Clemson swept their two games against James Madison (Recap by Mark Gordon here), and added another win by beating UNLV 6-2 at Flour Field on Sunday. The weekend sweep is followed by a fourth game in as many days as Clemson hosts UNLV Monday night at 6:30pm in Clemson.
Bouncing back from poor play and tough losses against Miami and Liberty is a breath of fresh air, but there is a still a lot of work to be done. This team, barring an ACC tournament championship, will not host an NCAA regional. At just 12-11 in conference play, they haven’t earned that or even a sure bid to the NCAA tournament. Coming into each season, the program’s goal is clearly stitched on the players’ caps: “Omaha.” Obtaining that goal feels exceedingly unlikely at this point, but nevertheless they’ll be positioning themselves as best as possible to do so. With playoffs—and baseball playoffs in particular—being so unpredictable, it is important to set regular season goals as well. For us, that should be beating South Carolina, earning a Tuesday bye in the ACC Tournament (top six seed), and hosting a regional. Earning a bye from the play-in games in Greensboro remains on the table.
Half the conference was playing ACC games this week, and those games had an impact on Clemson and the ACC standings. Maryland swept Notre Dame to improve to 12-14 in the ACC. They are 1.5 games back from Clemson. Georgia Tech took two of three from the Hokies putting them at 14-13, trailing Clemson only by percentage points. Fortunately, their last remaining ACC series is at Charlottesville, where UVa simply does not lose ACC series.
Wake Forest rides a five game losing streak after being swept by Duke and losing to Charlotte and Western Carolina. Things were looking good for them, but they will close the year at NC State before hosting UVa and seem to be playing themselves out of a top six seed in Greensboro and an NCAA tournament berth.
Pittsburgh closes with Maryland at home and Notre Dame on the road. Because Clemson missed a game versus Maryland due to weather, we will play 29 conference games so our tie-breaker over Pittsburgh will not come into play. The Tigers cannot afford to slip up in their final two ACC series or Pittsburgh could certainly leapfrog them. Here’s how the standings look.
1. Miami* (19-5)
2. Florida State** (17-7)
3. Virginia (18-6)
4. Duke (15-9)
5. North Carolina (13-11)
6. Clemson (12-11)
7. Georgia Tech (14-13)
8. Wake Forest (12-12)
9. Maryland (12-14)
10. Pittsburgh (11-13)
11. NC State (9-15)
12. Boston College (9-18)
13. Virginia Tech (8-19)
14. Notre Dame (4-20)
*ACC Coastal Leader
**ACC Atlantic Leader
This weekend we saw Tyler Krieger move from SS to DH. This may have been due to a nagging shoulder injury he suffered in Pittsburgh, but with 19 errors, it may be for the best anyway. Jay Baum moved in from left field and played great shortstop. Garrett Boulware moved out to left field where he was more than serviceable, and Chris Okey remained behind the plate, which I hope we continue to see down the stretch. This defensive configuration may have been precipitated by injury, but it should remain due to necessity.
The lineup also shifted. Uber-aggressive base runner Steven Duggar moved from the clean-up slot to the two-hole. This is long overdue as it takes advantage of his speed and shifts the power to the middle of the lineup. There are so few home runs hit in college baseball, the best metric for power numbers is slugging percentage (the new baseball can’t get here soon enough). Steven Duggar boasts a .374 slugging percentage, 7th best among Tiger regulars. He is an amazing 21-22 on stolen base attempts so it is really a wonder it took so long for this move to be made, but it’s a good one and hopefully he’ll remain behind Slaton as our two-hitter. Tyler Kreiger has moved from the two-hole down to the three while Boulware and Wilkerson move to fourth and fifth. Boulware is second on the team in slugging while Wilkerson leads the club. These moves make Clemson’s lineup more potent and hopefully will continue moving forward.
Finally, Zack Erwin pitched a complete game shutout and looks poised to take a weekend slot. He started Friday so that he would be ready to go again on Wednesday versus High Point. We’ll see if that remains the plan or if someone else takes his spot to keep him fresh for the weekend.