The USF baseball team opened the season in dominating fashion, winning 20 of its first 21 games, including a stretch of 19 in a row.
Since the streak was snapped with a 2-1 loss at No. 15 FGCU on March 22, the Bulls have gone 3-4. To make matters worse, USF (24-5, 1-2) dropped two of three at Tulane to begin conference play this weekend.
But despite the losing start to open AAC play, there’s no reason to worry about the 2017 Bulls.
Though only five of USF’s first 21 games came against winning teams during the team’s hot streak, that doesn’t mean the Bulls can’t hang with top competition.
They’ve shown that while their hitters still need work, the pitching can keep them in games against nearly anyone in the country.
Led by three starters with ERA’s under 2.30 and a revamped bullpen, USF defeated No. 3 Florida State 4-2 on Feb. 21 and its narrow loss to FGCU showed the performance wasn’t a fluke.
As far as this past weekend goes, the Bulls dropped the first two games of the series, but lost both by a combined score of 10-7.
And it’s not as if the Green Wave pitching gave the Bulls any trouble. USF out-hit Tulane 22-16 in its two losses, showing there’s potential for the offense to progress as conference play goes on.
USF also opened conference play on a sour note last season, going 3-7 over its first 10 AAC games on its way to last place. But there’s plenty of reasons to think this team won’t fall down a similar path.
Aside from the record-breaking start, USF is much deeper and experienced across the roster. USF coach Mark Kingston now has a bevy of arms at his disposal after an injury-plagued season in 2016.
Three of Kingston’s top four starters spent the entire season on the bench with injured elbows last year. In 2017, those three have combined to start 10-2. Not only have those pitchers been dominant, but they’ve helped to bolster the bullpen by eating up valuable innings and pushing would-be starters into relief roles.
For instance, relievers Joe Cavallaro and Andrew Perez started games for the Bulls last season, but now exclusively pitch toward the end of games.
The result has been overpowering, with them combing to allow just six earned runs in 41 1/3 innings.
With the way 2016 took a turn for the worse when AAC play began, it’s easy to understand why losing two of three against Tulane may cause concern.
But these Bulls are different, and the expectations should be too.