Splits were the name of the game this weekend. Three of the five MAC conference series produced no separation between the teams. The standings were a little quiet as a result.
Good baseball was played and only Northern Illinois seemed overmatched— though in fairness, Central Michigan is going to make most of the MAC look overmatched on a weekly basis.
Ball State earned a top 25 win, at least by some polls, in a high point of the weekend for the MAC.
Central Michigan and Ball State are on a collision course
|Team||Conf W||Conf L||Conf W%||GB|
Central Michigan swept Northern Illinois and Ball State played their non-conference weekend to remain as the two teams on top. They meet in two weeks, and at this point it looks like that series will decide who will host the conference tournament. The matchup to watch will be the Ball State offense versus the Central Michigan pitching staff. No one has cracked the CMU pitchers to date.
Outside of the top two, EMU is the only team above .500 in the conference. The Eagles only have a one-game cushion from the cut line and will need to continue to mash at the plate and get great starts from Zach Fruit and Adam Falinski.
Obviously, conference play is a zero-sum situation and when two teams are a combined 22 games over .500, there have to be teams that eat losses. It looks like everyone not named Eastern Michigan is carrying that weight.
Surprisingly, no one is in a hopeless situation. NIU and BGSU are the farthest out, but still only three games. The number of teams they have to leap is probably prohibitive, but if they win their games anything can happen.
Toledo, Ohio, and Western Michigan are all within one game of Kent State, who holds the fourth spot. The second half of the season is a long time to hold on to a one game lead.
Remaining Schedule: Akron’s is tough, Western Michigan has the easiest
The MAC plays a balanced schedule, but Akron ends up being saddled with the toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the MAC. In the next two weeks, they play Ball State and Central Michigan. That’s a tough draw. The winning percentage of the teams on their schedule is .610.
No one else has both CMU and Ball State left. Five of the teams remaining schedules have winning percentages a shade over .500, but it’s too early in the season to have a really wide spread. As the season progresses they’ll spread out.
Western Michigan has the easiest schedule left. Only in-state rivals CMU have a winning record on their schedule. They are a game out of fourth place in the conference, and are positioned well to take advantage.
Home runs are up
The home runs in the MAC are at their highest level in the last five seasons. The previous four seasons average rate is roughly one every 56 at bats.
This season, the rate is one every 38 at bats.
So far this season, the MAC teams have had 10,381 at bats. At the previous four season rate, they should hit 184 home runs. The teams have combined for 276.
In the season preview, the returning production from hitters was high and the quality pitching moved on to the major leagues or graduated out. The stats from this season align with the data from the previous year. It’s surprising it lead to a jump of this magnitude.
That’s certainly why no leads have been safe this season. The ball is flying out of the ball park and leads can disappear in an instant.
“Of The Weeks”
Hitter of the Week: Daniel Warkentin, EMU, Second Baseman
Daniel Warkentin hit a home run in each of the three wins for Eastern Michigan against Miami and drove in six. He leads the MAC in OPS and home runs so far this season. He’s a wrecking ball in the middle of the Eagle’s lineup.
On top of his three home runs, he had six other hits for a clean .500 batting average and scored nine runs. He is usually their second hitter, and with a .571 OBP for the week, he was frequently on base and ready to score.
Best Start of the Week: Garrett Navarra, Central Michigan
Central Michigan has owned the start of the week award this season and this week it goes to Garrett Navara. He is a two-way player for CMU and had his best performance of the season on Sunday.
He pitched a complete-game shutout with eight strikeouts and only allowed three base runners. Two hits and one walk. That’s all Northern Illinois was able to muster.
He was a home run away from a true win, where a pitcher pitches a complete game and hits more home runs than runs allowed. It’s extremely rare and the last to do it was Noah Syndergaard on May 2, 2019.
Reliever of the Week: Cal McAninch, Toledo
Cal McAninch made two appearances for the Rockets and pitched a total of 4.1 innings. He did exactly what a reliever is supposed to do, except for one batter. He struck out six total and walked none. He only allowed three hits.
In his first appearance, he got the final out of the seventh inning to put down an Ohio rally. He kept the Bobcats off the board for two innings, which allowed the Rockets time to tie the game. In the bottom of the tenth, he made one mistake and Max Minzey ended the game on a walk-off home run. It’s not the result they wanted but the total output was solid.
His second appearance went better. McAninch inherited an 8-5 lead in the sixth inning and pitched two perfect innings to close the game down. He earned the save for his efforts in this one.
Conference series review
Western Michigan (8-19, 6-8) at Akron (10-21, 8-12)
|Starter ERA||6.00||Starter ERA||3.60|
Easton Sikorski started game two for the Broncos, making his first start since the season opener, and got the win in a pitcher's duel. Sikorski is a pitcher that gives the Broncos a chance to win every game he starts, and his absence was noticed. The Broncos will need him if they want to get into the conference tournament.
He pitched four innings and struck out three batters and allowed one unearned run. Brendan Lovell completed the game with three shutout innings to seal the win.
Overall, the series was very even. The Broncos had an on-base percentage a shade above the league average, but couldn’t drive them home. The Akron pitchers stranded WMU baserunners all weekend. In total, WMU left 39 runners on base.
Brady Biglin got his first start for the Zips in game four and perfectly exemplified stranding base runners. In five innings he allowed 11 hitters to reach base but only allowed two to score.
While the Broncos were leaving runners on base, Cameron Benson hit two home runs in game one during a 10-6 win.
Akron gets a tough Ball State team next weekend and WMU hosts Miami.
Bowling Green (9-20, 6-12) at Kent State (12-14, 7-7)
|Starter ERA||4.71||Starter ERA||6.53|
The series between the Falcons and Flashes was another even one. Bowling Green won the first two games in the series, and Kent State earned a split on back-to-back walk-off wins.
During game one, Gage Schenk carried the Falcons to the win with six and two-thirds innings with five strikeouts and allowing one run to score. On top of that, the Falcons hit three home runs and scored eight runs off the Kent State starter.
Bowling Green responded to Kent State scoring three runs early, with a four-run inning in the third inning of game two. Senior reliever Griffin Parrill got the save with two perfect innings to close out the game.
In the final two games, the Golden Flashes got walk-off wins. Game three was won on a double by Aidan Longwell, and in game four Mike McNamara hit a sacrifice fly for the game-winner. Freshman Eric Chalus struck out 11 in six and two-thirds innings to keep the Flashes in the game.
Kent State is going to Toledo to play the Rockets, and Bowling Green is going to try to stop the CMU freight train.
Northern Illinois (6-25, 6-12) at Central Michigan (18-10, 13-1)
|Starter ERA||15.60||Starter ERA||0.77|
Central Michigan is a steam roller. During conference play their team ERA is 1.81, opposing hitters are hitting 0.194, and they lead the MAC with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The pitching staff has been untouchable.
Over the whole series, the Chippewas pitchers only allowed three earned runs.
Their offense was downright nasty this weekend as well. Of their 34 hits, 11 were for extra bases and they drew 31 walks. Fifty-four times a batter reached first base at the end of their at-bat, and then they stole 25 bases. That is demoralizing. If every stolen base was from first to second, which they probably weren’t, that turned 25 singles or walks into doubles.
The Huskies designated hitter Carlos Aranda got a hit in three of the four games to provide at least some silver linings to the weekend.
Central Michigan heads to Bowling Green, and NIU is going to take a weekend off from MAC play and play Oakland from the Horizon League.
Eastern Michigan (13-16, 9-7) at Miami (12-19, 8-11)
|Starter ERA||4.87||Starter ERA||5.21|
Eastern Michigan wins the final three games in the series without their ace Zach Fruit pitching in the series.
Game one went to the RedHawks behind a quality start from Jonathan Brand and a disastrous inning from the Eagles in the eighth. Miami scored six runs on two hits, two walks and three batters hit by pitch.
The Eagles rebounded in game two behind a complete game from starter Adam Falinski. He only needed two runs to get the win and the offense did him a solid and gave him three. Brady Huebbe hit a solo home run and Daniel Warkentin hit his ninth of the season with a runner on.
Over the next two games, the Eagles scored 26 runs and struck out the RedHawks 28 times in 18 innings. Catcher Cole Andrews from Miami went 3-10 with two home runs and drove in eight over the two games.
Miami goes to WMU for a series in Kalamazoo and Eastern plays at home against Ohio.
Toledo (15-16, 9-10) at Ohio (13-14, 7-9)
|Starter ERA||7.06||Starter ERA||5.76|
Mason Minzey started the series with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth. The Bobcats won the first game 6-5 in 10 innings. Edward Kutt IV struck out nine batters in seven innings.
The Rockets responded by jumping all over the Ohio pitching staff early in game two. They had an 11-4 lead after five innings and held on to win. Darryn Davis hit a double and a triple in his first two plate appearances.
Toledo stayed hot for game three and scored multiple runs off of each pitcher they faced. Ohio was hanging tough through five innings in a 6-5 game, but Cal McAninch pitched two perfect frames for Toledo to slam the door.
Brendan Roder didn’t pile up the strikeouts but was very effective for the Bobcats. He pitched seven innings and allowed two runs. By the time he left the game, the Ohio offense had given him 10 runs to work with and the Bobcats cruised to the win.
A very back-and-forth series was decided by individual performances in each game. A split feels right.
Toledo returns home to play Kent State and Ohio travels to Eastern Michigan.
Ball State (18-12, 12-2) at Oregon (21-11)
|Starter ERA||7.11||Starter ERA||5.54|
Ball State took their bye week from MAC conference play to travel cross-country and play the Oregon Ducks.
NCAA baseball rankings are a mess. The NCAA website links to six different websites or ranking systems for anyone to choose from. Based on a composite of those six and many more seen here on Reddit, the Ducks are anywhere from 6th to 30th. The consensus, if there is one, is somewhere around 20th.
Regardless of the specifics, Ball State played a team with a national reputation, and played them close. They actually won game two on Saturday with two runs in the eighth inning from a wild pitch and Zach Cole’s third home run of the season.
Late in game four on Sunday, the Cardinals scored four in the fifth inning to take the lead. Oregon chipped away and regained the lead in the seventh to make it 6-4. Back-to-back, solo home runs by catcher Adam Christianson and third baseman Ryan Peltier tied the game in the eighth.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals got themselves into a bases-loaded and no-outs jam that saw the Ducks walk it off with a single. The Ducks would take the series 3-1 over the visiting Cardinals.
Ball State returns from the long road trip to play Akron this week.