Baseball Series Preview

In just a few short weeks, the attention of baseball fans across the country will direct their attention toward Florida for Major League Spring Training. However, those in the Queen City will not have to wait for exhibition baseball to get their filling of hardball in the Sunshine State, as UC baseball is already here! Casey Weldon takes a look at this weekend's season-opening series with FAU.

Baseball Set to Toss Out First Pitch of Season at Florida Atlantic

UC Heads to Florida Atlantic Owls for a Thee-Game Series, Begin 2007 Season

Dates: Friday, Feb. 9-Sunday, Feb. 11, 2007

Times: 7 p.m. (Fri.); 2 p.m. (Sat.); 1 p.m. (Sun.)

Site: FAU Stadium (2,000), Boca Raton, Fla.

Records:

Cincinnati: .....….32-26, 13-14 Big East*

Florida Atlantic: ..3-0, 0-0 Sun Belt (first season in conference)

Series: Florida Atlantic leads, 3-0; The Owls swept the season-opening home series (2/13/2005)

Live Audio: www.fausports.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/sched/fau-m-basebl-sched.html

*Last season's record

While thoughts of how to cope with the freshly fallen snow of early this week are still on the minds of many of those throughout the Queen City, a select few of lucky individuals will have the chance to make their annual wintertime Florida trip to escape the wintertime shackles of Jack Frost. No, I am not referring to the countless droves of able-bodied senior citizens that make their way to the Sunshine State around this time of year. Instead, I am talking about the University of Cincinnati baseball team, who will toss out the first pitch to the 2007 season with a match-up against Sun Belt Conference powerhouse Florida Atlantic this weekend.

Coming off a surprising campaign a year ago which saw the team qualify for their postseason action in four years when they qualified for the Big East Tournament in their inaugural season, the Bearcats bring high hopes into this upcoming season mixing a compelling blend of experienced veterans with talented newcomers in hopes of building off last season's successes. However, while improvement is likely, especially with regard to individual development, there is no guarantee that this year's rendition of the Bearcat baseball will see those enhancements translate directly to an increase in their win total. This will particularly be the case because a drastic turnover in the team's starting lineup. The departure of minor leaguers Logan Parker (first base) and Jack Nelson (DH/closer), as well as veteran infielders Mark Muscenti (second base) and Jon DeLuca (third base), and extra base-thieving centerfielder LaFringe Hayes, will leave the ‘Cats with numerous holes to plug in their roster, both offensively and defensively.

In addition to the loss of statistical output offensively and steadfast reliability defensively, UC saw the overwhelming majority of the on- and off-field leadership roles vacated with the departure of the team's seniors. This season the Bearcats will rely on vocal leadership from senior Brian Szarmach and do-it-all sophomore Josh Harrison, who took college baseball by storm during his freshman coming out party last year. In addition, the yeoman-like work ethics of players such as sophomore shortstop Adam Yeager, first baseman Neall French and hurling ace Steve Blevins will give both the 17 returning letter winners and the sizeable class of UC newcomers upstanding examples of what Cincinnati baseball is all about.

This weekend will provide the first true test of how successful this player-based leadership has been in molding this young Bearcat squad into the team it can be, as the team heads to Florida Atlantic where they will square off in a three-game season-opening set against the Owls.

 

Setting the Scene

Noting UC

*Cincinnati comes into the season predicted to finish seventh in the Big East Conference. Eight teams qualify for the Conference Tournament (Brooklyn, NY.) at the end of the season.

*The Bearcats have struggled mightily under manager Brian Cleary recently. Cincinnati has lost five of their last six and is currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak. Overall, Cleary is 4-6 in the first 10 years of his run as the head of the Bearcat program.

Noting FAU

* The FAU head into the season with the hunger to return to the NCAA Regional Tournament after missing it for the first time in five years in 2006. The taste of postseason is fueled by a desire for a successful season for the 21 players who dealt with the multiple injuries, which led to a substandard 2006 season.

* The Owls opened the 2005 season against the Bearcats and came away with three close victories (six total runs).

*Predicted preseason to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid (3 seed) (CSTV)

* Florida Atlantic is projected to finish fourth in the Sun Belt Conference behind Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette, a recent College World Series participant, and South Alabama

Probable Pitching Match-Ups

Friday

      No          Name               Ht. Wt. Cl.   ERA  W-L  G/GS   IP      BB  SO  Opp. BA

UC 13 RHP-Steve Blevins 6-2 208 So.  5.70    9-5     17/16  101.0 48   68   .310*

FAU 7 RHP-Mickey Storey 6-1 165 Jr. 0.00   1-0     1/1      5.0     1     8     .167

Saturday

      No.        Name                     Ht. Wt. Cl.     ERA   W-L  G/GS   IP    BB   SO  Opp BA

UC 44 LHP-Dan Osterbrock 6-2 170 So.    5.25    3-3     13/8    61.2  22   38    .296*

FAU 30 RHP-Brandon Cooney 6-6 240 Sr.  5.40  1-0      1/1      5.0     1     6     .250

Sunday

        No.          Name                    Ht. Wt. Cl.    ERA   W-L    G/GS IP  BB   SO  Opp BA

UC          TBA#

FAU 16 RHP-Mike Obradovich 6-0 185 Jr.   4.50   1-0       1/1    5.0   0      5   .350

*2006 statistics

#John Baird is the odds on favorite to the get nod in game three.

Noting the Pitching Staffs

FLORIDA ATLANTIC

* The Owls pitching staff posted a collective 2.16 ERA against Mississippi Valley State and held the Delta Devils to a .223 batting average. Expected game one starter (Friday) Mickey Storey recorded eight strikeouts in five innings to pick up the opening night win. Ironically, it was against this same Bearcat squad that Storey (1-0) recorded the victory in hi first career game. The junior came out of the bullpen to pitch a stellar performance, going 4 2/3 innings of hitless baseball while fanning six UC hitters in the 13-inning 7-6 win

* Game two and three starters for FAU, Brandon Cooney and Mike Obradovich, each picked up victories last weekend after pitching five innings of work. While both did enough to earn victories for their team, neither player pitched particularly well during the game. While they combined for 11 strikeouts while allowing only one walk, they each got in trouble with sloppy decisions and even sloppier pitch locations. MVSU hit .300 against the pair and induced a collective 5.00 ERA.

* While Mississippi Valley State is not in the upper crest of collegiate baseball programs, the overall performance of the Owls pitching staff posted a collective 2.16 ERA (six runs), holding the Delta Devils to a .223 batting average. FAU comes into the Cincinnati series averaging 12 strikeouts per contest after registering 36 punchouts against MVSU. The staff was solid overall during the weekend, only allowing 21 hits and 8 combined free passes (five walks, three hit batsmen) during the weekend, only to see a shaky Florida Atlantic defense help to surrender five unearned runs.

Last season: Florida Atlantic pitchers had a combined 4.55 ERA and tallied 37 victories to only 24 defeats on the season. The staff finished the year with a pair of complete games and four shutouts, three of which were the combined variety, shared efforts between the starter and a strong Owl bullpen. The corp of FAU relievers tallied 20 saves on the season, seven of which came from Friday night's expected starter, Storey.

CINCINNATI

* The Friday night starter for the Bearcats is expected to be Steve Blevins, a Freshman All-American last season. The right-hander posted a 9-5 record with 5.70 ERA in 101.0 innings pitched. With his start in game one of the season for UC, Blevins will be the first pitcher since B.J. Borsa (2002-03) to get the season-opening starter for the ‘Cats.

* Dan Osterbrock will start the Saturday start against the Owls. The left-handed pitcher finished his freshman campaign with a 3-3 record in eight starts with a 5.26 ERA in 61.2 innings. Sunday's starter for UC has not been decided.

* While it is just speculation and still subject to change, BCI is predicting John Baird to start Sunday night. The junior was named the co-Top Pitching Prospect in the Big East when he transferred and tabbed by Baseball America as No. 3 overall prospect in the league. With that being said, Baird struggled prior to coming to UC. After graduating from Olentangy High School in Delaware, Ohio, Baird made five disappointing appearances, three starts, for the University of Dayton before moving on to Birmingham Southern for a one-year stint. The 2006 season saw Baird appear in 16 games (one start) in 2006, recording a 0-3 record with a 7.50 ERA in 24 innings of work.

* With the loss of Jack Nelson in the bullpen, a player who came on late during the ‘06 season to lock down the late-inning duties for UC, the closer position is likely to be handled by committee early on. Players such as A.J. Upton, who was nominated for national reliever of the year prior to the season, Sean Munninghoff and transfer Michael Hill will all vie for the closers job. UC will also feature a host of could-be starters out of the pain that will provide great depth to the squad, including a few lefties which will offer skipper Brian Cleary a whole host of managerial options.

Last Season:

The 2006 season saw the Bearcats feature a pitching staff that was promising but not proven, good but not elite. Showing flashes of greatness and weakness throughout the season, sometimes even in the same game - which is not particularly uncommon for a young ball club, the Bearcat pitching staff gave both the optimistic baseball fan and the pessimistic observer reason to feel they were correct. As a whole, the team finished with a 5.77 ERA in 58 games. While the team did record seven complete games, which shows the strength of the Bearcat starters, it also emphasized the overall weakness of the team's bullpen. On numerous occasions, it seemed as if overworked starters and relievers were plagued with fatigue issues, leaving them susceptible to allowing big innings. While they eventually recovered or were able to work through their weaknesses, the need of Coach Cleary to keep a select few arms in the game had a tendency to hurt the tea‘s cause.

The major drawback to last season's staff was the fact that they simply allowed too many base runners. In 500 innings of collective work, UC allowed 564 hits (.288) and allowed 288 walks. Due to the fact the ‘Cats did not have the power arms to throw the ball past the big bats in the middle of the lineup (330 strikeouts), their failure to locate often came back to haunt them.

Expected Starting Lineups

CINCAINNATI PROBABLE STARTERS*

Pos No. Name B/T Ht. Wt. Cl. GP-GS Avg. HR RBI SB-A

C 18 Ryan Baker R/R 5-8 206 Jr. Junior College

1B 14 Neall French R/R 6-3 220 Sr. Redshirt

2B 5 Jamel Scott R/R 5-3 146 Fr. High School

3B 6 Josh Harrison R/R 5-6 174 So. 58-58 .367 5 43 10-11

SS 8 Adam Yeager L/R 5-11 157 So. 56-53 .291 2 27 6-8

LF 23 Brian Szarmach R/R 6-1 205 Sr. 56-52 .236 7 49 0-2

CF 31 Tony Campana L/L 5-7 144 Jr. 21-21# .315 1 9 9-10

RF 28 Cameron SatterwhiteR/R 5-10 202 So. 21-18^ .371 1 10 2-3

DH 22 Cory Hodskins R/R 6-1 182 So. 27-12 .214 1 7 0-0

*2006 stats #at UNC-Asheville ^at Indiana

Noting the Bearcat lineup

*While you might not be able to call Cincinnati's roster tentative, it is safe to say the mixture of new pieces and older players having new roles on the squad, along with the absence of an exhibition season, will cause Coach Cleary to work in quite a few players during the weekend. Most notably, three key positions could be shifted throughout the weekend; second base, third base, and DH. Depending on match up and situation, it could affect greatly where certain players will end up on the field. For instance, a start by French at designated hitter will leave Cory Hoskins to play first, giving Harrison and Scott second and third base respectively. If French plays first, or at least stands near the bag (he is not a good defender), it will mean that Hoskins will be at DH and Harrison will play third, as is expected to take place on Friday.

* Coach Cleary wants to get as many possible player combinations on the field as possible during the early season, so expected to see numerous reserves get the chance to play this weekend.

* Nick Maragas would have begged for a player like Ryan Baker on the squad last season given the fact he had to serve as the Bearcats only backstop for the majority of the season (Harrison caught for a few games as Maragas was injured). However, this season he is probably not that excited about the addition of the Dayton Beach CC product, as it means he will likely have to win his job back from Baker. While Maragas might not be excited about a loss of playing time (look for an upcoming story from BCI), he will be excited about how his legs are feeling midway through the season - as well the UC pitching staff who will have a fresh-legged catcher behind the plate to throw out potential base stealers. The "friendly" competition could also inspire career performances from the pair as they fight to win time.

Last Season

Though the ‘Cats only hit 39 homeruns last season, they were a team with immense power. If not for playing in such a large ballpark in Marge Schott Field, that number could have grown exponentially with bats like Parker, Muscenti, DeLuca and Nelson in the lineup. While not always translating to homeruns, the power of UC was often good for producing shots into the power gaps or earning intentional walks - or at least overly cautious pitching from the opposing team. Cincinnati recorded 848 total bases (.476 SLG%) and 297 walks (.402 OBP%), both of which helped UC score 417 runs in 58 games, one of the program's highest per game averages in recent years. However, this year UC will have to rely on more speed-based baseball. Hit-and-runs, bunting, stolen bases, even legging a single into a double and taking the extra bases, will all be crucial for the club while it looks to find suitable replacements for the loss of the "Power Company" in the heart of last season's lineup.

 

FLORIDA ATLANTIC PROBABLE STARTERS

Pos No. Name             B/T  Ht. Wt. Cl.   GP-GS  Avg. HR RBI SB-A

C 11 Justin Martin R/R 5-10 185 Sr.       2 - 2     .429   1    2    1-1

1B 12 Robbie Wildansky L/R 6-2 210 Jr. 3 - 3    .417   0    7    3-3

2B 13 Daniel Bomback S/R 5-11 185 Jr. 3 - 3      .692   1   3    3-3

3B 2 William Block R/R 5-10 170 So.   3 - 3       .455   1   4     2-2

SS 14 Nick Arata R/R 5-11 175 Sr.         3 - 3       .286   0   5     2-2

LF 25 Mike McKenna R/R 6-0 195 Jr.    3 - 3      .417   1    6     0-0

CF 10 Daniel Cook S/R 6-3 185 Jr.         3 - 3       .667   0    6     4-4

RF 23 Justin Ferreira R/R 6-2 187 Jr.   3 - 3      .364    1    6     1-1

DH 4 Tyler Stevens R/R 5-11 180 Sr.      2 - 2      .286   0   2      0-1

*2007 stats

Noting the Owl's Lineup

* In their series against MSV, the Owls had 16 players see action, all of whom had at least one at bat. Four of those players saw action at catcher.

* The Owls opened the season with a three-game sweep over Mississippi Valley State. FAU ht .456 during the week, displaying both power (seven homeruns) and speed (18 stolen bases) en route to a 52 runs scored over the weekend. Comparatively speaking, the11 runs scored by MVSU during the season-opening series seems meager, especially when you notice the Owls tripled that total (33 runs; a school record) in game two of the series.

* At the plate, newcomer Daniel Bomback was the Owls top offensive weapon this past weekend, his first three games with the team. The junior middle infielder hit .692, tallying one homer and collecting three RBI.

Last Season

Though this season has displayed the dynamic offensive ability of the Owls, last season told a different story. While FAU did have the potential to go deep, knocking 41 errant pitches out of the bark, the team struggled to manufacture runs at times. Though they hit .290 as a team, they only scored 5.8 runs per game, which was good for seventh in their conference and 172nd nationally. One of the major hindrances to their ability to score runs was their base stealing. While they have made the best of their blazing speed on the basepaths this year, the Owls struggled to pick appropriate situations to run last year. While they did accumulate 57 team steals, it took them 85 chances to reach that number. This cut down 28 potential run-scoring situations, a devastating blow to a team that finished 9th in their conference in doubles (104).


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