The Maryland baseball team suffered a rough defeat on a walk-off homer in the series finale against Illinois, but the Terps got back on track Tuesday afternoon thanks to a stellar outing from Tayler Stiles, who was making just his second start on the year.
However, even with the Terps taking down UMBC, there are still questions about just how well the Terps will play when they take on better teams come the NCAA Tournament.
With a very important series coming up this weekend against Northwestern, our trio of beat writers offers opinions on what the Terps will have to show in these last few weeks in order to increase confidence in Maryland’s chances come the NCAA tournament. We ask that and more in this week’s baseball roundtable.
Do you think that the Terps are designed to flourish in the NCAA Tournament? What aspect of the team are you specifically looking at over these final two weeks that will be a good indicator about how well the Terps will play come June?
Greg: I do the think that the Terps have some elements of a successful postseason ballclub. We have a legit ace in Brian Shaffer and an offense that put up crooked numbers at any moment. However, while the offense has carried the team at many points this season and the bullpen has improved significantly, I’m still a fervent believer that the play of Tyler Blohm and Taylor Bloom are the key to Maryland’s NCAA Tournament outlook. We all have confidence that Brian Shaffer will deliver the Terps a solid outing against pretty much any opponent, but the other two hurlers in the weekend rotation have remained inconsistent. The freshman Blohm has looked masterful at times, especially at home, but has also had to grind through some starts where he didn’t seem to have control over his stuff. Bloom is not even close to the pitcher that he was in 2016, even though he has performed slightly better in recent weeks. Starting pitching is so crucial in the tournament, if both Blohm and Bloom can ride a positive wave in May, it would make me feel much better about Maryland’s chances.
Andrew: The team can do well in the NCAA Tournament if a couple of things happen. Marty Costes is still batting well but his he’s been stuck on nine home runs for awhile. The Terps could certainly use a return of him going yard. Second, mistakes like catcher’s interference have been hurting Maryland. This has to be rectified. Finally, the Terps need to take care of things on the road. There’s one more road series left, against a competitive High Point team. I think how the Terps do in that series will be a good indicator of whether they can go deep into June.
Alex: I think that Maryland’s team is well-equipped for a postseason run. They have a potent offense, with Marty Costes and Kevin Smith leading the way. Starting pitching has been stellar for the Terps this year, especially Brian Shaffer and Tyler Blohm. Most importantly, the back end of the bullpen has been close to lights out, with guys like Andrew Miller and Ryan Selmer, who have been relied upon for the majority of the season. However, the one down side to a deep postseason run for the Terps, and this might sound stupid, but they’ve performed poorly away from home this season, which is incredibly alarming for a perennial top-25 team. If they are unable to keep the hot streak they’ve had at home on the road during regionals and beyond, then they won’t be going that far. As for the last two weeks of the season, I want to see how the Terps fare in their last road weekend series against High Point. If they can win or sweep the series, then my opinion of their chances in the postseason will definitely change.
With so many relievers pitching well as of late, which one would you most trust with the game on the line?
Greg: For me, if I need an out late in a close ballgame, I’m going with Ryan Selmer. Yes, Andrew Miller has come seemingly out of nowhere to be stellar reliever for the most part this season, but Selmer proved last week against Towson that he has the guts to bear down with a game falling apart. To take you back, Selmer came into a close contest in the ninth inning and had seemed to have gotten the final out, but the runner was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. In the next at bat, there was some miscommunication from Kevin Smith and Nick Dunn to load the bases. However, unfazed the tall right handed senior struck out the final batter of the game to nail down the win. These are the moments that make me comfortable moving forward to ride with Selmer when the team needs a big out. The recent play of Jamal Wade, Jared Price John Murphy among others give me much more confidence in the unit then I had at the beginning of the season, but there was a reason that the coaches frequently look to Selmer to close out ballgames.
Andrew: Ryan Selmer has the experience and success that makes me think he’ll remain the team’s closer. He also has pitched in the NCAA Tournament before. Ignoring one pitch in last Sunday’s game, Andrew Miller has been dominant; I’d like to see him used more in tight ballgames.
Alex: I agree with my colleagues by saying Ryan Selmer. He has the experience level a reliever needs and he pitches well in the clutch. Elmer has thrown the most innings of any Maryland reliever this season, so that should definitely say something about the trust level that the coaching staff has in Selmer to close the door at the end of a game. I’m also throwing in Andrew Miller as a close second. He’s arguably been the best reliever for the Terps this season, with a 1.47 ERA and 19 appearances thus far, good enough for second-most on the team. Like his twin with the same name for the Indians, he’s become a dangerous left-handed arm that has come in handy in close games this season, excluding Sunday’s outing.
What do you make of the recent lineup change that moves A.J. Lee up to sixth and pushes Kevin Smith and Madison Nickens down to the eighth and ninth spots, respectively?
Greg: It was an interesting decision at first considering how well A.J. Lee is swinging the bat, and that it was nice to have the kind of hitter turn the lineup over to the big guns at the top of the order. But, I’m actually a fan of this switch up. Being moved up in the order allows Lee to get more RBI opportunities, which he absolutely deserves considering the numbers he is putting up this season. At the moment, the Terps third baseman is hitting .313 with six home runs. However, I don’t think you need the stats to tell you just how well he’s playing right now. Just by watching him, you can clearly see how comfortable Lee is at the plate. This allows him to use his smooth swing to mash pitches that are in the zone and drive in runs. Plus, I think that having Kevin Smith at the bottom of the order gives the Terps a power threat that not many teams have batting in that position in the lineup.
Andrew: Nickens had been in a slump while Lee had been hot, so I think that predicated the line-up change. I liked the previous order where Lee was batting ninth. It potentially gave a string of Lee, Jancarski, and Gum at bat. I also find it interesting that Danny Maynard is getting quite a few more starts. He’s been sensational as a pinch hitter, but it’s time to find out if he can produce on a day-to-day basis. But the biggest problem has not been the hitting order, but strikeouts and grounding into double plays. There have been too many missed opportunities because of that.
Alex: I don’t know how I feel about moving Kevin Smith so far down in the lineup. He’s been the second-most productive hitter for the Terps this year, so having him bat clean-up or third in the lineup would make more sense for me, so that you can have Smith and Costes bat back-to-back. Moving Nickens down to the bottom of the lineup was a smart choice. He’s been in a hitting slump as of recently, so this allows him to refine his hitting before the postseason starts. As for AJ Lee, I think moving him up to sixth was also a good idea. He has really come around in the past few series as a dangerous hitter. Having him bat sixth allows for power towards the end of the lineup. A balanced lineup is key for a CWS contender like Maryland might be this season, without trying to jinx anything.