All eyes in baseball at this point are focused on MLB's Spring Training, but the college game has been underway for over a month, with our MAC schools traveling around the south to play a large portion of their non-conference schedules.
Last year MAC Baseball made news with conference Champion Kent State advancing to the College World Series for the first time after capturing their fourth straight MAC Tournament title. This year, the Golden Flashes were once again picked to win their half of the MAC, and nine of the 12 MAC coaches selected them to win the MAC Tournament again.
MAC play begins this weekend. We're here to get you caught up on how each team is doing, and who some of the key players for each team are heading into conference play. Teams are presented in the order that they were predicted to finish in the preseason MAC Coaches Poll.
I haven't had a chance to see any of these teams play yet, including CMU due to weather, so all I can go on is the stats from the school sites. So don't expect a deep sabremetric look at these teams.
The coaches seem to think that it will be Kent State and everyone else in the East, posting 14 more preseason points than the next closest team. And after Miami there is another 14 point drop off before the bottom four teams. If the hitting ever catches up to it's great pitching Bowling Green could be a dark horse in the East Division.
Kent State (6-11) 72 Preseason Points
Kent State has started the year a little on the slow side just based on their 6-11 record, but they have played a tough non-conference schedule which has caused their team ERA to balloon to 6.17. The hope is that the tough early schedule will help the Flashes in conference play. That has certainly been the case in the past.
Evan Campbell has paced the offense thus far. He is second on the team in batting average at .325, and leads the team in doubles (4) and RBI (13). Alex Miklos leads the team with an .853 OPS and is the team leader in home runs with 2.
Mentioned earlier, the pitching staff has taken a beating in the early going, but that hasn't stopped Taylor Williams from starting 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched. Williams success has come from not allowing base runners, just 35 combined walks and hits entering conference play.
Kent State will begin conference play at Northern Illinois.
Miami (7-10) 58 Preseason Points
Miami has attempted to put together a blend of easy games against some smaller schools, mixed in with a number of games against Big Ten schools. They enter conference play on a down note, after being handled in a two game series against No. 22 Indiana, getting outscored 26-3 in the both games.
Matt Honchel leads the team in OBP and batting average, as well as runs, and stolen bases. He's an excellent fire starter for their lineup. The power comes from the trio of Nate Bowles, Kevin Bower, and Alex Johnson who have combined for 37 of the teams 85 RBI, and 4 of the teams 6 home runs.
The pitching staff has been paced by Brooks Fiala in the early games, he leads the team with a 2-2 record, 3.18 ERA, and has racked up 40 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Miami will open conference play at home against Eastern Michigan.
Bowling Green (4-12) 44 Preseason Points
Bowling Green has struggled mightily in the early portion of the schedule, mainly due to their bats, which come in hitting just .238 as a team, and scoring only 64 runs in the first 16 games. The poor hitting has overshadowed a great pitching staff that comes in with a 3.92 team ERA.
One of the few bright spots in the Falcons lineup has been T.J. Losby, who leads the team in runs, home runs, RBI, slugging, and total bases. In fact, Losby is the only player on the Falcons who has hit a home run this season.
Despite the terrible offense, the pitching staff has been fantastic, featuring four pitchers who have an ERA under 3. Mike Frank comes in with a 2.89 ERA, and leads the team in strikeouts (26) and innings pitched (28) but is 0-3. The Falcons back end of the bullpen has been great, lead by Ethan McKenney (2.03 ERA) and Nick Bruns (2.70 ERA), who have saved two of the teams four wins, with Bruns also leading the team by picking up two wins in relief.
The Falcons start the conference season at home against Western Michigan.
Ohio (3-16) 34 Preseason Points
Oof. Things have been rough for the Bobcats in the non-conference portion of the schedule. They're coming in at 3-16, with the pitching staff being the main problem, coming in with a team ERA of 6.11. Ohio lost seven straight and nine of their last 10 games. Needless to say, they can't wait for conference games to start.
Jake Madsen has lead the offense in hits and total bases, while leading the team with a .338 batting average, 2 home runs, and 13 RBI. Dan Schmidt has also shown the ability to hit with power, chipping in 2 home runs, and 10 RBI.
The Bobcats young pitching staff (two starters are true freshmen) has been, how should we put it, not good. The three pitchers who have pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA lead all have one over 5.00. Brett Barber has been solid in his 18.0 innings, posting a 3.50 ERA and averages more than a strikeout per inning. To give you an idea of how much Ohio pitching has struggled, it's wins leader, Sean Kennedey, has a 7.23 ERA.
Ohio opens its conference season at home against Toledo.
Akron (2-16) 25 Preseason Points
Another team going through a rough non-conference schedule as far as wins and losses go. Akron comes in hitting just .223 as a team, and has scored a grand total of 40 runs in its 18 games. That's not a misprint, 40 runs in 18 games. And the pitching staff hasn't been any better. Add it all up, and it's easy to see how this team is 2-16.
Matt LaRocca has been one of the few (only?) hitters to produce, entering conference play with a .291 average, and leading the team with 2 home runs, and 9 RBI. Nobody else on the team has more than 5 RBI.
The pitching staff has gotten rocked in the early going, to the tune of a 6.53 team ERA. Andrew Fanning has been one of the few bright spots on the staff, posting a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings of work. The pitching staff also isn't going to miss many bats, averaging just 4.07 strikeouts per game. As a team they have walked more batters than they've struck out.
The Zips will travel to Ball State to begin their conference schedule.
Buffalo (10-9) 19 Preseason Points
Would you believe that the team picked to finish last in the East, and next to last overall comes into conference play with the best record in the East? While their quality of opponents hasn't been anything to write home about, they have gotten solid pitching, and terrific hitting to start the year.
Jason Kanzler has been dynamic for the Bulls offense, hitting .354, and leads the team in runs scored (17), home runs (5) and RBI (23). He comes in with a 1.040 OPS. That's pretty good. The Bulls last year were a team that tried to slug their way to wins, and that seems to be the case this year, having hit 12 home runs as a team.
The big question mark the Bulls is the pitching staff. Against a fairly easy non-conference schedule they held their own, posting a 4.19 team ERA. The trio of Cory Folk, Anthony Magovney, and Mike Burke come in a combined 7-3. There are no real standouts on the pitching staff, but nobody lagging behind, with the highest ERA on the team at 5.40.
Buffalo hosts Central Michigan in their conference opening series.
The west is a three team race between CMU, Toledo, and Eastern Michigan, with those three teams separated by just 11 points in the coaches poll. After those top three, it's a steep drop-off to the rest of the division. It should be a season long battle between the top three to see who claims the West Division crown.
Central Michigan (9-10) 65 Preseason Points
Central Michigan has started to heat up as conference play opens, going 6-2 in their last eight games. The Chippewas feature a front heavy lineup, and two standout starting pitchers that have carried the team after a slow 3-8 start to the season. Last season the Chippewas advanced to the MAC Tournament final before falling to Kent State.
The CMU offense has been paced by the Regnier duo who come in 1-2 on the team in batting average and hits. Nick Regnier leads the team in batting average at .333 as well as lead the team in home runs and RBI with 3 and 16. He's also second on the team with 8 steals. Logan Regnier is just behind at .329, and while he doesn't have a home run, still has 11 RBI and leads the team with 12 stolen bases. Neal Jacobs has also been solid, posting 3 home runs, and 12 RBI.
The pitching staff is lead by the terrific duo of Jordan Foley, and Rick Dodridge. Foley entering conference play is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA, just 34 base runners in 33.1 innings, and a team best 33 strikeouts. Dodridge is only 1-3, but has a 2.60 ERA in 27.2 innings. The bullpen is anchored by Matt Trowbridge, who has already saved 4 games, and struck out 25 in just 16 innings.
CMU travels to Buffalo for it's opening series.
Toledo (7-11) 60 Preseason Points
Toledo has gotten it done with the bats in the early going. Despite hitting just 3 home runs as a team, they have posted a terrific .293 team batting average. The pitching staff has lagged behind a bit, with a team ERA of 5.01, and nobody on the team posting an ERA lower than 3.79.
Tyler Grogg has been tearing up the bases for the Rockets. In 13 games he is hitting .490, leads the team with 17 runs scored, and also leads the team with 11 stolen bases. Matt Delewski has hit .370 and is tied for the team lead with 14 RBI. James Miglin has been the power supplier for Toledo, leading the team in doubles, home runs, and tying for the team lead in RBI.
The Rockets pitching staff to this point has been very balanced, with six different pitchers accounting for the teams 7 wins. Alec Schmenk leads the team with 2 wins, but of all the pitchers with a win, he is last in ERA. Cameron Palmer leads with a 3.79 ERA and despite pitching only 19 innings, leads the team with 22 strikeouts.
Toledo is on the road at Ohio for it's opening series.
Eastern Michigan (9-10) 54 Preseason Points
The Eagles are another team that is going to try to win games by hitting the ball all over the yard, posting 11 team home runs so far. The pitching staff has struggled a bit, posting a team ERA of 5.15. The pitching staff and lineup mirror each other in that they are a handful of players in each who are playing very well, and the rest of the team is struggling.
The top 3 hitters in the Eagles lineup are all hitting over .300 and have combined for 5 home runs, and 41 RBI. Jamie Simpson leads the team with 3 home runs, while Sam Ott paces the team with 15 RBI, as well as a team best .364 average, and 16 runs scored.
The pitching staff has been a mixed bag for the Eagles, with 5 of the 10 pitchers posting an ERA under 4.00, but the other 5 all posting an ERA over 5.00. Paul Schaak comes in at 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA and a team best 21 strikeouts in 18.1 innings. Neil Butara leads the team with 2 wins, and 32.0 innings pitched. Joe Battistelli has saved 3 games for Eastern, but has an ERA approaching 6.00.
Eastern is on the road at Miami.
Western Michigan (4-15) 36 Preseason Points
Remember what I said earlier about Akron? You could almost copy that entire recap and have Western Michigan covered. The hitting has been almost non-existent, to the tune of a .221 team average and just 1 home run on the season. While the pitching hasn't been quite as bad as Akron's, it hasn't been good either. Opponents are hitting .302 off Bronco pitching, leading to a team ERA of 5.84.
Andrew Sohn is the team leader in nearly every category: runs with 7, home runs with 1, and RBI with 8. Theo Piccirilli has hit .329, but with minimal impact. Just one extra base hit, and only 5 RBI, but those 5 RBI are tied for second on the team. As a team, the Broncos have score just 48 runs in their 19 games. Again, this is approaching Akron bad in terms of runs scored.
Western actually has two pitchers who have been great for them this season in Mike Moyer and Patrick Borlick. Both feature an ERA under 2. Moyer has 2 wins, leads the team innings pitched, and in strikeouts. Borlick has a 1.90 ERA and pitches more to contact, striking out just 8 in his 23.1 innings. The problem for the pitching staff has been the bullpen and the fourth starter. Western has nine (9!) pitchers with an ERA at 6.75 or higher. If the Broncos are going to have any conference success, they'll need bullpen help, and fast.
Ball State (10-8) 23 Preseason Points
Another team like Buffalo that has benefited from playing a fairly easy non-conference schedule. The Cardinals have been pretty balanced to this point, with a team ERA at 4.07, and a .261 team batting average. Expect both numbers to regress once conference games begin.
Sean Godfrey has been the spark at the top of the lineup, leading the team in runs scored with 16, tying for the team lead with 8 extra base hits, and posting a team best eight stolen bases. The rest of the lineup has been fairly balanced, and features four players in double figures for RBI, led by Billy Wellman with 14. T.J. Weir leads the team with 2 home runs.
The pitching staff has been led by Scott Baker, who has been outstanding posting a perfect 5-0 record to go with his 1.74 ERA in 31.0 innings. Baker also leads the staff with 34 strikeouts. Chris Marangon has also pitched well for the Cardinals, he's 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA and a team leading 32.1 innings pitched. Ball State will look for more starting depth as conference starts with 3 pitchers who have combined for 6 starts all posting ERA's over 5.70.
Ball State hosts Akron in opening weekend action.
Northern Illinois (4-15) 15 Preseason Points
The team picked to finish last in the MAC overall has lived up to its preseason billing, struggling at the plate, and on the mound. While not quite Akron and Western Michigan bad at the plate, they have hit only .230, and scored 59 runs. The pitching hasn't helped, posting a 5.72 ERA and giving up 14 home runs already.
The Huskies offense features only one regular hitting over .300, Tommy Hook at .310, but he has posted only 42 at bats. Jeff Zimmerman is tied for the team lead with 8 RBI. Jamison Wells is tied for the team lead with 8 runs scored, and a team best 6 stolen bases. As a team, NIU has just 26 extra base hits through the first 19 games.
The starting pitching for the Huskies actually has been very solid. The trio of Alex Klonowski, Jordan Ruckman, and Eli Anderson have started 15 of the teams 19 games. All three have an ERA below 4.15. Klonowski leads the team with 21 strikeouts, and 36 innings pitched. The Huskies problem has been pitching depth, every other pitcher on the team has an ERA over 4.75.
NIU hosts conference favorite Kent State in it's opening series.
PHEW! Well there it is, your MAC Baseball conference primer. I'll be doing my best to keep you all updated as the season goes along, hopefully every Monday, all leading up to the MAC Tournament beginning in May.
All Photos are Courtesy of cmuchippewas.com