The Cincinnati Bearcats will set out on their final American Athletic Conference series of this season when they visit the Memphis Tigers for a three-game set this weekend. The series holds some important stakes for the Bearcats. They are third in the league standings right now but have a number of teams jostling for position right behind them. This weekend is their last chance to have a say in their postseason seeding. In addition, it is simply an opportunity to reverse a four-game losing streak that has dropped them to 22-26 overall.
At different times this season, the Bearcats have been lifted to victories by players from up and down the lineup and the pitching staff. However, it is the players who have made the most positive impact in conference play whom we will be focusing on today. After all, the Bearcats will need them to continue playing at such a high level during the next three days.
Johnson has been solid during his first season with the Bearcats, especially in the field. He is fourth on the team in batting average (.253) and has 18 stolen bases to go with a perfect fielding percentage and seven outfield assists. Half of his stolen base total has come in league play and it is during that time that he has really found success in getting on base, with a .290 batting average and a .398 on-base percentage in 82 plate appearances. He also has three assists and has not made an error in the field.
A sophomore who transferred to UC from Tennessee, Stapp has been the best hitter on the team against AAC pitching. He has a .330 batting average in 88 such at-bats across 22 games. He is also the team’s leader in OPS (.798) in league contests and has a hit in 14 of the last 15 games, including a four-game hitting streak he will carry into this weekend. Powered by this incredible performance, Stapp, who usually finds his way onto the lineup card as a designated hitter, is slashing .294/.363/.373 for the entire season.
Unlike Stapp and Johnson, Merritt has not been a full-time player for the Bearcats, but when he has played, he has performed at a high level. In 52 conference plate appearances, the freshman first baseman is batting an even .300. He has not been as adept at getting on base (.309 OBP) and only has two extra-base hits, but being able to make contact like he has as a reserve has given Scott Googins more options in lineup construction. It also doesn’t hurt that Stapp has not made a single error all season, including during conference play.
Moore has been pretty effective out of the bullpen all season but he has really come alive when a conference opponent steps into the batter’s box. The junior right-hander has a microscopic 0.63 ERA in eight appearances against league foes. He isn’t just getting lucky either, with a WHIP of 1.06 in 14 1⁄3 innings and an opponent batting average of just .152. He has not allowed a run in nine of his last 10 outings overall and gave up his lone earned run against an AAC foe back in March.
Despite a rough outing last Friday against East Carolina, Orndorff has still been UC’s most effective starter in conference games. In 21 innings across three such starts, he has struck out 17 batters and walked only five. He has also posted a WHIP of just 1.00, which indicates that he has gotten a bit unlucky since his ERA stands at 3.43. Three starts may be a small sample, but considering he has the lowest ERA of any UC starter with at least 30 total innings pitched, it isn’t difficult to accept that he has been the best starter against the conference.