The Last Week Was a Mixed Bag Overall (But Disappointing for the ACC)
There aren’t many ways to cover this one up. Baseball tends to demonstrate weaknesses rather quickly, and then grind in the problems if they aren’t fixed adequately. It’s a marathon and like all long races there are trends that build and then reach out and grab you like a massive cramp. We haven’t reported on the baseball team since last week due to the problem of not being three different people and three different non-work schedules, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been watching the baseball team. We’ll talk about the coverage change and pace of articles at the end of this. So, just hang in there while we go over the last week of baseball.
Where Things Stand After the Road Trip (and quick touch home)
Currently the Hokies are well above the .500 mark with a 15-9 record but then you hit the parentheses end and that worrisome 2-7 pops up for their ACC record. At this point of the season, it would be much better to have that number closer to even on the positive side. No one rational is expecting that this very young team is going to be running off with a huge ACC blowout number, but two series losses by split (BC and Pitt), and a sweep by Miami has put a serious dent in the conference numbers. Even making the post season playoffs could be a trick if the Hokies don’t get a handle on their conference win/loss ratio.
Baseball stats tend to bunch W/L listings by the Last 5 and Last 10 numbers which gives an idea of the pace and trajectory of the marathon and where the team is “now”. It’s a way of cutting off highs and lows to get a clearer picture of performance levels and trends in that great rolling average that is the game.
There isn’t too much to argue about, at this point, Tech’s Last 5 is above par, but it’s Last 10 is trending in the wrong direction in a worrisome way. Over the last five games, the Hokies are 3 and 2, with 2 wins over VMI (for the split series sweep) and a 1-2 series loss to Pitt. That’s normally not too bad, but then we jump into the Last 10, and a different picture pops up. That 3 and 2 becomes a 3-win 7-loss slump that this team must find a way to stop. And that’s going to be no mean feat because #5 UVA is visiting Blacksburg this weekend.
Before jumping into the preview of that, let’s look at what has happened over that last 5 games that hopefully turns around the slumping trend.
The Virginia Tech Hokie baseball team looked to right the ship a bit with a quick mid-week game against the VMI Keydets, back home, before heading to Pittsburg to face the Panthers on their home turf.
The first game of the past week was played on an off day, instead of Tuesday, the Keydets showed up on English Field on a Wednesday. An extra day of rest and practice might not have been a bad thing after the disappointing sweep at Miami. The team needed a bit of refocusing after the struggling mixed bag of losses in Coral Gables.
Tech seems to have responded to the day of rest because the pitch-by-committe effort was outstanding, and the bats were live. The 11-0 shutout was the first one of the season, and holding the Keydets, who have a pretty solid baseball program, to a grand total of 4 hits was a confidence builder.
Hokies vs. VMI - March 22
The Hokie Offensive Activity was aided by some VMI errors and some heads up baserunning by the Hokies, a big 7th inning burst for the birds didn’t hurt, either.
Doubles: DeMartini, Carson (1)
Home Runs: Michel, Garrett (1)
Sacrifice Flies: DeMartini, Carson (1); Jones, Carson (1)
Hit by Pitch: Martin, Christian (1); Eisert, Eddie (1)
*From Hokie Sports
The win seemed to buoy the Hokies’ spirits a bit as they took the long trip north to Pittsburg.
The Series Against Pitt Started Out with a Very Hopeful
Insert the frowny face emoji here. The Hokies had a solid (though not stellar) pitching start, again. This time Coach Szefc mixed up his starting rotation by putting Drue Hackenberg on the bump instead of Griffin Green. The reason given by Coach Szefc was the anticipated weather conditions, since it was supposed to be really windy on Saturday (A Sunday doubleheader had been penciled in because of the potential Saturday weather in western PA). Green is a better pitcher for getting ground outs instead of allowing hitters to get the ball up into the wind.
Other than the 1st inning tying burst, Hackenberg managed to settle down and kept the Panthers from crossing the plate until the bottom of the 7th inning when he got into trouble and ended up being handed the loss after losing the one run lead the Hokies earned on a home run by Jack Hurley. Hack’s been struggling of late, and the Friday game wasn’t neat and clean - he did give up 11 hits, so that’s why we put solid in the descriptor, not stellar.
The big problem for Friday’s contest was that the Hokies were generating little offense and when they needed to manufacture some runs, they left seven runners on base and eventually that catches up with you.
Hokies vs. Pitt - Game 1 - March 24
There wasn’t much in the way of active offense for the Hokies. It was nearly 100% Jack Hurley with his two home runs, the first a 3-run shot in the top of the 1st, and then the second was a solo tater that temporarily put the Hokies up a run in the top of the 6th.
Game 2 Was a Sign of Hope But Also a Warning
Okay, it was a win, and you don’t look wins straight into the teeth and wonder but given the windy conditions and the Hokies’ current batting/offensive biases, the football score posted of 20-12 isn’t too surprising, but there is some worry that is well deserved in that, as well.
Hokies vs. Pitt - Game 2 - March 25
The lesson in this game is that sometimes you just have to outscore the other guy. This game was no exception. The Hokie pitching rotation for the game gave up a collective 12 runs (11 earned runs), and no reliever came out with fewer than 3 crossing the plate for their efforts. Griffin Green went 5 and 1⁄3 innings an was tagged for 2 runs, but relievers Tyler Dean, Matthew Siverling, and Jonah Hurney each were clocked with 3 runs and had problems clearing off the bases without Panthers crossing the plate.
There was lots of Hokie Offense to Note, but the long ball dominated. More about that, later.
Doubles: Michel, Garrett (2); Donay, Brody (1)
Home Runs: Grady, Clay (1); Cannizzaro, Chris (1); Donay, Brody (1); Jones, Carson (1)
Hit by Pitch: Grady, Clay (2); Eisert, Eddie (1); Jones, Carson (1)
*From Hokie Sports
Game 3 Was a Flat Disappointment Pitching and Batting Failed When Both were Needed
There are just no excuses for this happening, nearly constantly. The Hokies get a lead and lose it, and then with outs left cannot manufacture the one or two runs needed to get the job done. Fans, that’s how most baseball games are played and won. It’s a question of whether or not you can push those one or two critical runs across the plate with your remaining outs. Game 3 should have been a win, PERIOD.
Hokies vs. Pitt - Game 3 - March 26
We’ll just leave that bad taste with the bad taste from game one, and talk about the ramifications, here in the closing section.
The 2nd VMI Game Looked like a Blowout Until “It” Happened, Again
Hey, a win is a win, why the complaint? Well, it’s not a complaint, it’s a valid observation that Coach Szefc and staff are going to have to deal with. Hokie relief pitching is brutally inconsistent and struggling, suddenly. It looked to be running smoothly in the first 10 games, and now has hit a rough patch that needs to be addressed, and fast.
Hokies vs. VMI - Game 2 - March 28
Up until the 6th inning it was 6-2 Hokies, and VMI wasn’t generating much push. Lefty Grant Umberger had a really nice quality start going. He pitched a solid 4 innings and gave up a single run. It was a good outing for him. But mid-week games are always pitch-by-committee efforts, and the Hokies, anticipating needed Umberger for this weekend, pulled him and put Luke Jackman on the bump to get him some experience. That wasn’t the experience that he wanted. He gave up 2 runs but did strike out 5 batters, so the bag was mixed, and the lead was still intact.
Normally pretty solid Griffin Stieg took over to finish the inning for Jackman, but alas... Stieg ran into too many bats and gave up 3 runs on four hits. VMI had tied the game, and needing a win, Jonah Hurney was sent in to settle things down and clear the problem. He did give up that tying run but managed to get the Hokies back on offense with enough outs left to try to cross the plate enough times to win the game. Andrew Sentlinger was credited with the save by getting the final out of the 9th to protect a creeping bottom of the inning run that threatened the 3 solo home run lead produced at the top of the 9th by Garrett Michel, Jack Hurley, and Carson DeMartini.
Tech finished on top, but their problems persisted until the bitter end of the game.
Exactly What are the Hokies’ Problems in 2023?
Look, this team has lots of promise, so don’t get discouraged by the issues that Coach Szefc and staff are facing at this stretch of the season. There are some great personalities, some remaining players with solid experience, and some impressive long ball skills. But the bull pen is loaded with new talent and the small ball offensive game has not materialized, yet.
There are two critical factors to winning baseball games over the long run. Offensively, a team needs to win close games by getting manufactured runs across the plate. Most baseball games are close, and those one or two-run innings where someone gets on base, hustles into a 2nd base steal, gets pushed to third on a single or ground ball, and then gets across the plate on a contact play will more often than not be the difference in a game. Coach Szefc is a master at teaching the techniques and disciplines, but it takes the batters to buy into the type of baseball that is often seen as “old fashioned”. The kids want to swing away and hit the long ball. As I peruse the statistics, I notice that a major negative is the distressing number of players left on the bags for the Hokies. More than a few times the birds have been to the plate with bases loaded and no outs on the board, or maybe one, and no runs scored. If a team has runners on the corners and either no or one outs left, there is no excuse for not getting that final 90 feet. Championship, well, just winning, teams do that with regularity. The Hokies are not getting that done, and that’s losing close games for them.
Besides the small ball offensive woes, the Hokies are finding themselves in a bull pen pickle. The pitching can be really good at times, but the pen isn’t managing to keep opposing players off of the bags. There is a bit of a problem with the starting pitching, but Drue and Griffin will get their rhythm and get back into good grooves. There is even a sparkle of hope that we’ll see a third starting arm as Anthony Arguelles has had some solid starts on 3rd day games. But the pen needs to be much more consistent.
#5 UVA comes to Blacksburg starting Friday. We’ll be at the games for Saturday and Sunday with pictures. If Tech is lit, and they make contact, the Hoos are in for a tough time. If they are struggling to make hard contact, though, it could be a very long series. Right now, the best that the Hokies can hope for is a series split. A split win would be a real booster, a split loss wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the Hokies are running out of ACC games to make an impression and close the gap on enough wins to qualify for the ACC post season tournament. 2-7 isn’t going to cut it. 2-10 is a disaster. So, this is a must win situation for the Hokies against an archrival that we have issues beating.