The USF baseball team is halfway through the 2008 season and, though experts predicted the Bulls would be in the thick of the Big East race this year, the team faces a very contrasting reality, as it sits in eighth place with a 14-13 overall record and a 4-5 mark in the Big East.
The baseball midseason report grades the five most important areas of the team to measure how the Bulls have fared so far.
Early in the game: DUSF’s top four hitters are batting well over .300, but the bottom of the order isn’t driving them in and as a result, USF has seldom been able to score early, frequently finding itself tied or trailing after the fifth inning.
Coach Lelo Prado has been critical of leaving runners in scoring position early in the game and has pointed out Brian Hobbs. The outfielder started off the season as a cleanup hitter but has a .217 average. Hobbs has struck out 26 times in 27 games and has 10 RBI. Catcher Trey Manz, who usually bats fifth in the order but has a paltry .237 average and just 11 RBI, has also been asked to step up by Prado.
Late in the game: A-USF has been nothing short of masterful in the late innings of a game. Among the feats accomplished are a game-tying grand slam by Chris Rey in the second game of the season against Indiana State, two grand slams against Savannah State in the eighth inning to turn an 6-1 deficit into a 12-6 lead and consecutive comeback wins against Seton Hall in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then again, if USF scored early more often, the ending wouldn’t have to be so dramatic.
Bunting late in games needs to improve, as moving runners into scoring position by sacrifice has been an issue for the lineup as a whole. The team has also had too many pop ups and bunts to the pitcher’s mound.
Overall offense: C+
Defense: C +The switch of Addison Maruszak from shortstop to second base and Jonathan Koscso from second to shortstop is the only major change in a team that has committed some youthful mistakes, especially at first base. Overall, the defense is serviceable but has a lot of room to improve.
Starting pitching: B +Daniel Thomas, Matt Quevedo, Randy Fontanez, Derrick Stultz and Matt Stull have done their part. The group has been going deep into games, keeping USF close and saving arms in the bullpen. Quevedo has pitched more than six innings in his last two starts, and Fontanez has impressed everyone by maturing quickly and showing a variety of pitches that allow him to go deep into games. He pitched eight innings and had a shot at a complete game in his last outing against Georgetown.
Bullpen: BIf it wasn’t for the two blown leads against Georgetown, this grade might be an A. The overall ERA, which was about 3.50 before the Georgetown series, is now at 4.37, but David Torcise has been a good setup man and Shawn Sanford, with a 2.74 ERA and five saves so far this year, is proving to be one of the most dominant closers in the Big East.
Bench: DEric Baumann, the Bulls’ primary pinch hitter, is 2-for-23 (.087) this season with his only home run coming during the team’s exhibition game against the New York Yankees. He needs to face major league pitching more often. The bench as a whole is 15-for-96 (.160) and hasn’t been one of the team’s strengths through the first half of the season.
Overall: C+.USF isn’t out of contention, and the seven-game winning streak during spring break showed glimpses of what the Bulls can accomplish, but fundamental things like bunting and holding leads need to improve if USF wants to get to the College World Series.