The three-game weekend format is so much better than the four-game format of the previous years. Splits were very common and they didn’t help teams prepare for the tournaments at the end of the year; two seven-inning games in the middle of the series were out of place in the MAC schedule.
Two of the five MAC series had a series-deciding game on Sunday, and two of the remaining three had teams bounce back with strong game-three pitching performances to stave off the sweep.
Week 6 was an exciting week of baseball that started with Akron upsetting a Big Ten opponent on Tuesday, and only got better from there! Let’s five right in, shall we?
Ball State takes the top spot, battle for fourth will be tight
|Team||Conf W||Conf L||GB||Runs For||Runs Ag.||Win||Loss||Runs For||Runs Ag.|
|Ball State Cardinals||8||1||+3||92||47||17||6||193||126|
|Central Michigan Chippewas||4||2||+0.5||41||31||13||9||157||122|
|Kent State Golden Flashes||4||2||+0.5||49||34||16||7||212||113|
|Eastern Michigan Eagles||4||5||1||60||60||10||10||139||127|
|Bowling Green Falcons||4||5||1||41||44||8||13||107||135|
|Western Michigan Broncos||2||4||1.5||35||57||5||16||128||210|
|Northern Illinois Huskies||2||7||2||53||96||5||17||115||194|
The top spot in the MAC standings changed hands this week. Central Michigan nearly swept Kent State and gave the Flashes their first and second conference loss of the season. Kent State’s 13-game win streak had ended after a mid-week loss to the Pitt Panthers.
Ball State took care of business against a good Eastern Michigan squad and took the top spot. They still have a series to play against Central Michigan and Ohio before their season finale against Kent State. There is a lot of baseball to play left, but they’ve earned a three-game lead on the cut line for the tournament.
Ohio and Toledo set the cut line with a 5-4 conference record. Both teams are +9 on run differential and desperately want to get back to the MAC Tournament. Not much will separate these clubs throughout the season; every game will be important. Both will need to continue to win to stay ahead of the three teams that sit a game behind, waiting for an opportunity.
Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green and Akron are each 4-5 with unique strengths. Eastern Michigan is going to lean on a strong bullpen to pitch quality innings and get outs. Their starting pitchers have pitched the fewest innings of any MAC team, primarily because their bullpen is just a little bit better statistically. They also tend to have bullpen days during midweek games. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.
Akron needs to find a way to steal game two. The hitters they brought in through the portal have worked out and Sammy Tortorella is giving them a chance to win every Friday. The other two games are a real roll of the dice. If they can find a formula that tips the scales a little bit it will be interesting to see how long they are in the race for fourth.
Bowling Green found offense this weekend, but they need to keep it. Their pitching has been hot and cold, but largely good enough to fight for wins in the MAC. A few of the bullpen arms have been consistent pieces but sometimes their starters just don’t have it. If they can keep scoring runs, they’ll be in the hunt.
Central Michigan remains the best in the MAC
There are three teams in the mix for the top spot in the MAC. Anyone can win it, but Kent State, Central Michigan and Ball State are playing the most complete baseball this season. Until they play each other and the schedules are unbalanced, being within two games in the standings isn’t a significant gap. Central Michigan wears the crown and Kent State challenged for it, but the Chippewas turned them away.
Kent State homered in the seventh inning of game one to rally to a tie game at three each. All of Central Michigan’s runs came off of Ben Cruikshank, but a parade of four relievers followed and surrendered two hits in the final 5.2 innings they pitched. Despite that, Central Michigan was one hit away in the 10th and 11th innings and left the bases loaded in the 10th and runners on first and second in the 11th. Kent State would finally score and win 4-3 in 12 innings.
The second game on Friday started as another tight affair and the game was tied at two halfway through the sixth inning. Central Michigan applied the pressure and Kent State cracked in the bottom of the sixth and the Chippewas scored seven runs. The seven runs were scored with only three hits and Kent State committed two errors. Once it was broken open, it was effectively over.
The teams were back at it for the rubber match on Sunday and Garret Navarra took the mound for Central Michigan. He’s a two-way player for them and his dominance on the mound and at the plate in the conference tournament last year earned him the nickname Tournament Garry. Tournament Garry was back and he held a scorching hot Kent State lineup to five hits, a walk and no runs over seven innings. Central Michigan would win the game and the series 2-1.
Kent State couldn’t play their normal bully baseball and was severely limited by the Central Michigan pitching staff. I hope both teams make the conference tournament and we are treated to another matchup between these two with the season on the line.
Super crooked numbers
As I was collecting the data I use for this article, there were too many big games and crooked numbers. I had to sanity-check what I was seeing. Most of my baseball watching is the MLB and I view what is normal run production through that lens.
The MAC teams were involved in 29 games this week and 58 game scores, each team providing one score per game. In 18 of those 58 scores, the team scored more than 10 runs. In seven of them, the team scored more than 15. Nearly a third of the games had at least one team scoring ten runs or more and the average combined runs per game were 15.7. That would be wild in the MLB.
College baseball has always been a hitter dominant level of baseball but it doesn’t have to be. External factors ensure that this is the case. MLB teams like to control the workload of their young pitchers and superstar talent are drafted early and managed through the farm system with the main priority being development.
Just to show how volatile the college game is compared to Major League Baseball, here is a histogram of the runs per inning for the 2013 MLB season:
Here is the MAC from this last week:
An entire season of Major League Baseball produced just as many 10+ run innings as one weekend of MAC Baseball. By percentages, the MAC was ten times more likely to produce a seven-run inning. I know there’s a sample size problem in the comparison, but let’s not let that ruin the fun.
- Akron had an exciting 2-2 week that started with an 11-10 win over Big Ten Michigan. Jack Firestone hit two home runs, the second capped a seven-run third inning. The Zips held on to win and stranded 14 Wolverine hitters. Sammy Tortorella held Toledo to one unearned run in a win on Friday. On Saturday, Toledo scored 24 in a huge win, and on Sunday Owen Jackson hit a three-run home run to walk off the Zips. Toledo wins 10-9 and cashed in basically every base runner that reached.
‼️— Toledo Baseball (@ToledoBaseball) March 26, 2023
- - ‼️
- Ohio and Northern Illinois played a three-game set with 53 total runs scored. Pitching was optional in DeKalb. Ohio won the first two, including a comeback win after allowing 10 runs in the first inning of a 16-12 win. The Huskies scored seven in the first inning of the second game on Sunday and made that stick.
- Bowling Green’s offensive woes have been well-documented. Before this week, the Falcons were slashing .295 / .302 / .293 with 4.12 runs per game. This week they posted .296 / .435 / .585 with 9.00 runs per game. They went 4-1 this week including a series win against Miami. Something clicked at the plate for Bowling Green. Can they keep it up?
- Ball State now owns the longest winning streak in the MAC at eight games. They swept a good Eastern Michigan squad and have an Ohio Valley Conference opponent this week. The MAC matchup for this weekend is Akron. If they can get past Sammy Tortorella, it could grow for a while.
- Western Michigan played Iowa in the “bye” week and struggled to get outs on defense. They allowed 43 runs in 22 innings of pitching and unfortunately, it’s not an isolated issue. The starters and relievers are struggling equally while the offense can’t overcome the deficit.
|MAC Team of the Week|
|C||David Novak||Miami||10-19, 8 Runs, 4 RBI, 2 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 2 SB, HBP|
|Corner IF||Nathan Rose||BGSU||9-23, 6 Runs, 12 RBI, 2 2B, 3B, 4 HR|
|Corner IF||Alec Patino||Ohio||10-18, 4 Runs, 4 RBI, 2 2B, HR, BB, SB|
|Mid IF||Jeron Williams||Toledo||13-21, 7 Runs, 6 RBI, 2 2B, 3B, HR, 4 SB, HBP|
|Mid IF||Aaron Harper||NIU||5-11, 3 Runs, 5 RBI, 2 2B, HR, BB|
|OF||Cole Williams||Ohio||10-14, 6 Runs, 7 RBI, 3B, HR, BB, HBP|
|OF||Decker Scheffler||Ball State||6-10, 5 Runs, 2 RBI, 2 2B, 3B, 6 BB|
|OF||Jack Firestone||Akron||6-17, 5 Runs, 7 RBI, 3 HR, BB, SB, 2 HBP|
|Extra Hitter||Ryan Peltier||Ball State||5-12, 7 Runs, 5 RBI, 2B, HR, BB, 2 SB, 5 HBP|
|SP||Luke Russo||EMU||Loss, 8.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R, ER, 10 K|
|SP||Sammy Tortorella||Akron||Win, 7.1 IP, 5 H, R, BB, 9 K, 2 HBP|
|SP||Garret Navarra||CMU||Win, 7 IP, 5 H, BB, 9 K|
|RP||Connar Penrod||BGSU||Win, Save, 4.1 IP, BB, 5 K|
|RP||Landon Willeman||BGSU||4 IP, H, 2 BB, 4 K|
|RP||DJ Newman||BGSU||3.1 IP, H, 5 K|
Jeron Williams is making a real case for MAC Player of the Year with his offensive production from the shortstop position. Last season he was named to the All-MAC Defensive Team and if his play matches that level this year, he’s providing incredible value to the Rockets. He led the MAC this week with 13 hits.
Ryan Peltier from Ball State has been extremely consistent and hasn’t made this list enough for how often he has deserved it. The corner infield positions are where big bats are and every week two of them explode like Nathan Rose from Bowling Green. He hit four home runs this week and drove in 12 runs.
The Bowling Green bullpen sweeps the relief pitcher spots and it’s warranted. The entire cast wasn’t immaculate, but Connar Penrod, Landon Williams and DJ Newman sure were. Individually their performances are great, but combined they provided 11.2 innings of shutout baseball. Not only was it shutout baseball, they only allowed two hits, and three walks and struck out 14 batters.
EMU’s Luke Russo made his second appearance of the series when he started on the mound in game three. He was stuck with the loss on Friday after an unearned run scored in the top of the ninth, but his combined line should’ve been good enough for a win.
Sammy Tortorella is a recurring character on the team of the week and it would be irresponsible to leave him off when he doesn’t allow any earned runs and has a strikeout per nine innings a shade under 12. Garret Navarra has essentially the same stat line as Tortorella without the unearned run and free passes. Navarra carried CMU to the series win with his pitching performance on Sunday and his .636 OBP in 11 plate appearances on Friday.
|3/21||Akron Zips||11-10||Michigan Wolverines|
|3/22||Toledo Rockets||4-6||Ohio State Buckeyes|
|3/24||Akron Zips||2-1||Toledo Rockets|
|3/25||Akron Zips||8-24||Toledo Rockets|
|3/26||Akron Zips||9-10||Toledo Rockets|
|Next Opp.||at Dayton (Tue), Shawnee State (Wed), vs Ball State||Next Opp.||vs Youngstown State (Tue), at Kent State|
|3/21||Purdue FW Mastodons||6-8||Bowling Green Falcons|
|3/21||Oakland Grizzlies||12-9||Miami RedHawks|
|3/22||Youngstown State Penguins||6-18||Bowling Green Falcons|
|3/22||Wright State Raiders||9-7||Miami RedHawks|
|3/24||Miami RedHawks||2-5||Bowling Green Falcons|
|3/26||Miami RedHawks||3-12||Bowling Green Falcons|
|3/26||Miami RedHawks||6-2||Bowling Green Falcons|
|Next Opp.||at Oakland (Wed), vs Western Michigan||Next Opp.||at Purdue FW (Tue), at Central Michigan|
|3/21||Eastern Michigan Eagles||7-9||Butler Bulldogs|
|3/22||Butler Bulldogs||2-19||Ball State Cardinals|
|3/24||Ball State Cardinals||2-1||Eastern Michigan Eagles|
|3/25||Ball State Cardinals||16-5||Eastern Michigan Eagles|
|3/26||Ball State Cardinals||7-3||Eastern Michigan Eagles|
|Next Opp.||vs Southern Indiana (Tue), at Akron||Next Opp.||at Oakland (Tue), at Ohio|
|3/22||Kent State Golden Flashes||3-8||Pitt Panthers|
|3/24||Kent State Golden Flashes||4-3 F/12||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|3/24||Kent State Golden Flashes||4-11||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|3/26||Kent State Golden Flashes||1-2||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|Next Opp.||at Indiana (Tue), vs Toledo||Next Opp.||at Michigan (Tue), vs Bowling Green|
|3/21||Ohio Bobcats||14-19||Morehead State Eagles|
|3/24||Ohio Bobcats||11-2||Northern Illinois Huskies|
|3/26||Ohio Bobcats||16-12||Northern Illinois Huskies|
|3/26||Ohio Bobcats||1-11 F/7||Northern Illinois Huskies|
|Next Opp.||at Eastern Michigan||Next Opp.||at Northwestern (Tue), at Xavier|
|3/22||Western Michigan Broncos||3-8||Michigan State Spartans|
|3/24||Western Michigan Broncos||3-9||#25 Iowa Hawkeyes|
|3/25||Western Michigan Broncos||8-13||#25 Iowa Hawkeyes|
|3/25||Western Michigan Broncos||6-21 F/7||#25 Iowa Hawkeyes|
|Next Opp.||vs Michigan State (Wed), at Miami|