Another week in the books and the conference race is starting to take shape. The likely suspects are already hanging around at the top with Toledo and Ohio a half-game behind. There’s still so much baseball left that anything can happen.
The midweek games were not good for the MAC. Miami played well against #8 Louisville but couldn’t pull score the runs they needed in a 6-4 loss. That might be the best result of the week. Dayton doubled up Akron, Toledo lost to a tough Wright State team, Purdue scored 14 against NIU and CMU was held to three runs by division two Saginaw Valley State. Kent State beat their Division II opponent, but otherwise, it was a tough scene.
The midweek games are essentially meaningless for the MAC, which is not realistically hoping for a second team in the national tournament. The important games are the conference games, which is how it should be.
Kent State on top, Ball State not far behind
|Team||Conf W||Conf L||GB||Runs For||Runs Ag.||Win||Loss||Runs For||Runs Ag.|
|Kent State Golden Flashes||3||0||+1||40||18||15||4||200||89|
|Ball State Cardinals||5||1||+1.5||67||38||13||6||149||115|
|Eastern Michigan Eagles||4||2||+0.5||51||35||10||6||123||93|
|Central Michigan Chippewas||2||1||0||25||22||11||8||141||113|
|Bowling Green Falcons||2||4||1.5||22||33||4||12||62||112|
|Western Michigan Broncos||2||4||1.5||35||57||5||12||108||159|
|Northern Illinois Huskies||1||5||2.5||28||68||4||15||90||166|
The games behind math is going to be a mess all season. The end of the last week of the regular season is the only time when every MAC school should have played the same number of conference games. By win percentage, Kent State holds the top spot in the conference, but Ball State is further away from the cut line by games ahead.
It’s going to be a mess until each team with a real shot at the MAC Tournament has had their “bye” week.
Kent State is on a heater. They’ve won 13 consecutive games with no signs of stress in the last seven. The bulk of the MAC schedule is in front of them and Ball State is up next. They’re probably the next-best team in the MAC at this point in the season with defending champion Central Michigan lurking.
They’ve outperformed their Pythagorean win total by two games, which suggests there is a touch of good luck during the streak, The college baseball season might not be long enough for that to catch up with them as it does in an MLB season.
Akron took two games in a series with Bowling Green and improved to 3-3 in the conference. They won 11 MAC games in 2022 with 25 percent more games to play. Akron is the leading candidate for the biggest win total jump in the MAC. Their starting point was low, but that makes this improvement even better.
The Zips pitching in 2022 was a disaster. This year could not be more different. Sure, some games get away from the Zips, but that’s every MAC team. The 2022 staff doesn’t hold Bowling Green to six earned runs over a weekend. Bowling Green looks like they might be the most offensively challenged team this season, but the point stands. Akron baseball is headed in the right direction.
MAC is a better conference than last year
RPI isn’t the best way to evaluate conferences and teams, but it can create a snapshot of strength relative to their schedule. In 2022, the MAC finished 22nd of 31 division one conferences in RPI.
The conference currently sits in 18th with a bulk of the non-conference season in the rearview mirror. The top teams in the conference are ranked in about the same place as a year ago, but the middle of the MAC has improved significantly. Last year, the median team was Miami ranked 234th. This season, it’s Ball State at 143rd.
That makes sense from the results so far this season from an anecdotal perspective. Baseball is already going to be a weird game where a team’s strength can change drastically based on starting pitching, which is only available once in a series. Even the teams that are towards the bottom of the conference have their pitching sorted out at least one day of the week.
Nine teams still have a non-conference series to play, plus the midweek games. A lot can still happen, but right now, the MAC is on a talent upswing.
Kent State vs Central Michigan is on deck
One of the season-deciding matchups is playing out this week when Kent State heads to Mount Pleasant to play Central Michigan. Kent State has been bullying teams and Central Michigan has been winning, but not as soundly as they would like.
Both teams are a little bit of a mystery this early in the season, especially with each getting their conference “bye” week done by week six. Kent State swept a down NIU team and Central Michigan won last weekend’s series with Ohio who wants to get back into the MAC Tournament this year.
The Chippewas pitchers have a huge task this week. Their order hasn’t been set, but Kent State will see Adam Mrakitsch, Keegan Batka and Garrett Navarra as the Central Michigan starters. Navarra has the best strikeout stuff but allows the most base runners. Batka and Mrakitsch each allow fewer than three walks per nine innings, which will be critical against a very patient Kent State lineup. Ryan Palmblad could make multiple appearances across the weekend from the bullpen and Evan Waters has an ERA under 1.00 with 9.1 innings pitched.
That lineup is led by Aidan Longwell. He has driven in 40 runs in 92 plate appearances this season. He’s been able to have that success because he absolutely mashing the ball right now and his teammates are all over the bases. Collin Mathews stands on the plate and draws walks. He’s been walked 11 times and been hit by 12 pitches. Once he gets on for free, he steals second. Mathews has done that 12 times already this season. Josh Johnson and Kyle Jackson also have 10+ stolen bases. Central Michigan catcher Nick Dardas will be tested this weekend.
On the other side, Kent State’s pitchers have been lights out. Ben Cruikshank, Joe Whitman and Eric Chalus will most likely appear in that order from games one to three. Aidan Longwell pitches in midweek matchups, but it wouldn’t surprise me that he’s available in this series. He’s a big reason why the 13-game win streak hasn’t been interrupted by midweek surprises. Mitchell Scott is incredible in relief with a 1.54 ERA, 13.1 strikeouts per nine and a 0.69 WHIP. He’s pitched 11.2 innings and made each out count for the Flashes.
Central Michigan will try to replicate the havoc that Kent State creates but it hasn’t been quite as successful this season. Marquis Jackson has drawn 17 walks to be an excellent table setter for the offense. Garrett Navarra hits when he isn’t on the mound and is second on the team in wOBA and has an OPS of 0.980. Robbie Morgan has gotten off to a tough start this season, but his 0.225 batting average is very misleading. He’s drawn 11 walks and leads CMU with 5 home runs. He can hurt opposing pitchers quickly if they leave one over the plate.
By the end of this series, one of these teams is going to be closer to the cut line than either wants to be and could have implications at the MAC Tournament.
- Ball State rakes in all three games as they sweep the Rockets. The Cardinals scored 40 runs in three games and led the MAC with a .719 slugging percentage.
- Kent State was the non-conference team this week and swept Canisius. The Flashes eviscerted Canisius with a .583 on base percentage and 15 stolen bases.
- The Central Michigan pitchers made life hard for the Ohio hitters. They allowed 3.5 walks per nine and struck out a batter an inning.
- Eastern Michigan’s bullpen carried the load against Western Michigan. The starters lasted 8.2 innings with an 11.42 ERA while the bullpen pitched 15.1 innings with a 2.94 ERA.
- Miami wins a strikeout heavy series against Northern Illinois. Miami strukout 28% of their at bats and NIU strukout 39.2%.
|MAC Team of the Week|
|C||Nick Dardas||CMU||4-13, 3 Runs, 4 RBI, 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB, HBP|
|Corner IF||Blake Bevis||Ball State||6-14, 4 Runs, 6 RBI, 4 2B, HR|
|Corner IF||Aidan Longwell||Kent State||7-12, 4 Runs, 13 RBI, 2 2B, HR, BB, SB, HBP|
|Mid IF||Taylor Hopkins||EMU||6-13, 3 Runs, 5 RBI, 3B, HR, BB, SB|
|Mid IF||Jeron Williams||Toledo||7-17, 6 Runs, 4 RBI, 2B, HR, 2 BB, 4 SB, HBP|
|OF||Josh Johnson||Kent State||7-13, 8 Runs, 8 RBI, 2B, 3B, HR, 3 BB, 3 SB, HBP|
|OF||Andrew Wilhite||Ball State||5-10, 6 Runs, 6 RBI, HR, 3 BB|
|OF||Decker Scheffler||Ball State||6-13, 4 Runs, 3 RBI, 2B, HR, BB, SB|
|Extra Hitter||Matthew Rivera||Ball State||5-11, 3 Runs, 7 RBI, 2B, 2 HR, HBP|
|SP||Brandon McPherson||NIU||Win, 5 IP, 2 H, 7 K, HBP|
|SP||Spencer Atkins||Akron||Win, 9 IP, 3 H, R, ER, BB, 11 K|
|SP||Connor Oliver||Miami||Win, 6 IP, H, 3 R, 4 BB, 11 K, HBP|
|RP||Sam Klein||Ball State||Win, 4 IP, H, BB, 5 K|
|RP||Hudson Leach||Miami||5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, ER, 10 K|
|RP||Jaden Varner||Kent State||3 IP, H, BB, 6 K|
Spencer Atkins delivered the series win on Saturday for the Akron Zips with his complete game win. He gave up three hits and one walk while striking out 11. His season ERA prior to that start was 10.69. That performance came out of nowhere and shaved 3.49 runs from his ERA alone. Let’s hope he finds that magic again this season.
There’s been a lot of Aidan Longwell talk already but a 13 RBI week will do that. Three of his seven hits were for extra bases. He also pitched three perfect innings against division two Lake Erie College on Wednesday, striking out seven of the nine batters faced. He’s been amazing on the mound and at the plate this season.
Ball State scored a ton of runs against Toledo’s great pitching staff and is well-represented on the Team of the Week. Blake Bevis hit four doubles and a home run and outfielders Andrew Wilhite and Decker Sheffler each hit a home run. Matthew Rivera hit a pair of home runs. The runs really got out of hand in a 19-16 win in 13 innings, but each were needed to get the win.
Sam Klein made his first appearance of the season and got the win in the 19-16 game. He pitched the extra innings to keep Toledo off the board until Rivera hit his three-run home run to win.
Connor Oliver does not allow an earned run and gets double-digit strikeouts again for Miami, this time for the win. On Sunday of that series, Northern Illinois’ Brandon McPherson held Miami off the scoreboard long enough to get the win.
|3/15||Dayton Flyers||11-5||Akron Zips|
|3/17||Bowling Green Falcons||4-5||Akron Zips|
|3/17||Bowling Green Falcons||1-3||Akron Zips|
|3/19||Bowling Green Falcons||5-4||Akron Zips|
|Next Opp.||vs Purdue FW (Tue), vs Youngstown St (Wed), vs Miami||Next Opp.||at Michigan (Tue), at Toledo|
|3/15||Toledo Rockets||2-6||Wright State Raiders|
|3/17||Toledo Rockets||2-14||Ball State Cardinals|
|3/19||Toledo Rockets||16-19||Ball State Cardinals|
|3/19||Toledo Rockets||4-7||Ball State Cardinals|
|Next Opp.||at Ohio State (Wed), vs Akron||Next Opp.||vs Butler (Wed), at Eastern Michigan|
|3/15||Saginaw Valley Cardinals||7-4||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|3/17||Central Michigan Chippewas||8-5||Ohio Bobcats|
|3/18||Central Michigan Chippewas||7-11||Ohio Bobcats|
|3/19||Central Michigan Chippewas||10-6||Ohio Bobcats|
|Next Opp.||vs Kent State||Next Opp.||at Morehead St (Tue), at Northern Illinois|
|3/18||Eastern Michigan Eagles||4-5||Western Michigan Broncos|
|3/18||Eastern Michigan Eagles||12-11||Western Michigan Broncos|
|3/19||Eastern Michigan Eagles||14-3||Western Michigan Broncos|
|Next Opp.||at Butler (Tue), at Ball State||Next Opp.||at Michigan St (Wed), at #25 Iowa|
|3/15||Miami RedHawks||4-6||#8 Louisville Cardinals|
|3/15||Northern Illinois Huskies||5-14||Purdue Boilermakers|
|3/17||Northern Illinois Huskies||3-10||Miami RedHawks|
|3/17||Northern Illinois Huskies||3-16||Miami RedHawks|
|3/19||Northern Illinois Huskies||4-2||Miami RedHawks|
|Next Opp.||vs Ohio||Next Opp.||vs Oakland (Tue), vs Wright St (Wed), at Bowling Green|
|3/15||Lake Erie Storm||0-7||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|3/17||Canisius Golden Griffins||4-17||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|3/17||Canisius Golden Griffins||3-21||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|3/20||Canisius Golden Griffins||2-11||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|Next Opp.||at Pitt (Wed), at Central Michigan|