The Clemson Tigers (2-1) are set to take on the Maine Black Bears, who are opening up their season this weekend, in a three game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Because Maine didn't play last weekend, there are no numbers to look at as far as what kind of team they have this year. However, Maine is coming off of a 33-24 season that ended in the Chapel Hill regional, where they went 1-2, losing 4-0 to North Carolina's #2 pitcher (#1 in ERA). They reached the NCAA tournament by winning the America East tournament, and were the only AE team represented in the NCAA's. They were a generally competitive team, going 15-18 outside of their conference, which showed that they were no pushover when playing outside the America East.
Specifics after the jump.....
A scary fact about Maine is that they were a very, very young baseball team last year. They are bringing back 12 of their top 15 hitters, with over half hitting at .275+. They lose their top hitter in Joey Martin (.325 average, 4 HR, 46 RBI), but they bring back Michael Fransoso (.318, 5, 33), Justin Leisenheimer (.309, 8, 25), and Troy Black (.363, 0, 19, in only 91 AB). Maine will be able to swing the bats pretty well, and a big challenge this weekend will be to see how our pitching staff handles these hitters.
Maine didn't only bring bat hitters, however. They also bring back 8 of 13 pitchers from their staff last year, which had a 4.36 ERA (respectable for an entire college staff). Much like their lineup, their pitching staff loses its top performer, Keith Bilodeau (10-3, 3.04 ERA, 91.2 Innings pitched). This guy was their ace and while he is no longer playing, Maine brings back their next 4 pitchers, in terms of innings pitched. They have some experience in terms of starters, but the bullpen could be a little rough. The starters this weekend will consist of Stephen Perakslis (6-4, 3.52, 69 IP) on Friday, Jeffrey Gibbs (8-5, 3.42, 76.1 IP), and Shaun Coughlin (3-1, 2.37, 57.0 IP) on Sunday. Unless Maine is planning to use him as a midweek starter, also look to see A.J. Bazdanes (1-5, 5.04, 69.2 IP), as he is the next most experienced pitcher for the Black Bears. It appears as though their bullpen may end up being a "by committee" effort, with only D.J. Voisine putting up a sub-5.00 ERA in a reasonable number of innings (3.16 in 25.2 innings out of the bullpen). After Voisine, it appears to be anybody's game.
The full list of Maine's 2011 statistics can be found here.
Clemson, in the meantime, will bring out the same rotation they used last week, with Kevin Brady (0-0, 1.80, 5.0 IP) getting the ball on Friday, Dominic Leone (1-0, 0.00, 6.0 IP) pitching the Saturday game, and David Haselden (0-0, 4.50, 4.0 IP) on the bump on Sunday. Brady looked good in his first start since his injury, and it will be interesting to see how many innings we leave him out there for in his second start. I personally am excited to see Leone in his second start. He looked dominant (albeit against UAB), and it will be nice to see if that gives him enough confidence to keep it up this weekend. Also look for Haselden to hopefully bounce back from getting knocked around a little bit last weekend. If he can be a solid third starter for Clemson, this will be one of the pitching staffs in the ACC.
Clemson's lineup should look similar to the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday. The lineup change in the second game can be attributed to giving certain players a breather and just taking a look at some other guys off the bench. The first lineup Saturday was getting it done, and I'm just looking to see Clemson execute offensively and have that compliment the solid pitching and defense that we saw from opening weekend.
I think the key to this series is going to be getting into Maine's bullpen. Maine's starters put up solid numbers last season (granted against weaker competition), but their bullpen seems to be the weak link. They have one experienced pitcher out of the pen, and after that, everyone else seemed to get knocked around last season. If Clemson can get on the board and run the Maine starters out of the games early, this should be an easy sweep, barring a pitching collapse on our end. I look for Clemson to sweep this weekend, but this IS baseball, and anything can happen. At the absolute worst though, Clemson should be 4-2 when it's all said and done on Sunday.