It’s been a good week for Maryland baseball. After trailing 1-0 in the ninth against Penn State. Then the Terps hit back-to-back homers to walk off, and they outscored the Nittany Lions 23-5 in the next two games. They followed that up by shutting out William & Mary on Wednesday in what was their easiest midweek victory of the season.
The Terps now sit at 25-11 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten, with a weekend home series coming up against Michigan State (20-13, 5-4). Our baseball beat writers are here to discuss all the latest news.
Which player’s performance stood out the most to you in the series against Penn State?
Andrew: That’s a tough one because it seemed that everybody contributed. I’ll go with A.J. Lee, as his bat has really picked up to the point where he could legitimately hit .300 on the year. To have an eight or nine hole hitter that can hit and also has a bit of pop in their bat is a luxury most teams don’t have. It also seems like the fielder we expected him to be has materialized.
Greg: While A.J. Lee and Marty Costes certainly had the flashiest performances of the series, I was happy to see Nick Dunn get back on track last weekend. The Terps second baseman had been slumping for a few weeks, which was not a small concern considering how good the sophomore was in 2016. John Szefc decided to shake things up by sliding Dunn into the cleanup spot and moving Brandon Gum up to the two hole. This changed seemed to have jumpstarted Dunn, as the second baseman went 4-7 over the last two games of the series. Dunn seemed like his old self hitting the ball the other way and just looking a lot more comfortable at the plate. If Maryland get can Dunn back to performing how he did when he was a freshman, this Terps offense is going to be even more of a force to be reckoned with.
Alex: If we’re looking at individual one-game performances, A.J. Lee, Marty Costes, and Will Watson had some great individual games over the weekend. However, I’m gonna give it to Brian Shaffer, who in the first game of the series, pitched 8 1⁄3 innings of one-run ball, while striking out 11 Penn State batters. The Maryland offense on Friday only had hits in the first and ninth innings, and only got production from two players, Zach Jancarski and Brandon Gum. Other than that, Shaffer was the lone Maryland player who kept the Terps in the game. He commanded the strike zone, with a strike to ball ratio of over 2-1. Maryland doesn’t win Friday’s game if Shaffer doesn’t have the stellar pitching performance he did, and in reality, Maryland might not have won the series bc Friday’s walk-off win was a spark plug for the Terps over the weekend.
Four Maryland relievers teamed up to shut out William & Mary on Wednesday. Given the Terps’ struggles finding midweek starters this season, is this something you think they’ll keep up, or was it simply due to the circumstances?
Andrew: There is an abundance of available arms: Selmer, Miller, Hill, Rescigno, Wade, Price, Murphy, and Stiles. I think the Terps can get away with using the committee approach in midweek games. The problem is that in tournament play you really need a fourth starter, even if it’s for five innings. There’s always the possibility that a weekend starter has a short outing, and then you’ll end up stretching your bullpen. Plus if you lose a game, then you could wind up playing four games in four days. That’s why I believe it behooves the Terps to give Parsons and maybe Murphy another shot at a midweek start.
Greg: This was really the first time this season that Maryland got a good starting pitching performance this season, even though Ryan Hill only went three innings. This strategy seems like a reasonable one for the time being, the only potential problem is that the bullpen may not be as crisp over the weekend, especially if the likes of Brian Shaffer, Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm have a short outing (more Bloom and Blohm...obviously). What will Maryland do when they have multiple midweek games or if the bullpen has been used excessively over the weekend? I would argue that taking the weekend series is more important than midweek contests, but Szefc looks like he may just take his chances and see how long his starters can hold up in order to save his bullpen for the conference schedule. The good news is that the Maryland bullpen is deeper than expected, which helps when Maryland is in this type of pitching situation.
Alex: This is exactly what I talked about in last week’s roundtable. Let the bullpen split time during weekday games and have the weekend starters only pitch during the weekend. If Szefc wants to do what he previously did this season by having Parsons start weekday games, he can do that, but now, he’s seen that the Maryland bullpen is now more than capable of pitching the weekday games. I feel like this success can stay if Szefc chooses to use the process. However, if he reverts back to his former ways, the Terps will definitely continue to have trouble during the midweek games.
What will you be looking for in this weekend’s matchup with Michigan State?
Andrew: The Spartans started the season off hot, but have cooled considerably since then. Right now they’re not in the discussion for an NCAA berth, but taking this weekend’s series could move them onto the bubble. What sticks out about the Spartans is their 0-8 record against top 100 RPI teams. Look for an exciting pitcher’s duel Friday night, with Brian Shaffer going up against Alex Troop. Michigan State’s starting pitching falls off after that. The Spartan’s most dangerous hitter is outfielder Brandon Hughes, who leads the team in a number of categories. Michigan State also has proven hitters like Dan Chmielewski, Marty Bechina, and Dan Durkin. It should be a tight series.
Greg: Michigan State is not the class of the Big Ten. They are more in the middle ground unlike the group that includes Maryland , Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska. However, the Spartans do pose a challenge for the Maryland pitching staff. Outfielder Brandon Hughes leads the Michigan State lineup that has multiple hitters with batting averages in the .290’s. In addition, three different Spartan hitters have six home runs this college baseball season. Where Michigan State falls off is after ace Alex Troop in the starting rotation. This means that I’ll be looking towards Friday in terms of how this series plays out. Last Friday, the Maryland offense was stymied by top Penn State starter Sal Biasi. If the Terps are hoping to make a dent come the NCAA tournament, they have to be able to produce against quality starting pitching. This is why I’ll have my eye on how well the Maryland hitters perform on Friday because it could give a glimpse about how well the team will play a month from now.
Alex: Maryland has one of the best home records in the country. Currently, they have a 15-1 record at home, so just from that, they shouldn’t have a problem against a faltering Michigan St. team who isn’t a threat to the Big Ten. The Terps are also 9-3 in the conference, so they should easily take the weekend series against the Spartans. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sweep the weekend series. Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has a head-to-head record of 2-1 against Michigan St. The Spartans are 20-13 overall, but they are .500 in the conference and are winless against ranked teams. Looking at their starting rotation, after Alex Troop, the Spartans are a question for who they will have pitch. While their offense has been a big help for them this season, as three players have six home runs, and a good majority of the team are flirting with averages around .300, if they don’t have a solidified weekend pitching staff, they will have big problems. The conference matchup will be tough, but like I said, Maryland has dominated at home this season, so expect that to continue this weekend.