortable as the year wears on.
“Regardless whether a guy had a lot of success or not, we have to keep running our guys out there,” he said. “Whether it be out of the bullpen or as a starter. We need to keep getting them more experience, whether they’re young or older. The bottom line is that we have to get everyone of those guys kind of confident and feeling good about themselves. For some it may take three outings, for others it may take four.”
On a positive note, Ryan Selmer was excellent in his three innnings of relief, as were Andrew Miller and Jared Price. It’ll be interesting to see you Szefc will turn to if the Terps have a chance to close out a tight win in Baton Rouge.
LSU’s starters are going very good
The Tigers’ first two games of the season demonstrated just how good their starting pitching is. Right-hander Alex Lange pitched five scoreless innings, striking out six in the team’s opening game vs. Army. The 6’3’ hurler has a tremendous reputation in scouting circles. He’s ranked as the seventh-best college prospect by Baseball America and the 10th-best on MLB Pipeline’s preseason rankings.
Senior Jared Poché is the second half of LSU’s dynamic starting pitching duo. The right-hander was selected in the 14th round of the MLB Draft last June, but opted to return to school, probably much to the delight of manager Paul Mainieri. Poché was even more impressive than Lange in his first outing of the season, as he threw a no-hitter in the team’s seven-inning affair against Army. He doesn’t have quite the dominant pure stuff Lange possesses, but he’s experienced and reliable for the SEC juggernaut. The Terps have tall tasks ahead of them on Friday and Saturday.
The Tigers lineup will pose a problem as well, especially if the Terps defense doesn’t come around
It’s to be expected that a top-five team is going to have a bevy of offensive talent. Led by upperclassman outfielder Greg Deichmann, shortstop Kramer Robertson and second baseman Cole Freeman. Deichmann, a junior, is the team’s primary power hitter, hitting double digit dingers in 2016. Robertson and Freeman are the on-base guys, each posting plus .400 on-base percentages by the end of last season.
LSU also has a solid player behind the plate in Mike Papierski. The junior catcher doesn’t post outstanding offensive numbers, but he is a veteran who has a relationship with both of the club’s top hurlers.
This is an offense that puts pressure on pitchers and defenses by getting runners on-base and keeping them moving. Three different Tigers had double-digit steals in 2016, and a deep lineup makes handling their offensive activity that much tougher.
The Terps defense must step up its game after the team committed six errors during the first weekend of 2017 season, three of which came from new third baseman A.J. Lee. Improving in the field is a key for Szefc entering this coming three-game series.
“If your not pitching well and playing clean defense, you will rarely have a chance to win,” said Szefc. “So that’s really where it starts. You can talk all you want about driving runs in and getting on-base, along with stealing bases. At the end of the day you have to pitch and play clean defense in order to be in the game against the kind of schedule we play.”
Keep an eye on Maryland’s defense. It may be the difference between a series win or a sweep.
Friday, February 24 (8 p.m.): Brian Shaffer vs. Alex Lange
Saturday, February 25 (3 p.m.): Taylor Bloom vs. Jared Poché
Sunday, February 26 (11 a.m.): Tyler Blohm vs. Eric Walker