UM Faces BCU in Non-Conference Series

The Miami Hurricanes' schedule will finally ease up a little bit this weekend and it couldn't have come at a better time.

They have really hit the skids as of late, going a combined 1-8 in their last three weekend series. A matchup with the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats will hopefully by the magic elixir for what ails them.

They are not the same caliber of opponent that Miami has gown accustomed to playing here lately. They play in a much weaker league and that shows when BCU plays games outside the MEAC and when the Wildcats play in their annual regional trip to Gainesville, Miami or Tallahassee.

Don't get me wrong. The Wildcats aren't a bad club. Far from it, in fact. Once again, they are running away with the MEAC conference and they have several standout players that could have played baseball just about anywhere but chose to play at BCU.

In the past, the Wildcats have been known as an offensive juggernaut that bludgeoned opposing pitching with an onslaught of extra base hits. This year, that's not the case. Their pitching staff is their strength.

It all starts with their ace, Rayan Gonzalez, the tall, statuesque righty from Puerto Rico.

Gonzalez, who was an 18th-round pick of the Athletics back in 2008, has a 7-0 record with a 2.25 ERA. He has struck out 60 and walked only 14 in 68 innings and batters are only hitting .233 off of him.

With a fastball that he can run up into the low-to-mid 90's with a devastating breaking ball, Gonzalez has the stuff to dominate any game he starts.

Behind Gonzalez in the weekend rotation is Montana Durapau, a sophomore righty. Durapau's 3-5 record is nothing to write home about, but that's not an accurate reflection of how well he has pitched this season.

Durapau leads the team in innings pitched with 71, he sports a solid 3.80 ERA and opposing hitters have only managed a .250 average against him.

The possible X-factor in this series is lefty starter Ali Simpson. He has spent much of 2011 and 2012 shelved thanks to injury, but he is working his way back to full strength right now. When Simpson was last at full strength, he was very, very good. As a Freshman All-American in 2009, Simpson went 9-2 with a 3.23 ERA and struck out 79 hitters in 75.1 innings pitched. He is likely going to be on something of a limited pitch count, but if he brings his A-game in his start, it could be a long day for Miami.

The bullpen is led by two stoppers. The first is Jairo Acevedo, a two-way player who gives the Wildcats a versatile, durable arm in relief. Acevedo has a 2.17 ERA and has only walked five hitters in 29 innings pitched.

Jordan Dailey is the team's closer. He has an even 3.00 ERA with ten saves and his control has been even better than Acevedo's. He has only walked six in 36 innings pitched.

Offensively, the Wildcats aren't as stout as some of their recent teams have been. A big part of that is that their biggest star, All-American catcher Peter O'Brien, is now playing for Miami. Part of it is also just that several of their bigger bats from last year, players like Ryan Durrence and Matt Wright, have exhausted their eligibility.

The offensive catalyst for the Wildcats this year is Brashad Johnson. The senior shortstop is hitting .355, is getting on base at a .437 clip, leads the team with 17 stolen bases and is tied for the team lead in RBI with 30.

Outfielder David Lee has been a solid run producer as well. He is hitting .319 with three home runs and 29 RBI. He also leads the team in walks with 33, 13 more than the next highest total on the team.

The Wildcats are missing one big contributor in Anthony Stokes, who hasn't played since April 17th. Up to that point, Stokes was hitting .284 with nine home runs and 30 RBI. He was on pace for a very good season from a power standpoint. As they often have been lately, the keys to the game for Miami will he getting men on base and playing solid defense.

The BCU pitching staff does have a bit of a soft underbelly if Miami can get their starters out of the game and get past Acevedo and Dailey in the bullpen, so there is a chance that the Canes break out a bit this weekend.

Defensively, Miami can't afford to give the Wildcats extra outs. BCU doesn't have the offense to beat Miami straight up, but if the Canes start to throw the ball around and boot grounders, BCU has just enough offensive firepower to get the job done.

In the end, I think this is just what Miami needs to get things straightened out to some degree. The Wildcats will be a solid challenge, but ultimately, Miami is just too talented. I look for Miami to get a much-needed sweep.

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