Big Ten baseball started this past weekend, and Maryland took two out of three from No. 18 Michigan, which entered as the conference’s only ranked team. The Terps also split two midweek road games against UNC-Wilmington. Their 3-2 week moved them to 15-8 this season.
Maryland still isn’t ranked despite winning 14 of 17 games, but the Terps can stay hot this weekend. Their Wednesday visit to Saint Joseph’s has been postponed, but the three-game series at Rutgers is still on, starting Friday.
Our three baseball beat writers discuss what happened and what’s to come.
Which position player and pitcher, respectively, had the most outstanding performance this past week in your eyes?
Andrew: Marty Costes had hits in all five games, including home runs in three of them. All told, he went 10 for 21 this past week. His home run in the first inning of Friday’s game against Oliver Jaskie helped set the tone for the series. While Brian Shaffer had a stud performance on Friday, and Ryan Selmer was clutch in back-to-back ninth inning outings, I have to give the nod to Ryan Hill. Hill pitched in four games this past week, going 6.1 innings without allowing a run and struck out 10. He was vital in the victories against UNCW on Wednesday and on Saturday against Michigan. His four walks Saturday actually matched his total up to that time, but then again, the umpire’s strike zone had as much movement as Hill’s cutter.
Greg: Marty Costes has been the Terps best hitter all season and he continued to show out this past week. He hit three bombs this week to bump up his season total to 5. The sophomore came into the season looking like Maryland’s most explosive hitter and he showed again why that’s the case. Brian Shaffer followed his outstanding outing two weeks ago with another 8 inning performance in the Michigan series opener. Shaffer has clearly separated himself from Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm. This past Friday the junior finished the day with 10 strikeouts, showing true domination of a top 25 team. This should bode well if the Terps play some great offenses in the NCAA Tournament.
Alex: Marty Costes had a great five game stretch, hitting three home runs, driving in five, and recording a hit in each game. However, Kevin Smith had a monster series against UNCW, hitting two home runs in each game, and driving seven, including five in the second game. That’s great news for Smith, who started out the season slower than most expected. Will Watson came up big in the second game of the Michigan series with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, which ended up being the difference in the Terps’ 5-4 win. Don’t count out Brian Shaffer, who pitched eight innings of two-run ball, including 10 strikeouts in Maryland’s 7-2 win in the opening game of the Michigan series. If I had to choose one standout player, I would say Marty Costes, but it was a tough choice at that.
Only one poll (College Baseball Central) even mentioned the Terps this week, as an “also considered.” The Terps received no attention from any other poll. Why do you think that’s so?
Andrew: Because I think the pollsters want to see more than one weekend taking a series against a top-50 RPI team. Also, winning a series on the road. It might take a few weeks before Maryland gets back into the top 25.
Greg: Right now, the Terps have really won the games they should win and lost the contests they were expected. Overall, this amounts to a solid team, which Maryland is, but they haven’t had any “Wow” victories that will make those writers that make those polls turn their heads to recognize John Szefc’s club. It’s going to be difficult to gain that recognition with the Big Ten being a weaker conference. However, if the Terrapins dominate conference play, that should be enough to crack these polls at some point this season.
Alex: As of now, Maryland doesn’t have enough quality wins. Though they beat a ranked Michigan and a top-10 opponent in NC State, the Terps haven’t had a gruesome schedule in terms of toughness yet. They have played five ranked opponents, but they are 3-6 in those games, and two out of the three wins are against Michigan. Also, Maryland is playing in the Big Ten, which isn’t one of the perennial baseball conferences in the nation, so their conference schedule is no where near as strong as average teams in good conferences, like the SEC or ACC.
Maryland started the season going 1-5, and has since won 14 of their last 17 games. Do you think Maryland has turned a corner, or was it simply the result of playing a softer schedule?
Andrew: It wasn’t just the tougher schedule that hurt the Terps early on: they weren’t playing well. In particular, the errors really hurt the team down in Clearwater, and Kevin Smith had a rough start this year. The team has been playing demonstrably better the past few weeks. Smith’s bat has picked up (he’s always been awesome in the field), the Terps are getting contributions from a variety of hitters, and the weekend rotation seems solid. The relief pitching has turned into one of the team’s strengths, and errors in the field have decreased. There’s still too many wild pitches and hit batsmen, but that can be addressed. All of this is to say that, yes, I do think the Terps have turned a corner.
Greg: Well playing an easier schedule certainly helps, but just by watching the team play, it’s clear that the roster is getting better. The bullpen has continually improved throughout the season. Lefty Andrew Miller has been a real pleasant surprise there. Tyler Blohm has also shown some growth as the Sunday starter. Finally, the lineup is the true strength of this team and it’s deep not only with who starts, but also when looking at the type of players coming off the bench. Beating lesser quality opponents can make your team seem a little better than they are, but it beats the alternative, no questions asked.
Alex: While the last 17 games have been easier than the first six, the Terps have started to play more as a team. Maryland’s starting pitchers have done a tremendous job at working into the later innings, and the Terps’ bullpen has greatly improved from the beginning of the year. Andrew Miller has become the standout in the Maryland pen, giving up only two runs over 12.1 innings of work this year, and the starting pitchers, more specifically Brian Shaffer and Tyler Blohm, have sub-2.90 ERAs, and both have given up less than 10 runs overall. The offense has stayed the course, and most importantly, Kevin Smith has come into his own over the past 17 games, including the series against UNC-Wilmington, where he hit four home runs and drive in seven. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that the Terps have turned a corner and are playing much better baseball than at the start of the season.