Week two of the college baseball season is in the books and the managers of the MAC teams are currently utilizing this non-conference slate to learn about and challenge players they will need this season. Some tests were harder than others but there were no easy weekends.
The ping of metal bats coming from my laptop this weekend was a very welcome change from the cruel coldness of February in the Midwest. Wood bats would be great to fill the time in-between, but as we’ve seen, MLB owners might think that’s a privilege too far these days.
Kent State, Toledo and Central Michigan highlighted the week that was on the diamond for the MAC:
Kent State makes #20 Texas Tech sweat
Kent State was two innings away from taking two wins from the #20 Texas Tech Red Raiders. The series opener and finale both saw the Golden Flashes have a lead in the 6th inning. During game one, the Flashes took a 5-4 lead on a Mike McNamara double after five and a half innings. Texas Tech responded with a four-run bottom of the sixth and a lead they would not give up.
In the third game, Kent State took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh. The Flashes needed nine outs to close out the win, but a three-run homer by Ty Coleman in the bottom of the seventh inning gave us the final score.
Kent State played very well in their series at Texas Tech, but couldn’t keep the big innings from happening. An 0-3 series record does not reflect how well they played.
Throwing strikes is an early problem
The MAC pitchers have an issue with walks thus far in the season. There were a ton of walks across the weekend. Not every team was afflicted, but the ones that had the sickness gave their opponents free scoring opportunities. The league average for walks per game this week was 4.7. Every other inning, every MAC team gave their opponent a free base runner. Even a two-out walk with the bases empty results in a two and a half times increased probability of a run being scored.
Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois gave up 7.3, 6.7 and 6.0 walks per game this weekend. They were also the worst teams in run differential this week. It’s early in the season for everyone and as arms get stretched out, this issue could resolve itself, but this weekend was ugly.
Records don’t have meaning yet
As always in early season MAC baseball, records are not indicative of quality relative to each other. The MAC is not a particularly strong baseball conference relative to other conferences and the non-conference schedule can be a challenge. Kent State has played #20 Texas Tech and Coastal Carolina (they won a national championship in 2016). That 1-5 record is different than Toledo’s 4-4 record against Belmont and High Point.
Hitter of the week: Danny Wuestenfeld, CMU, First Base
Danny Wuestenfeld climbed his way up the order and delivered. In games one and two, Wuestenfeld batted in the seventh spot and picked up two hits in each game. The hot bat was moved into the fifth spot for games three and four and drove in four RBIs. His final stat line is seven hits, three extra-base hits, five runs scored, four RBI, and a home run.
Starter of the Week: Kyle Jones, Toledo
Kyle Jones made one mistake in the first inning against High Point and cruised the rest of the game. Blake Sutton hit a home run and Jones would allow one more base runner over his seven innings pitched. To go along with his seven-inning, two-hit game he had nine strikeouts and no walks. Plus he did it in 77 pitches.
Reliever of the Week: Jake Jones, CMU
Jake Jones appeared in two games over the weekend for Central Michigan and pitched well both times. His first appearance came with the Chips up by a run in the bottom of the sixth. There were runners on second and third with two outs. He escaped the jam and got the win. In game two, he slammed the door and got the save. CMU was up by three in a seven-inning game, and Jones retired the side with two strikeouts and a ground out on 12 pitches. His final weekend line is two appearances, a win, a save, 4.1 innings pitched, one hit allowed, one earned run, one walk, one hit-by-pitch, and four strikeouts.
Akron Zips (1-5)
Akron pulled the toughest challenge of the week in #16 Georgia. Friday night Connor Steinbaugh and the bullpen did an excellent job in a 1-0 loss. Unfortunately, the offense was not to be found all weekend.
Ball State Cardinals (2-6)
Ball State had a great pitching weekend until game four on Monday. They had surrendered 10 run runs, struck out 23, and walked nine over the first three games. The Cardinals walked 13 batters in game four alone. Game four was a bullpen day and the back end of the bullpen struggled.
The offense put up a .160 batting average over the four games and had high strikeouts. If they can manufacture any offense this season, they will be very competitive in conference play.
Bowling Green Falcons (2-4)
The Falcons had a tough weekend against Austin Peay. Their batting average over the weekend was .180 and they struggled to draw walks to get on base. Bowling Green showed isolated power with two home runs. The pitchers couldn’t create outs for themselves and struck out only 15 over three games. Only two errors in the field are at least a silver lining.
Central Michigan Chippewas (3-4)
Central Michigan should have dominated this series.
The Chips finished with a +1 run differential with three wins and one loss. Their problem was leaving runners on base. They lead all MAC teams with 38 runners left on base. Some big bats left the program this off-season and this is where power makes a difference. It takes 3 singles to score a run and one home run. A little bit more pop would go a long way in this lineup.
Western Kentucky hit five home runs as well. It kept them in a couple of the games and opened the scoring in their win. One series where the ball is flying isn’t worrying, but it might be if it turns into a trend.
Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-5)
Eastern Michigan pitchers walked 22 batters over three games. Tennessee Tech also hit for a .400 batting average. That’s all there is to say about this series. Scoring only 11 runs is disappointing, especially with five home runs, but when the other team posts a 1.108 OPS, there’s not a lot the offense can do.
Kent State Golden Flashes (1-5)
Kent State went for it. They were very aggressive on the base paths and attempted 8 stolen bases. It was to their detriment and were caught three times. They knew that scoring opportunities would be scarce, so the effort is commendable. The Red Raider pitchers were able to pitch out of tough spots with 44 strikeouts for the weekend.
Miami Redhawks (3-3)
The series between Rider and Miami was remarkably even. Each had the same amount of hits, one run difference, each had four errors and the same amount of total bases. The separation is in the home runs. Rider hit three and Miami hit one. The home runs were a little bit better at converting base runners to runs. It was disappointing, but not a bad weekend for the RedHawks.
Northern Illinois Huskies (0-8)
Murray State found something in the scouting report, or they have the fastest team in the nation. Murray State was a perfect 24 for 24 on stolen base attempts. That is horrendously mean to a catcher. On top of that, the Northern Illinois pitchers game up 24 walks and a .455 on-base percentage. There were always runners on and ready to steal bases.
Ohio Bobcats (2-4)
Timely hitting, or some power, would’ve bailed the Bobcats out in this series. In total, they left 33 runners on base and drew 20 walks. The Bobcats had a really strong approach but struggled to turn that into runs. The pitch only gave away seven free passes and the defense had their back with only two errors. Neither lead to unearned runs. Another well-played, but disappointing series for a MAC ball club.
Toledo Rockets (4-4)
The Toledo Rockets were the unquestionable winners of the weekend. Their power lineup slugged a .450 percentage with five home runs. They struck out a lot but it didn’t matter this weekend. The pitching staff allowed a .180 batting average and held High Point to 12 total runs over four games. The Rockets look to keep the train on the tracks against Elon next weekend.
Western Michigan Broncos (1-5)
The SEC is the best conference in college baseball. Kentucky is not a contender this season in the SEC and they smacked the Broncos. The Broncos were able to be productive at the plate and hit two grand slams in the middle game. They eventually let the 12-4 lead slip away in the 12th inning. An error in the ninth with two outs allowed the tying run to score in a heart breaker for WMU.
The Bronco pitchers gave up too many walks and the Wildcats sprayed the ball all over the field and made them pay for that. The defense did not help with nine errors across the three games. Next week WMU plays the SIUE Cougars, a much more favorable opponent.