Maryland baseball is 28-11 roughly two-thirds of the way through the season, with a real chance of breaking program’s regular-season win mark of 36, set in 2014. Maryland is also ranked in every major poll, and is projected to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Terps currently top the Big Ten standings by 2.5 games with just nine games remaining.
After their midweek matchup with James Madison was postponed, the Terps hit the road this weekend to take on a dangerous Indiana team. While Maryland is a gaudy 18-1 at home, that record drops to 6-8 playing at opposing ballparks.
Our baseball beat writers discuss some season-long trends and what to expect this weekend.
Why do you think the Terps have been so successful at home this season?
Andrew: While the games against LSU and North Carolina were on the road, I think it’s more than just the schedule. In fact, coach Szefc was asked about the team’s remarkable home record after this past weekend’s sweep of Michigan State. He said that “We have a veteran group and they make it difficult for people to come in here and play. People don’t want to come in here and play. There are some places that we go to that I don’t want to play at, and I think that this [sic The Bob] is becoming one of those places for our opposing teams.” And of course, there’s the Crumbs factor.
Greg: I do think that the Terps have played some tough games on the road, including single matchups against Louisville and North Carolina, as well as an early series in Baton Rouge and against Nebraska. But I still think that home field advantage is real for John Szefc’s club. For whatever reason, players seem to be confident playing at the friendly confines Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. The club practices here on their off days and has been training out home for weeks before starting the season. It is clear, that this level of comfort with their home confines as helped the Terps win at home this year.
Alex: Just like in Major League Baseball, teams generally have a better home record than away record simply because of the fact that they are more comfortable playing at home. This is true in all professional sports, but baseball in particular. While Maryland’s home schedule hasn’t been as daunting as their road schedule, since they’ve played at LSU, North Carolina, and NC State, they have played some good opponents at home, like Michigan. Above anything, it’s the comfort factor that is making the big difference here, but if the terms want to succeed, they need to turn around their road record before the Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland is getting contributions from up and down the batting order. Which position player has been the most pleasant surprise so far this season?
Andrew: I would say the most pleasant surprise has been AJ Lee. Brandon Gum is an established hitter; Zach Jancarski and Marty Costes showed signs last summer of having breakout years. AJ Lee has gone from from a slash line in 2016 of .179/.271/.241 to .320/.415/.485 this season. Most teams would salivate at the chance to have a player in the lower part of the order that hit this well.
Greg: Zach Jancarski has been a very pleasant surprise at the top of John Szefc’s lineup. He was somewhat overshadowed as a sophomore by then freshman Marty Costes and now graduate coach Anthony Papio in 2016. However, the Terps center fielder has really come into his own since the beginning of this season. At the moment, Jancarski is hitting .340 with and impressive .432 on-base percentage. He’s also stolen a team-high 14 bases thus far and has even added some power to the top of the lineup by collecting 14 extra base hits. He’s hustling on every play and making hard contact even when he gets out. The junior has been my personal surprise this season.
Alex: I agree with Andrew on this one. AJ Lee has really turned the corner for Maryland this season. In 2016, Lee played more of a part-time role, but he hit below the Mendoza Line, and his offensive production in general wasn’t great. However, this season, he’s started in 33 games, and appeared in 37 of the Terps’ 39 games this season. That has allowed Lee to come into his own, as he's currently batting .320 with four home runs and 20 RBI. He is also 10-13 in stolen bases, one of five Maryland players to have stolen more than 10 bases this season. Add on the fact that he has a .415 OBP, and you have a total transformation from part-time player to full-time power house. I would expect Lee to continue to build on his numbers for the rest of the season as he hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down so far.
How do you think the Terps will fare in Bloomington this weekend?
Andrew: The Hoosiers have gone from being a pitching-heavy team last year to a squad that this year bangs out long balls at an amazing rate. They’re a solid team that will most likely make the NCAA tournament, and have recently taken series against Minnesota and Michigan: the latter was at Ann Arbor. That said, the Terps have a decided edge in pitching, and have been stingy giving up home runs. I also think the Terps are more balanced on offense. But the series is in Bloomington, so I think Maryland will take two out of three games.
Greg: Indiana has gone 7-3 in their last ten games, which includes winning a series in Ann Arbor last weekend. Still, even with their strong recent play, the Hoosiers just aren’t on the same talent level as the Terrapins. They do have talented hitters in Matt Lloyd and Luke Miller, but overall Maryland’s lineup is deeper and more dynamic, especially with the way A.J. Lee has been turning over the lineup at the bottom of the order. Indiana’s starting pitching doesn’t come close to matching the Terps trio, which has been pitching to it’s highest level over the past few weeks. Brian Shaffer is all but guarenteed to give the Terps a deep game one start, which will make it tough for the Hoosiers to win even two out of three this weekend.
Alex: The Hoosiers have taken their last two conference weekend series, home against Minnesota and away at Michigan, both of whom are competing at the top of the conference right now. However, Indiana is only 7-6-1 at home, which is an encouraging sign for the Terps, who as mentioned above, aren’t playing well on the road this season. Indiana’s starting pitching hasn’t been overly dominant this season, with their best starter posting a 3-2 record with a 3.62 ERA. Maryland will thrive off of that. It’s the other side of the ball that could be worrisome for the Terps. Indiana has four players who have hit six or more home runs this season, and those same four players have 26 or more RBI this season. Three Hoosiers are batting over .300, and team overall is batting at a .264 clip. Their offense is dangerous and if the Terps pitching can’t contain them, the series will resemble Maryland v. Indiana football last fall. However, I do think that the Terps can easily win the series, but a sweep might be difficult simply because of Maryland’s road woes.