The first weekend of conference play is in the books. Akron surprised Toledo in the first two games, Miami dominated in their series and two of the series had games canceled.
It was a disjointed weekend, with no games played on Saturday. The Midwest in early March is a cold and wet place. The coming weekend looks warmer, but not drier.
There were great pitching performances all across the MAC, helped out by the weather and shortened games. There were at least four complete games and the walks were under control for the first time this season.
The normal weekend layout is a nine-inning game on Friday, two sevens on Saturday and a nine-inning game on Sunday. No series met that schedule this go-around.
Some series played doubleheaders on Friday and Sunday, others went Sunday and Monday and two series only played two games on Friday. Akron and Toledo played on Friday and Monday. With fewer innings and rest days, the bullpens weren’t as stressed as they usually are.
No plans are made for the rescheduled games as of today, but the games will be attempted to be made up. No one wants seeding in the conference tournament, or who makes the tournament, to hinge on the schedule being unbalanced.
Scoring decreased sharply: Weather, even matchups and not going deep into bullpens
Last weekend was insane for power hitting and the MAC as a whole averaged 5.8 runs per game. This weekend, the MAC average decreased 1.1 runs per game to 4.7. In one fewer game, they totaled 45 fewer runs.
There are a few reasons for this. Cold weather is bad for runs, and at least one game was played while snow was falling. Even if the weather didn’t cancel games, some games were moved to seven innings and all but one series had a day off in the middle. Bullpens were rested and they didn’t have to pitch as many innings.
The teams are all around the same true talent level as well. In the non-conference season, the teams and their opponents can be all over the place, and the teams likely have more data on conference opponents.
Miami, so hot right now
Miami had the best combined offensive and defensive weekend in the MAC. They played Bowling Green and hit 0.398 this weekend. That’s crazy. Team batting averages are usually underwhelming, with the MAC average currently sitting at 0.252. A team hitting 0.398 included in that number is unbelievably hot. The Redhawks had an OPS of 1.103 and scored 40 runs in four games.
Their pitchers allowed seven runs. That’s it. And only five were earned. The Falcons were held to a 0.170 batting average and struck out 34 times.
The RedHawks played like a team that’s going to make some noise in the conference and challenge at the top. It wasn’t so long ago they were doing just that.
“Of The Weeks”
Hitter of the Week: Matt Kirk, Eastern Michigan, Left Field
Matt Kirk had a great weekend in Muncie. He had seven hits in 13 at-bats, drove in four, scored four times, hit three doubles, two home runs, drew two walks and got on base via hit-by-pitch.
The Ball State pitchers could not get him out, especially in game three. He hit a home run in the first inning and another in the fifth to drive in three of the four runs the Eagles scored in the game.
Later that day in game four, he hit two doubles and reached base on four of five plate appearances. Without Kirk in the lineup, the Eagles get swept.
Best Start of the Week: Richie Dell, Kent State
It was a good week for pitching performances but the best this week was Richie Dell. He took the hill in game one against Central Michigan and pitched a complete game shutout.
He only allowed two hits and one walk while striking out eight. At one point he had retired 10 in a row and never allowed more than one batter to reach base in an inning. Dell was never in trouble.
After two tough starts against Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech, Dell has cruised. He has allowed one run, a WHIP of 0.69, and struck out 15 in 13 innings. Dell is on fire right now.
Reliever of the Week: Sam Klein, Ball State
Sam Klein’s stat line is pretty quiet, but for a reliever, that’s a good thing. He appeared in three games, which is rare enough for one weekend of baseball, but on top of that, he collected the save in all three Ball State wins.
His final stat line was 2.1 innings pitched, two strikeouts, and three saves.
He got the five-out save in game one and in games two and four he appeared to put out the fire and get the final out. In all three cases, Klein inherited base runners and allowed none of them to score.
Conference series review
Toledo (7-8, 2-2) at Akron (3-10, 2-2)
Connor Steinbaugh started game one for the Zips and only allowed two hits to a good Toledo lineup. Steinbaugh’s season has been up and down, but on Friday he was definitely up.
Coming into this series, Akron pitchers have given up 17 home runs in nine games. The season has not been good. Winning game one with an ace that catches fire happens. Winning game two was a legitimate surprise.
Taed Heydinger almost matched Steinbaugh and allowed four hits and struck out seven in six innings. Outstanding performances from Sammy Tortorella and Jacob Beall closed the win.
Toledo returned the favor on Monday and had two starters combine for 13 innings and no earned runs. Toledo cashed in on 14 walks in the second doubleheader of the series while their usual power was absent.
Akron gave up 51 runs in three games to Louisville last go-around, turning the page with just 15 surrendered runs in four games. An easier opponent in Northern Illinois is up next for the Zips. Toledo goes to Western Michigan and will want to knock the ball around against a struggling pitching staff.
Eastern Michigan (3-10, 1-3) at Ball State (8-8, 3-1)
Eastern Michigan and Ball State was the most exciting series of the weekend. Every game finished within three runs and scored runs in the final innings.
Game one was an intense pitcher's duel. Tyler Schweitzer made one mistake to Gabe Denton in the second inning when he hit a home run to center field to start the scoring. Outside of that, he was great. He was replaced in the sixth after a walk, and Sam Klein cruised the rest of the way.
Zach Fruit went the distance in game one, and those pesky walks came around to get him. In the bottom of the fifth, he gave up a single and a walk to start the inning. A fielder’s choice moved the runners up and a two-out single by Matthew Rivera drove both runners home.
Eastern Michigan won game three on the arm of Adam Falinski. He went all seven innings, pitching around three hits and four walks. The Cardinals were held to two runs and Matt Kirk went deep twice to seal the win.
No lead was safe in game four. After six innings, the score was tied at two and then the game exploded. In the top half of the inning, EMU batted around, had five hits and scored five runs. Ball State didn’t appreciate that.
The Cardinals sent 13 batters to the plate and scored nine runs. Eastern had two wild pitches and two errors in the inning to give Ball State extra outs and bases in the inning. One error was on a sacrifice bunt, which is a killer for the defense. When the offense gives outs away, the defense NEEDS to take them. There were seven combined pitching changes in the inning.
Ball State won game four—and the series—with that inning.
Ball State stays home and plays Bowling Green next weekend and Eastern Michigan is the odd team out and plays Butler.
Bowling Green (2-11, 0-4) at Miami (7-6-1, 4-0)
Miami came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. The Miami starting rotation dominated the series. All four games were played over the weekend but the schedule was disrupted. One extra game was shortened to a seven-inning game and Saturday was a rest day between two doubleheaders.
The starting pitching for Miami, and the schedule, allowed them to have whoever they wanted from their bullpen in game four.
Miami gave the complete game to Jonathan Brand in game one, Luke Leverton made his first start of his career and went six innings and Zach Maxey lasted five innings in game three. There were 21 total innings to be pitched and the starters pitched 18, while only giving up three runs and striking out 20.
The RedHawks hitters were hitting line drives all over the field and 17 went for extra bases. Over the weekend they hit 13 doubles, two triples, and two home runs in their 47 total hits. On top of that impressive power, they were given 29 extra baserunners with 19 walks and 10 batters hit by pitch.
Bowling Green starter Gage Schenk kept the Falcons in game one with five innings of work and only surrendering two runs. He had zero run support and takes a tough loss in the series opener.
Miami draws a tough test in Central Michigan next week, and Bowling Green looks for a bounce-back series at Ball State.
Central Michigan (5-8, 1-1) at Kent State (5-6, 1-1)
The end of game two on Friday was played in the snow. From the live feed, there were visible snowflakes in the air to make it a miserable afternoon for baseball. That was the only day of the weekend that the two teams tried to play baseball, so they made the best of it.
As advertised, there were two close games of high-quality baseball. Kent State won a seven-inning game one with a walk-off base hit by center fielder Collin Mathews. The whole game only had five hits, as the pitchers cruised through the lineups. In the bottom of the seventh, Justin Miknis doubled to right-center and Mathews delivered the game-winner in the next at bat.
Richie Dell got his second win in the complete-game shutout for the Golden Flashes. He also struck out eight and gave up two hits.
Andrew Taylor was almost his equal for Central Michigan, striking out eight, walking two and giving up three hits in his six and one-third innings.
The second, and very snowy, game was back and forth early. The Chippewas opened the scoring in the top of the first and by the end of the second Kent State had a 3-1 lead. CMU responded with a run in the third and three in the fourth inning. Jakob Marsee hit a critical solo home run in the 8th inning for an insurance run, and Kent State pushed two across in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs before a strikeout ended the rally.
As always, Mario Camilletti was an on-base machine for CMU and was only retired once in his four trips to the plate. Kent State got 11 hits from their first four hitters in their lineup but left nine baserunners on during the game.
Central Michigan used five pitchers to navigate the nine-inning game and Kent State got the most out of Collin Romel before going to a strong bullpen for the final three and two-thirds. The only hit they surrendered was the home run that ended up being the game-winner.
Kent State is on the road against Ohio, and CMU goes to Miami for another tough early test.
Northern Illinois (1-12, 1-1) at Ohio (6-6, 1-1)
Northern Illinois and Ohio only got two games in and split the pair on Friday.
Game one was dominated by the Ohio offense. They won 10-2 in seven innings and got NIU starter Kyle Seebach for 8 runs. Spencer Harbert hit a pair of home runs and drove in five runs. Eddie Kutt IV turned in another great start and got the complete-game win. He struck out seven hitters and allowed seven base runners.
The Huskies got their first win of the season in game two. The NIU bullpen escaped trouble in each of the final three innings and didn’t allow a run to protect the lead the offense built early. They scored in each of the first six innings to build a 9-4 lead, which ended up being the final score.
Ohio gets Kent State at home next and NIU goes to Akron. NIU is in a rebuilding phase and is looking at the series with Akron as an opportunity to win some games.
Western Michigan (2-11, 0-0) at Southern Illinois
The Broncos were the only team that didn’t have a conference opponent. MAC baseball has 11 teams, someone is going to play a non-conference opponent each week.
It’s well-documented at this point that the Broncos can generally score runs. They have not, however, figured out effective pitching. The Bronco offense has scored 90 runs in 13 games, which is good for second in the MAC, but their pitching staff ERA is over 11.
They have won two games and gave up 17 and 8 runs in each. It looks like the Broncos need to score about 10 runs to be in the game. The bright side for the Broncos is that they have done that five times in 13 games.
In this series, Dane Armbrustmacher started game one and held SIU to one run into the 6th inning. Jimmy Allen hit a three-RBI triple in the eighth inning to extend the lead to 10-4 and that proved to be enough to survive a three-run ninth inning for SIU.
In the next two games, the Bronco offense didn’t show up and they gave up five home runs. Catcher Connor Charping always has the green light to steal bases and stole five this weekend.
Toledo is up next for the Broncos. The Broncos will need to keep them in the ballpark and have consistent success at the plate in an important series for their season.