At the beginning of the season, there were mixed expectations for the Michigan baseball team (6-0 Big Ten, 19-11 overall).
Due to their youth and inexperience, the Wolverines struggled mightily, racking up an abysmal 4-11 record. But after a humbling loss in its home opener, Michigan has turned it around and is one of the hottest teams in the country — owning a 15-game win streak.
The Maryland baseball team (3-3, 16-17) has perhaps lived the exact opposite season. The Terrapins entered the 2018 season with sky high hopes after a fruitful 2017 campaign. Now, with a sub-.500 record, Maryland is scratching its head as to how to bring its team back to life.
The Daily sat down with Andy Kostka, the baseball beat writer for The Diamondback, the student newspaper at Maryland, to gain some insight into the weekend series set to unfold between the two teams.
Kostka spoke with The Daily following the Terrapins 2-1 win over James Madison on Tuesday.
The Michigan Daily: What’s the biggest storyline surrounding the Maryland baseball team right now?
Andy Kostka: I think the biggest storyline is still the offense, even after this game. I mean, they struggled a lot against Illinois, they stranded a combined 30 runners on base in that series. Last Tuesday against William and Mary, they stranded 17 more. Today, they stranded 16 on base in 12 innings, went… 3-for-23… with runners on-base. So, it’s just an offense that was hyped up at the beginning of the year with a lot of power bats. Nick Dunn, Marty Costes, Justin Morris, Kevin Biondic, Randy Bednar — they’re all capable of hitting for power and really to start the year, it’s only been Kevin Biondic and Nick Dunn who have gone to their full potential on that front.
TMD: What are some of Maryland’s strengths and weaknesses this season?
AK: A strength would be their weekend starters. They’ve had some weaknesses with the bullpen. The bullpen was good tonight, but besides Mike Vasturia, Grant Burleson, Kevin Biondic and John Murphy, there’s not much depth there. So when you get into a weekend series and you have to pitch three of those guys in one game, that kind of limits your options for the rest of the games that weekend. But you have Hunter Parsons, who has been kind of a revelation this year. I believe he’s able to go this Sunday, that’s what it sounds like so far. Tyler Blohm is looking like a really good, maybe MLB prospect next season for the draft, so he’s been kind of hitting exactly where he needs to be. Taylor Bloom has kind of struggled, which has been surprising, but he generally turns in, except for this last Friday, he generally turns in like seven or eight innings which is just fantastic for a pretty thin bullpen. So, starting pitching has probably been a really strong point for this team so far.
TMD: What needs to go right for Maryland to take this series?
AK: They probably — for it to go exactly right and for them to pick up a series win, win two of three — they need that starting pitching to be spot on, and they have to figure out how to hit with runners in scoring position. Maybe they carry this Tuesday’s game — big hits in the top of the ninth and the top of the 12th, first to tie the game then to win it in the top of the 12th — maybe they carry that into it, but right now they’re stranding way too many runners. I guess a positive sign is that they’re getting runners on base, but a few weeks ago they weren’t really doing that on a consistent basis. So, that’s step one is getting runners on the bases, but they gotta cash in and do the little things. It’s not always getting the big hit, but maybe getting the groundout to second base with a guy on third with less than two outs. They have been doing that lately, and they’ve squandered a lot of opportunities when they could’ve had an out that brings in a run, they’ve been striking out instead. That happened a couple times tonight and a couple times last weekend.
TMD: Maryland just dropped a close series against Illinois, where is this team at mentally?
AK: My original answer was that they’re probably feeling it. I think after today, they’re definitely feeling some relief. They had, in the top of the ninth, they had the go-ahead run rounding third base and he was gonna score pretty easily, but he tripped and fell and — this is Chris Alleyne — he tripped and fell, was tagged out then before he could get home, and that almost felt like it epitomized the team. They’re on the verge of breaking out and then they kind of trip and fall and they fall back to futility. Then the coach said after that they he felt a little bit of dread because he knew his lineup wasn’t really hitting, but after this win A.J. Lee said that it was an all-around effort which he’s kind of right. The bullpen gave scoreless innings at the end of the game, Mark DiLuia starting — he gave seven very good innings, and I guess when they needed it most they got the big hit. The team came through.
TMD: How’s the team’s baserunning and how is that a weapon in their offense?
AK: Coach Rob Vaughn talked about at the beginning of the season how he wants to create havoc on the basepaths, and maybe they haven’t totally done that as often as they should’ve. And he said that today that they haven’t gotten too many baserunners in the past couple weeks, they've kind’ve been struggling in that regard. They’re not gonna steal over 100 bases like they did last year, they’re not on pace for it this year. But today they stole five bases, which I believe is a season high, but it didn’t lead to a run. Early on, it was a big part of putting pressure on the pitching staff of James Madison, and they have a lot of speedy guys in the lineup between A.J. Lee, Zach Jancarski, Taylor Wright, Randy Bednar — guys that can really create something Double steals, they’ve been doing that a lot. They kinda want to take advantage of that speed with a lineup that’s maybe not gonna string too many hits together. Baserunning’s almost magnified a bit, because if they can steal a base, if they complete the double steal, then a wild pitch brings him home. Then, they don’t even need to get a single, so I guess it’s a huge focus for this team right now when they’re struggling mightily at the plate with runners in scoring position and runners on base.
TMD: Finally, your prediction?
AK: I think Maryland will take one of the three games just because they’ve had really solid starting pitching in the last couple weeks with Parsons and Blohm at least. I mean, they’ve lost their past five Fridays, so I’m not going into Friday thinking they’ll win that one, but I think either Saturday or Sunday they’ll steal one. It’s gonna be tough against a team like Michigan, because they have starting pitching that’s just kind of lights out and with this team that’s struggling at the plate, it’s gonna be tough to piece hit-by-hit-by-hit. They’re gonna have to take advantage of the small ball stuff that they maybe haven’t taken advantage of this year of, you get a guy on, steal or bunt him over, then sac fly brings him home. They haven’t had a lot of success doing that on a consistent basis this season, but I think if they can do that, they can steal one game.