Matchup: Cincinnati Bearcats (19-18, 4-5 AAC) at East Carolina Pirates (20-18, 0-9 AAC)
Location: Marge Schott Stadium Cincinnati, Ohio
Series History: Here’s a funny thing. Ties don’t happen often in baseball, but these two squads called it a draw in the series finale between them last year. With each team winning one of the first two, it was the ultra-rare three-game series split. Call it the holographic Charizard of baseball results. However, that’s not how it usually goes considering ECU is 12-4-2 all-time against the Bearcats.
- Game One - Friday April 21 6 p.m. J.T. Perez (1-5, 4.44 ERA) vs. Trey Benton (3-1, 3.20 ERA)
- Game Two - Saturday April 22 4 p.m. TBA vs. TBA
- Game Three - Sunday April 23 12 p.m. TBA vs. TBA
Meet the Opponent
Although they are sailing above .500 overall this season, the Pirates have been a disappointment when compared to the rest of the American Athletic Conference. They have yet to win a game against a league opponent, suffering sweeps against Houston, UConn and UCF the last three weekends.
What’s most heartbreaking about that league losing streak is the fact that ECU is still a pretty good team, especially on the offensive side of things. The Pirates are second in the conference in batting average (.297) and on-base percentage (.381), while ranking third in slugging (.436). However, they have not been offensively efficient when paired against AAC squads, averaging only 2.9 runs per game in such contests.
Of the six batters over .300 on the roster, second baseman Charlie Yorgen has the highest batting average (.340) to go with some other fine slash numbers (.435/.458). He went a perfect 5-for-5 with two RBI in ECU’s recent win over UNC-Wilmington this past Tuesday. Joining Yorgen above the .300 level are third baseman Eric Tyler (.338/.399/.481, four home runs, 23 RBI), the non legendary manager version of Dusty Baker (.322/.429/.339), catcher Travis Watkins (.319/.351/.456, four home runs, 28 RBI), Spencer Brickhouse (.316/.381/.522, seven home runs, 19 RBI, dope name) and Wes Phillips (.306/.395/.417).
ECU’s normally potent offense is not accompanied by strong pitching or fielding. The Pirates have committed the second-most errors in the AAC (35) and a 4.37 ERA and league-worst 27 home runs allowed has meant any team-wide batting slump can be lethal.
Game One Breakdown
Ty Neal is switching it up this weekend. Instead of trotting out struggling ace Andrew Zellner on Friday, he’s turning to hard throwing lefty J.T. Perez. It hasn’t been all roses for Perez this season either, but a nearly serviceable 4.44 ERA and team-high 50 2⁄3 innings make him a more reliable option than Zellner right now.
Perez will be opposed by ECU’s Trey Benton, who has struck out 10 batters in a game twice this season and is coming off a season-high 7 1⁄3 innings of two-run ball last week against UCF, marking his third seven-inning outing over the last four games. Benton has a 3.20 ERA and has punched out 56 batters in 50 2⁄3 innings. In all, this lines up as a game which may not utilize the bullpen much.
Game Two Breakdown
Starters for game two and game three have yet to be announced. If I had to guess, unless something is amiss, Zellner will take the ball on Saturday, looking to shrink his 5.66 ERA back toward a reasonable mark. It’s even more unclear who will start for ECU on Saturday, and Sunday for that matter, with options abounding in Jake Agnos (2.25 ERA, five starts), Chris Holba (2.13 ERA, five starts) and Evan Kruczynski (4.58 ERA, four starts).
Its at this point that we should probably talk about Ryan Noda. The Bearcats first baseman has been hot as all heck with the bat the last two weeks, boosting his season slash line to an impressive (.264/.426/.527) to go with his team-high six home runs, not that that’s saying much for the power-inept Bearcats.
Game Three Breakdown
If Zellner goes Saturday then David Orndorff will likely go Sunday as he continues to reclaim the third-starter role after a successful run in the bullpen. The right-hander gutted out 7 2⁄3 inning last week before finally stumbling and being taken out after allowing four runs. Still, with a 3.29 ERA and a proven ability to go deep into games, Orndorff is a nice option for the series finale.
ECU is much better than its 0-9 league record would indicate. That doesn’t mean the Pirates are going to come into Marge Schott Stadium and dominate, but it does mean UC will have to be careful. I expect a competitive series, but the uncertainty on the mound for the Bearcats will spell doom (aka a series loss) against the usually hit-happy Pirates.