Ed Note: Fanpost moved to the front page, from an auditioning writer
Friday - UAB: 2, Clemson: 1
Execution, execution, execution. It is the key to success in baseball. Executing the little things (making the routine defensive plays, hitting the cutoff man, throwing strikes on the mound, getting bunts down and hitting behind runners) often end up being the difference in games, regardless of talent level. That fact reared its ugly head Friday afternoon as Clemson lost its opening game of the season for the first time since 2004, a 2-1 decision to Alabama-Birmingham. Coming into this season after losing 5 starters in the lineup, we all knew that offense was going to be hard to find, at least early on. However, even if Clemson’s performance was due to opening day jitters (a possibility with that many new players), it didn’t make Friday’s game any easier to watch. A combined 0-for-12 effort from your top 4 hitters (McGibbon in the 5 spot was also 0-for-2 with a walk) is going to result in a loss every single time, barring a miracle performance from your pitcher. Clemson just could not execute the fundamentals necessary to get runners over and drive them in. At one point early in the game, Clemson had runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, and instead of getting a sacrifice fly or even a simple ground ball to a middle infielder to plate a run, our guys hit three straight pop ups. That is hardly the result you expect from a team that is supposed to rely on small ball and execution to win their games. Spencer Kieboom started off the season strong, leading the team with a 2-for-3 effort, but he simply cannot be the only one to produce. Offensive performances like that result in one run and a loss to a team that shouldn’t be on the same field with Clemson.
One bright spot from this game (and the series as a whole) was the pitching and defense. UAB had some guys that could put the bat on the ball and Kevin Brady looked very solid in his five innings of work. He scattered 4 hits and only walked two in those five innings, showing good control in his first start since leaving early against South Carolina last year. Matt Campbell followed him and gave three decent innings of work while giving up one run. True freshman Daniel Gossett came on and pitched well in his first ever action as a Tiger; his ninth inning effort kept Clemson in position to come back and tie the game. Clemson also did not make an error, even with an entirely new outfield and two new starters on the right side of the infield. This is a refreshing fact after last year’s defensive lapses.
This game was rough to watch, as Clemson simply should not lose to UAB. The pitching and defense were good enough to keep the Tigers in the game, but the dud performances from the top of the lineup is ultimately what cost them the victory on Opening Day.
We'll look at the Saturday double header...after the jump.
Saturday, Game 1 – Clemson: 6 , UAB: 1
As bad as the top of Clemson’s lineup was on Friday, they came to play in the first game of the scheduled doubleheader on Saturday. Leggett made the decision to move Brad Felder up to the #2 spot in the order and drop Tyler Slaton down to #8, and the move paid off as Felder contributed a 2-run HR and an RBI single to the top of a Clemson lineup which saw a 8-for-15 effort from their top 4 hitters. Thomas Brittle, Felder, Richie Shaffer, and Phil Pohl each had two hits, and Jason Stolz went 3-for-4, giving Clemson 11 hits for the game after only managing 4 in the previous game.
Clemson jumped out early on Blazers starter Ben Bullard and never looked back, scoring 2 runs in the first and third innings. The top of the lineup did extremely well, while the middle to bottom of the order left a little to be desired. My only real problem with the offense today was that, even in a 6-1 game that wasn’t close, there were situations where Clemson could have showed that they were making an effort to execute the small things, and that didn’t happen.
In the first inning, for example, Brittle leads the game off with a double. In that situation, the next hitter should be BUNTING the baseball. That’s what the number two hitter is for; he can hit and run, bunt, etc. Instead of putting a bunt down and setting up Richie to only need a sac fly to plate Brittle, Felder gets the green light to swing away and pops up to the shortstop. Richie did end up bailing Felder out by hitting a 2-run home run, but this team is not going to hit the long ball consistently enough to where we can rely on it and avoid executing. Against UAB? Maybe. Florida State / UNC / Sakerlina? No. Against those better teams we will have to get the bunt down and move Brittle over. This will take some pressure off of Richie, Phil, or whoever comes up in that spot so that they don’t have to try and crush a ball over the fence, or even get a base hit for that matter. As solid of a game as Thomas Brittle had, he came to bat with runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out, and did the absolute last thing you can do: struck out swinging. Again, this comes down to a situation that Clemson is going to have to execute against the tougher teams on their schedule. It did not bite them today, but it will in the long run. Brittle is a contact hitter; hitting a ground ball up the middle to plate a run should be a sound portion of his repertoire, and he’s got to get that done. Credit should be given to Jay Baum for getting the bunt down in the first place to move those runners over to 2nd and 3rd.
The pitching and defense were lights out again, with Clemson playing errorless ball and Dominic Leone earned the win after pitching 6 scoreless innings and facing only two batters over the minimum, walking one and hitting another. The bullpen gave up the one run on 6 hits over the last three innings, as Mike Kent, Scott Firth, and Clay Bates weren’t missing many bats. They played well enough to secure the win, however, and Clemson improved to 1-1 on the year.
Saturday, Game 2 – Clemson: 7 , UAB: 4
David Haselden got off to a shaky start, falling behind 10 of the first 16 batters he faced and giving up 7 hits in 4 innings. He managed to only allow 2 runs, but the offense sputtered enough through the first 6 innings for Clemson to find themselves in another dogfight, down 2-1 going into the 7th. A Phil Pohl homerun in the 7th tied the game and a 5 run outburst in the 8th secured both the win and the series for the Tigers, who improved to 2-1. Pohl’s two hits and three RBI’s led the way for Clemson, who was actually outhit 11-8, but it was ultimately a complete meltdown from UAB’s bullpen that blew the game open.
UAB senior right-hander Michael Busby held Clemson’s offense in check, and had only thrown 67 pitches before he was taken out after 6 1/3 innings of work. He was removed after Pohl’s homerun, and Dylan Munger came on in relief. He used 5 pitches to get the last two outs in the 7th, and then was pulled in the 8th after putting the first two runners on via walks. Ryan Nance relieved Munger and hit the first batter he faced and then walked the next, plating the go ahead run. Chris Davis was the final pitcher for UAB, and he finished out the 8th, but not before allowing 4 more runs to score on 2 hits.
Kevin Pohle relieved Haselden and picked up the win after pitching 4 strong innings, giving up two hits and walking two while keeping UAB off the board. Jonathan Meyer gave up two runs on three hits, but this was a matter of him pitching in a non-save situation in the 9th; I’m not going to read too much into that outing. We’ll see more from him this season as he is going to be called on a great deal, as Clemson is still trying to settle in on solid relievers.
The first game was an awful effort, but it was nice to see Clemson, and more specifically the top of the lineup, bounce back and take the series from UAB. If this weekend is any indication, Clemson has the pitching and defense to be a very strong team this year with a lot of upside, but how much success they see is going to come down to their execution. If they can do the little things and take some pressure off of an offense that is expected to struggle for power numbers, then they will find themselves in the thick of things when it’s all said and done.
Otherwise, expect very many 2-1, 3-1, and 2-0 losses this season.
So, an introduction: I'm SJTill, I'm a junior Physics Major at Clemson and a member of Central Spirit. As a member of Central Spirit, I find myself attending many, many Clemson sporting events, particularly baseball games. As a former high school and Legion baseball player, I have a vested interest in the sport of baseball, and this why I'm taking up writing these articles. My articles will consist of a synopsis of the each game, as well as the series as a whole. With my knowledge of baseball, I'll give not only the box score and the basics, but also insight into where Clemson stands as a team and where their strengths and weaknesses lie as the season progresses.
[Ed. Note: Obviously, this isn't SJTill who is posting this article. He has just created his account, and it is not yet active. I'm his roommate, friend, fellow Central Spirit member, and a fan of STS.]