While they can’t win the regular season title in the American Athletic Conference thanks to Houston, the Cincinnati Bearcats can still pick up some momentum heading into the postseason as they take on the USF Bulls in a three-game set starting Thursday.
The hosting Bearcats are 27-24 overall and 11-10 in league play as they enter the last series of the regular season. They are tied with the Knights of UCF for fifth place in the AAC standings. However, as they are only separated from second place by two games, there is a lot to play for this weekend. UC has lost three of its last five games, but just dump trucked Ohio State on Tuesday with a 14-4 final in seven innings.
Matchup: Cincinnati Bearcats (27-24, 11-10 AAC) at USF Bulls (30-17-1, 12-8-1 AAC)
Location: Marge Schott Stadium Cincinnati, Ohio
Series History: To the surprise of nobody, USF leads this all-time series and by quite a wide margin, with 42 wins in 62 all-time meetings. However, the Bearcats have claimed 2-1 series wins in each of the last two seasons.
- Game One - Thursday May 17 6 p.m. J.T. Perez (6-3, 2.48) vs. Shane McClanahan (5-6, 3.53)
- Game Two - Friday May 18 6 p.m. Nathan Kroger (1-4, 5.17) vs. Peter Strzelecki (7-3, 3.54)
- Game Three - Saturday May 19 10:30 a.m. Cam Alldred (5-2, 3.68) vs. Collin Sullivan (2-0, 4.40)
Who are the USF Bulls?
No team in the AAAC hits as well as the Bulls. Even though they are closer to the middle of the league in home runs (41) and runs scored (300), they lead in batting average (.295) while rocketing 121 doubles and 15 triples as a team, which are both the highest marks in the conference. In fact, only one other team has more than 100 doubles (Tulane) and only one other has more than 10 triples, with that squad happening to be the Bearcats themselves.
As you would expect from a team batting nearly .300 overall, the Bulls are graced with a ton of very solid contact hitters. Third baseman David Villar is much more than that, as he has blasted off for 30 extra-base hits, including 12 home runs. Nearly half of his total hits this season have gone for more than one base, which is why he ranks fifth in the AAC in total bases (119). He also is leading the team in statistical categories like batting average (.371), slugging percentage (.680), on-base percentage (.468) and many more. What an overachiever. First baseman Joe Genord is another powerful hitter (21 extra-base hits, including 10 home runs) and he is also hitting a potent .302/.379/.610. The rest of the lineup has plenty of depth and speed around their two middle of the order bashers and even though Garrett Zech is only batting .269, he has stolen a team-high 12 bases and played flawless defense in the outfield.
On the pitching side, the Bulls have the names but not necessarily the results. Ace Shane McClanahan is an incredibly vaunted MLB prospect and he has been good this year, but not as good as expected. His 3.53 ERA is perfectly acceptable and the fact that he has struck out 111 batters in 66 1⁄3 innings means he is clearly flashing tons of stuff, but he has walked more batters than he did a year ago in fewer innings thrown and his ERA has bumped up some as well. McClanahan leads a staff with a 3.77 team ERA and 481 strikeouts in 425 total innings pitched, with the ace clearly accounting for the bulk of that production.
In the bullpen, closer Andrew Pere is very effective, with 10 saves, a 2.93 ERA and 38 strikeouts across 19 appearances (30 2⁄3 innings).
Despite their strong roster, the Bulls have stumbled of late, with only two wins in their last six games. They split a three-game series with the Wichita State Shockers last weekend, losing the opener 17-2, then winning 9-6 before taking a 9-9 tie on Sunday. At 12-8-1 in league play, they are one of the handful of teams clogged in the second tier of the standings.
Game One Breakdown
The projected starters above are based on who started in each spot for both teams a week ago. J.T. Perez usually pitches on Fridays, but he might lose a day off to take the hill tonight. The southpaw ace of the Bearcats helped pitch his team to a win against East Carolina last weekend, although his final line (five innings, two runs allowed) was not his most lengthy one of the season. It was still good enough for a win though. He is 6-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 83 1⁄3 innings and has struck out a career-high 62 batters. Assuming he and McClanahan start against one another, this could be a rather low-scoring contest.
Game Two Breakdown
Scott Googins may keep Nathan Kroger as his No. 2 starter but it might not hurt to try someone else. Usually making such a drastic change this late in the season would be nonsensical, but Kroger has been pretty bad, especially recently. He has allowed 24 runs across his last five games (21 innings), as his ERA has ballooned to 5.17. Against a team like USF, he will not be gifted with an easy lineup to deal with. With Peter Strzelecki countering him for the Bulls, Kroger may be about to suffer another dud, which will spell doom for the Bearcats.
Game Three Breakdown
Perez is the ace to be sure, but Cam Alldred is no slouch as the second-best starter on the roster. He strikes out batters better than any other guy who has started (78 in 73 1⁄3 innings) and has gone at least six innings in each of his last three starts. He has let up only 12 runs in his last eight starts, which have spanned 48 2⁄3 innings. That’s an ERA of 2.22. Pretty, pretty good. Collin Sullivan would seemingly get the start for the Bulls even though he was pulled after only 2⁄3 of an inning against Wichita State on Sunday.
After they hung right with East Carolina, its the perfect time to feel optimistic about the Bearcats if you haven’t already. The Bulls are definitely going to hit, but maybe not as well as usual if Perez and Alldred play their roles well. A sweep is out of the question, but UC might just have what it takes to pull out a surprising series win.