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Catching up with Cincinnati Bearcats Baseball

While we were all locked in for the stretch run in basketball, the Bearcats were also playing some baseball.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

Yesterday was opening day across Major League Baseball. For the Cincinnati Bearcats, opening day was more than a month ago. Since they started their season with a three-game series against the Florida Atlantic Owls on Feb. 15, a lot has happened. If you missed it, then you are in luck because today we’re going to do some catching up with Bearcats baseball.

Recovering From a Horrible Start

Even if you’ve been following along all season, you’d probably rather forget most of the first month of the campaign. The Bearcats are just 9-14 in their first 23 games and it was a disastrous first few weeks that really put them behind the curve. They lost nine of their first 10 games and needed 12 innings to scratch out that lone win.

Since that depressing beginning, they have played much better, or at least well enough to pick up wins at an accelerated rate. They are 8-5 in their last 13 games and that includes taking two out of three from the USF Bulls last weekend in their first American Athletic Conference series of the season. In their most recent contest on Wednesday, they scored a season-high 14 runs in a win against Northern Kentucky.

Offensive Highs and Lows but Mostly Lows

If you needed just one sentence to figure out how the Bearcats have been on offense, it would be a short and largely negative one. The Bearcats are last in their conference in batting average (.225), runs scored (91), total bases (242), home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.316). They don’t have a single batter above .300 on the season and they are actually the only team in the league yet to reach 100 runs scored.

For all of that negativity, there are a few reasons to be optimistic. That begins with the work at the plate of Joey Wiemer and Jace Mercer.

Starting with Wiemer, the sophomore outfielder has easily been the most effective batter on UC’s roster. That has earned him a consistent spot in the heart of the lineup as he leads the team in batting average (.272) and OPS (.744). He’s even thrown in eight stolen bases for good measure.

Mercer has also been a nice surprise, especially in terms of his improved plate discipline. He may only be batting at a .200 level but he is tied for seventh in the AAC in walks (17) and getting on base at a .352 clip.

Then there’s Auburn transfer Jeremy Johnson who has helped lead the Bearcats’ aggressive work on the basepaths, with a team-high 12 steals on 15 attempts. Mercer has 10 thefts of his own and the Bearcats are at 44 as a team, which ranks second in the AAC. Since they have been without much offensive firepower, it’s a smart strategy to try to get things going by any means possible.

Two Aces and an Inconsistent Bullpen

The Bearcats could have really been in trouble after losing starting pitchers like J.T. Perez and Cam Alldred, but the ascension of Garrett Schoenle and Nathan Kroger has helped make up for their absence this season.

Kroger, a junior right-hander, had shown potential in the past but he’s finally reaching it this year. In 29 innings across five starts, he has a minuscule 1.86 ERA with 27 strikeouts. He’s thrown at least six innings three times and struck out at least eight batters twice. Unfortunately, he hasn’t pitched since March 16, leaving quite the gap in the starting rotation.

That has made Schoenle’s impressive season that much more important. The sophomore southpaw just won the AAC Pitcher of the Week award and has struck out 34 batters in 28 1/3 innings while posting a 3.81 ERA. He was at his absolute best last weekend against USF, tossing 8 13 one-run innings while striking out 12.

As great as Schoenle has been, the rest of the Bearcat pitchers have been mediocre at best and below average at worst. A.J. Kullman is racking up the innings, but he is 0-4 with a 4.80 ERA. Evan Shawver has been solid (3.37 ERA in seven relief outings) but no other player who has thrown at least 10 innings has an ERA below 4.91. When you put it all together, the Bearcats have a team ERA of 4.79, which is third-worst in the AAC. On the positive side, they have at least avoided the long ball (AAC-low 10 allowed) and been beneficiaries of the best defense in the conference (.981 fielding percentage).

So that’s where the Bearcats stand, but they won’t be stationary, as they begin a three-game home series against the Tulane Green Wave later today.