Baseball: The Challenge Preview

Submitted by formerlyanonymous on February 25th, 2010 at 11:20 PM

Michigan will spend this weekend, along with all of its BigTen brethren in the Tampa, FL area in one of the nation's premiere early season tournaments of college baseball, The BigEast/BigTen Challenge. The Challenge was created last year as a showcase for two of the better mid-major conferences from north of the Mason-Dixon line, featuring 10 BigTen teams and 8 BigEast teams. This year, the BigEast will send 10 teams to Tampa, including a ranked Louisville team that was absent in the inaugural tournament.

This year's tournament has also not been quite the media darling as last year. As an Opening Day tournament, it was the headliner. No major teams played real opponents in week one, but with the addition of the week to the beginning of the season on short notice, the Challenge has fallen to second fiddle to other tournaments and weekend series. Luckily, the top challenger for tournament of the week was cancelled due to cold, so we're getting back a little bit of our limelight.

Michigan has drawn a tough schedule in this year's tournament, featuring two of the top 3 teams in the BigEast. The Wolverines open with #11 (CBI Composite Poll) Louisville, then St. John's, and a South Florida team picked 2nd in the BigEast coaches' preseason poll.

Michigan should be a strong enough team to finish 2-1, with the loss coming at the hands of Louisville, but it will take some mental toughness without LaMarre to get to that point. I'm hopeful that only having 3 games this weekend should help us out. The less we see of our fourth starters on the weekend the better for the time being.

Team previews and conference outlook after the jump.

The Weather

week2weather

Might get a little wet this weekend, particularly Saturday. The chance of rain has jumped 30% in the last 8 hours. We'll have to wait and see if things don't improve.

@Louisville

Friday 7:30pm ETLive Video, Live Stats
Alan Oaks (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs Thomas Royse (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
All Time Series: 0-1 (L 1-11, at Louisville, March '94))
Dunedin Stadium
Dunedin, FL

The Cardinals are a rarity among northern, mid-major programs – they are one of the best baseball programs in the nation. Louisville moved into the BigEast 5 seasons ago, but their baseball roots to Conference USA still hold strong. They still remain a top 25 favorite year after year, and this season is no different. They currently rank anywhere from 11-16 in the major college baseball polls, tops among any of Michigan's future ranked opponents.

We don't have a whole lot of info on this year's Cardinals with only one week of games in the books. They swept Bowling Green in a three game set at home and beat Morehead State on Tuesday in a mid-week game. The weekend against Bowling Green was closer than I would have expected. While the Cardinals dominated game one 13-1, game two was close at 5-2. Game three had the Cardinals overcome a 0-7 first inning (all with no outs) deficit to win 8-7.

Michigan will see 6'-5", junior, righty Thomas Royse on the mound. In his first start, he went 5.0 innings giving up 2 hits and hitting a batter while only giving up one unearned run. Royse did strike out 5 batters and posted a 7:2 ground out to fly out ratio. Royse is returning from a season ending back surgery last year, but he still managed to make the 2nd Team All-BigEast.

The bullpen behind Royse looked VERY good against Bowling Green and Morehead State, but what does that really mean? I'm not very sure. If anything, I expect them to be well above average as Louisville normally has plenty of depth on the mound. Gabriel Shaw is supposed to be the full time closer this year (committee last year), and he has been named to the National Stopper Watch List.

On offense, the Cardinals are a very stacked team with a good portion of juniors and seniors. Their star is Preseason All-American Phil Wunderlich. Wunderlich is an outfielder converted to third base and is also coming off off-season surgery, his on the right shoulder. He is supposedly healthy and looking to up his numbers as a sophomore when he hit .367 with 18 homers and 78 RBI (1.113 OPS). 

Wunderlich had a slow start last weekend, but the rest of his team has made up for the sub-par numbers. Ryan Wright has posted a .750 slugging percentage with a double, triple, and home run. His 7 RBIs is a team high. He and 3 other Cardinals have posted on base percentages of at least .500.

As a reminder, CollegeBaseball360 will be streaming select games throughout the weekend. This will be Michigan's one game to be streamed.

St. John's

Saturday 4:30pm *8:00pm* ETLive Audio, Live Stats
Matt Miller (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs TBA
All Time Series: 5-3 (W 4-2 in last year's Challenge)
Al Lang Stadium
St. Petersburg, FL

The Red Storm also enter the challenge undefeated, beating University of New Orleans last weekend, including a 5-2 12-inning affair and a 31-6 blood letting in the finale. Those are two pretty drastic differences, especially against a team only finished last year around the 160 mark of the RPI rankings. St. John's is a middle of the road mid-major team, capable of great years like 2008 when they ended up as a fringe top 30 team, but they're also generally more like last year when they finished around 110.

No matter the outcome, St. John's teams have recently been more offensive oriented than pitching. This year, the offensive focal point centers around third baseman Greg Hopkins and first baseman Paul Karmas. The juniors already have 10 RBI each on the year, and Karmas has a team leading 3 homers.

The leading returning hitter for the Red Storm is senior outfielder Jimmy Parque. As a junior, the lefty hit .360 with a .509 slugging percentage. His 61 RBI was second on the team.

On the mound, I'm not sure who to expect to start. Their second starter last week was Nick Cenatiempo, who went 4 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out seven. Last season, Cenatiempo went 5-3 in 17 appearances, 7 of which were starts. He posted a team best 5.17 ERA among pitchers with more than 50 innings. He struck out only 28 in 54 innings of work, with an opponent batting average of .293.

None of their starters went more than 5 innings last weekend, and it appears that might have been planned so the bullpen could get some work and the starters wouldn't be over worked to start the season. The bullpen looked decent last weekend, and senior Ryan Cole was one of the better relievers in the BigEast last season, working 28.1 innings and giving up only 11 earned runs for a 3.49 ERA.

@South Florida

Sunday 1pm ETLive Audio, Live Stats
TBA vs Andrew Barbosa (0-0, 4.50 ERA)
All Time Series: 5-6 (W 6-5 in last year's Challenge)
Naimoli Complex
St. Petersburg, FL

South Florida comes in with some lofty expectations this year, so don't let that 0-3 record make you think they're some sort of slouch. All three losses came against the University of Florida, a team expected to win the SEC East, in Gainesville. The Bulls were picked to finish second in conference by their coaches this preseason, and they have a pretty stacked roster.

Luckily we'll miss Preseason BigEast Top Pitcher Randy Fontanez who should start Friday. The USF third starter is lefty Andrew Barbosa. Barbosa is 6'-9" and a two time MLB draftee, once out of high school and once out of junior college. The Puerto Rican native has all but locked down the 3rd starter role. Last week against the Gators, he went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits, a walk, and 4 strikeouts. All three runs were scored in the first, and at one point, he did retire 12 straight batters (13 of his last 14 batters faced).

The USF bullpen has a solid duo of Kevin Quackenbush and Joe Cole, but after that it becomes anybody's guess. Andrew Salguiero was supposed to be one of the best relievers in the nation last year, but he never lived up to expectations. Sophomore Trey Dahl will also get his share of innings, but like Salguiero, he hasn't lived up to expectations yet either.

Two of USF's top prospects are sophomore first baseman Todd Brazeal and sophomore shortstop Sam Mende. Both are coming off a Freshman All-American season, and Mende was an invite to the Cape Cod League this past summer, although he turned it down due to rehabbing an ankle injury. Both should be extremely tough outs in the middle of the lineup.

One big question in the lineup is when will Ryan Lockwood re-emerge from his sophomore slump. After being named Freshman of the Year nationally in 2008, he had a very quiet 2009. Lockwood showed he was capable of hitting .415 over an entire season, but last year he was mired in the .280s. He's started slow this season, but the guy is a sleeping giant on their roster.

One of the biggest questions I have coming into this game is who will be starting for Michigan? I thought Burgoon had a decent game for week 1 last week. Why is this TBA? Did Sinnery earn a shot at the starting rotation? Is Burgoon moving back into the bullpen after one meh start? Is he not making the trip? Time will tell.

Relevant Reading

  • CollegeBaseball360 PreviewChallenge Preview is his preseason team capsules with slight updates.
  • Rival Tournament Cancelled – The other top tournament this weekend in college baseball was cancelled due to cold weather. I tell them they don't know what cold is and they should have added the week to the end of the season so the tournament would have been pushed back to next weekend anyway.

Outlook

It really depends on if Michigan can respond knowing LaMarre is out. If they can come back strong, I think we got 2-1 with a close loss to Louisville. If we still are left clueless, it's going to be a long weekend against Louisville and USF. I think we still stand a very good chance against St. John's.

As far as the conference as a whole, I think we take the tournament by a small margin, certainly less than 5 games. The bottom of our conference, minus Northwestern, to come out with a winning record. The middle of the two conferences should create some great matchups. MSU's finale with West Virginia might be one of the best games not getting a ton of attention. This is where the tournament will be won or lost.

The top three teams, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State have some tough games ahead of them. OSU faces South Florida on opening night with Fontanez on the rubber. They'll get a solid Notre Dame team on Saturday and in-state rival Cincinnati. Minnesota will face St. John's, a UCONN team picked by many to be in the top 3 of the BigEast, and Louisville to close the tournament. Those schedules are pretty tough, but I have to imagine both emerge with at least 2 wins each.

(All stats for this season do not include mid week games)

Comments

formerlyanonymous

February 26th, 2010 at 10:19 AM ^

I'm watching Iowa and Rutgers play now. Video is just one stationary, wide screen shot over the plate. Players look like specs and baseball is near invisible. Night game may be tough to see. Commentary is good though.

Naked Mile Swim

February 26th, 2010 at 3:30 PM ^

In case the video feed is poor, the Louisville site has a link to live audio from the baseball schedule page for tonight's game:

http://www.uoflsports.com/sports/m-basebl/sched/lou-m-basebl-sched.html

I live in Louisville and they have high high hopes for another CWS birth this year. I think 2 wins this weekend will be very very tough with LaMarre out and the pitching staff is still a bit iffy. The three main starters (minus one inning for Burgoon) have looked pretty good in Texas, but the bullpen still seems rather unsettled. Still only one weekend in the season, so it is way too early to draw conclusions.

Quag77

February 26th, 2010 at 4:42 PM ^

says the reason Burgoon is not starting against Louisville is coach REALLY wants to win 2 of 3 this weekend and REALLY wants an opening win against Louisville. He thinks that Oaks starting and Burgoon off the bench, last (3-4 inn) is the teams best chance. If by chance Burgoon isn't needed, he will start game 3. Probably not a bad stategy but not sure what that means... Burgoon back in relief role? Only time will tell. I only wish we had an outfielder in left and not Stephens. Again. not a slam on Garret, more like a ctriticism on obvious bad recruiting and foresight with not having more than 3 outfielders. Go Blue!... by the way... if you're not down here, man it feels good. Ha

formerlyanonymous

February 26th, 2010 at 4:56 PM ^

I don't mind that strategy on the mound. No sleight against Burgoon, but I've liked Oaks as a starter over Burgoon, more because that's what he has been targeted for of late. Burgoon, to my limited view, has been prepped more as a reliever. Then again, I'm sure others have more insight than I do.

As for the outfield, I'm somewhat surprised that Oaks wasn't put in the outfield, but Stephens is a bat that I've liked in his limited time. I'm not sure how much preparation he's had in the outfield, but I have to agree, we needed another outfielder, especially if Oaks isn't an option.

formerlyanonymous

February 26th, 2010 at 7:18 PM ^

Friday's game is now set for a 7:55pm start.

Couple of big wins for the BigTen so far as we lead the Challenge 5-2.

Northwestern knocked off UCONN with a walk off single in the opener. That's a huge win for the conference. Iowa also beat Rutgers. Michigan State edged Seton Hall. Penn State's win over Cincy was good for the conference, even if it took 12 innings. They scored two in the 9th to take it the distance. Indiana also beat West Virginia, a huge win for them.

In not so good, Purdue lost to Villanova. That's a bad loss. Minnesota had an exciting finish with the tying and winning runs being stranded in scoring position to end the game. That loss isn't a good one for them, especially after already losing one to Akron last weekend.

Illinois and Ohio State are both still in action. Illini are tied at 1 with Notre Dame in the 5th. OSU leads 4-2 over USF in the bottom of the 8th. Wimmers is still in, but Fontanez was chased after 6, giving up 3 runs (2 earned).

Quag77

February 27th, 2010 at 9:44 AM ^

Oaks threw an excellent 7 and Sinner 2 innings. 6 hits given up tonight with only 2 runs. Can't ask for any more out of your pitching. Our offense REALLY needs to step up. Only 2 hits again tonight. That makes 6 hits in three games (i don't count the last inning of the blowout loss against TT). Would like to see us more aggressive. We did get a few good swings in starting the 7th innings tonight...but that's too late. HAd a great chance with bases loaded and one out but Dufek hit into an untimely double play to end the rally. Boy, we need a 3 hole hitter.

One error on the books (should have been 3) but nothing that cost a run. Very good game... we just need run support. Krantz was in LF and looked pretty good. He made a nice play and hit the ball hard. If it was a 3 game series agaisnt the #15 ranked team.... I like our chances. We'll be OK

formerlyanonymous

February 27th, 2010 at 9:49 AM ^

Since I think you said you were at the game, maybe you can verify this for me. Was the umpire's strike zone pretty big, particularly at the bottom? While I think our batters should have adjusted, the grainy feed made it appear that several pitches were called for both teams really low. Louisville made the adjustment and swung while we just continued to watch strikes be called. Truth? No?

Quag77

February 27th, 2010 at 10:32 AM ^

the zone was larger than most so far this year but called consistent on both sides. All you can ask for. I agree, the Louisville hitters AND pitchers adjusted very nice. They were painting the corners and attacking on 0-2, 1-2 counts & getting the calls. We kept throwing in the dirt? Athough the pitch selection was 100% better in this game... we still need to read the ump better and attack when ahead in the count. Same at the plate...we just flat out watched way too many FB go by....not just the low ones. Good call FA.

formerlyanonymous

February 28th, 2010 at 9:04 AM ^

In other media, Sorenson's 3-Down for yesterday had this:

2- MICHIGAN’S OFFENSE.
Wolverines were held to five hits in a 2-1 loss to St. John’s.

I know their offensive leader Ryan LaMarre is out of the next month or so, but somebody - ANYbody - needs to roll up their sleeves, grab a bat, dig in extra deep in the dirt and pick up the offense. So far through two games at the Big 10-Big East Challenge, UMich has but seven hits and one run.

Tough draw today with USF. How about we score more runs than the other team, today?

colin

February 28th, 2010 at 11:47 PM ^

Finally, for each of the three groups, I averaged every pertinent pair of seasons, weighting for playing time. For instance, a player who had 250 at-bats in each season is weighted more heavily than one who had 170 and 220. Across all of Division One college baseball, here's what I came up with:

Pair Players $H $D+T $HR $BB $K $SB $SB/ATT
Fr -> So 335 1.05 1.26 1.73 1.19 0.98 1.34 1.11
So -> Jr 612 1.04 1.18 1.70 1.18 1.01 1.32 1.09
Jr -> Sr 746 1.03 1.18 1.57 1.18 1.01 1.30 1.07

For a small table, there's a lot of information here. Each entry is a multiplier representing the average increase in a given statistical category. For instance, the average freshman with 150 or more at-bats got 5 percent more hits (per at-bat) as a sophomore. A few more observations:

formerlyanonymous

March 1st, 2010 at 9:25 AM ^

here's what I came up with:

So it was you who put out the study? Regardless, I thought it was pretty interesting that strikeouts increase in frequency between the freshman and sophomore years. Also thought it was pretty strange that double/triples have a huge jump in year two while home runs make the big jump in the last year. I'm wondering if the big jump in the homers isn't weighted by JUCO hitters that transfer in as juniors, struggle in their first year of adjustment, then succeed in their senior year.

I also read through the guy's conference strength and I greatly disagree with the BigEast as a major baseball conference. UL is a statistical outlier that inflates their score. No way the conference is better than the BigWest, much less the WCC. I'd probably rate the conference as a whole tied with the Southern Conference.

I'm somewhat surprised the BigTen was that high. Our champion won one game of note all season, a midweek game against Miami. That was it. Illinois, a middle of the road team took a game or two from LSU. Not much else.

formerlyanonymous

February 28th, 2010 at 4:49 PM ^

A win! 9 hits for 4 runs. 2 HRs, Lorenz and Berset each had a solo shot to lead off separate innings. Dennis was 1/4 with 2 RBI. Couple other batters also had multi hit games.

Only discouraging thing was 12 Ks for M, including 3 by Nick Urban.

Burgoon looked good overall. 4 hits, 2 runs (both earned) and 5 Ks. Sinnery was impressive with 5 Ks in 3 perfect innings.

Quag77

February 28th, 2010 at 9:41 PM ^

Pitching again very good. 3 hits allowed by Burgoon (2 handle shot flairs) and another outstanding effort by Sinnery....ZERO hits. Burgoon with 7 K's, Sinnery 5 K's. ZERO walks.... that's good pitching. A lot more enthusiasm from the bench. Pitch call was very good. We looked silly on the curve tonight...watched the FB go by again and had to swing at the curve but overall much better effort. Concern - no opposing pitcher threw faster than 87mph....therefore the hits. It seems that's when we struggle, when opposing pitchers throw harder than 88mph. Defense was great. Dufek is a machine at scooping balls out of the dirt at first. Berset is the hardest working player on the field and has got to be one of the best defensive players around.

Challenge summary - Although a 1-2 record, our pitching was the best in the tourney. We only gave up 6 runs and we by far had the toughest schedule. The hits will come and I think we are looking very good.

bullsfan65

February 28th, 2010 at 9:43 PM ^

Regarding your comments on South Florida pitching. Just for the record, Trey Dahl is a redshirt Freshman, and has never pitched in a game for South Florida yet. It's kind of difficult to live up to expectations when you haven't even thrown a pitch in a game. Maybe if they give him a chance he will live up to their expectations.

formerlyanonymous

February 28th, 2010 at 9:48 PM ^

I heard coming into the spring he wasn't quite where they were expecting him to be yet. That happens with young players. I don't doubt that he can develop into a star player, he just wasn't there yet coming into this weekend. I made sure to mention him for his potential talent, not his lack of talent.

Thanks for coming by though, and best of luck the rest of the season.