Riding a wave of momentum after 5 straight wins, the Tigers should have had some confidence coming into this weekend series against Virginia. Whatever confidence they had didn't show up because Virginia swept us in games that weren't nearly as close as the box scores indicated. I don't even know what to say about this team anymore, they're taking years off my life.
Game summaries after the jump...
Friday: Virginia 6 , Clemson 3
Brady pitches 2.1 innings, we make 3 errors, and we strand 9; we're going to lose that game everytime. I don't care that Virginia stranded 12 and the score actually could have been worse, we have to be better and drive those guys in and I expect more out of Brady. Virginia has an extremely talented lineup, there's no question. Those guys are always going to hit for a high average and they do the little things that put pressure on a pitcher, but Brady is a frontline starter and needs to do better. Normally I'd say, give him a bad outing every now and then, it happens. However, Clemson had finally picked up some momentum, having won 5 in a row, and Friday was the moment when we could LEAST afford a rough start from him.
As bad as Brady's start was, Clemson's bullpen was holding serve and keeping us in a 3-1 ballgame going into the 8th. Unfortunately, over the course of our winning streak, our bullpen apparently went from being a firecracker that would blow up immediately, to a ticking time bomb. They had done so well since the North Carolina series that I was ACTUALLY starting to regain a small measure of confidence in them. They threw all of that away when they allowed 3 runs in the 8th inning. They allowed THE RUNS THAT WOULD ULTIMATELY DECIDE THE GAME, ALL WITH TWO OUTS. Asking Clemson to score two runs in one inning is not impossible. As streaky as our lineup is, we're just as liable to put up 12 runs as we are to get shutout. But you can't give up 3 more runs to make the margin 5 before we get our final hacks. It's even more demoralizing, if that's even possible.
Speaking of demoralizing: .167. That was our average (1-for-6) with runners in scoring position Friday night. The lone hit came on a 9th inning RBI single by Jason Stolz (who was 3-for-4) that would have tied the game if our bullpen weren't so useless. We also had a sac fly by Richie that plated a run, which constituted our only "special" situation of the night. We couldn't get any runners to second with nobody out, and we only got one runner to third with one out or fewer. The inability to get into these situations on offense led us to depend on two out base hits to score runs, and 1-for-6 isn't going to get it done against anybody.
Box for Friday's game
Saturday: Virginia 5 , Clemson 1
I'll keep this recap brief, much like the game was. Branden Kline pitches a complete game two hitter for Virginia, not allowing a hit (or a baserunner for that matter) after the fourth inning. All the credit in the world goes to him for simply shutting us down. He needed 112 pitches and didn't walk a single batter, facing only two over the minimum.
Dominic Leone, on the other hand, gave up 5 runs in 3.2 innings, taking the loss while giving up 5 hits and walking 3. If I'm the pitching coach, he's gotta show me more consistency on the bump if he wants to remain a starter at all, let alone the Saturday starter. This opinion should be all the more unsettling seeing how bad our bullpen has been. Leone needs to grit his teeth and go get outs like we've all seen him do at times.
Much like you would expect from a 2-hit night, the lineup was anemic. Credit goes to Kline, but there's no excuse for having your last 18 batters set down by a Saturday starter. 14 damn pop ups and fly outs. I'm not saying every ball needs to be hit on the ground, but everybody and their mother can catch a pop up; it only requires one play. Fielding a ground ball and making a good throw to the bag requires two (three if you count the other player having to catch the ball). Ground balls aren't sexy, I get that. Chicks dig the long ball, but with the new bats, the long ball isn't coming. All we're left with is weak fly balls that a player from Virginia is GOING to handle. I can't say it enough: Kline is an excellent pitcher and had an almost perfect outing on Saturday, but we didn't make his life any tougher by hitting every damn ball he threw into the air.
Box from Saturday's game
Sunday: Virginia 5 , Clemson 3
Kevin Pohle gives up 4 hits and walks 4 in 4 innings to take the loss. We strand 6 more runners and make 2 errors. We lose. But that's not what has me steaming about this loss.
Before the season started, we as fans were fed some lines from coaches and players that basically echoed what we all thought would be the case: The Tigers weren't going to hit a lot of home runs, and therefore, were going to have to work for runs. We heard words like "execute", "manufacture", and "scrapping out" runs, which is what we thought they would have to do.
My problem comes from the 7th inning in Sunday's game. Jack Leggett made (or rather didn't make) a call that had me absolutely flipping shit. We're down by one run in the 7th inning, on the verge of potentially being swept. We have runners on first and second with nobody out, and Richie Shaffer is in the on deck circle. At this point, I don't give a damn if Ty Cobb is in the batter's box, he's bunting those guys over. The situation we were in is Situation 1 in the "Hmmmm, I think I might need to bunt here...." manual, and what does Jack do? He let's Stolz pop into a double play because Brittle is running around like his head's cut off.
If this is the kind of team we're going to be, then fine. I'll just get used to the losses and lack of execution as they happen. But don't feed me some BS about how we're going to manufacture runs, and then let Stolz swing away in that spot. That's absolutely ridiculous and we'll never know if it would have changed the outcome of the game because Jack wouldn't put us in position to find out.
Box score for Sunday's game wasn't available at the time of this article's publishing, but will be available soon by clicking on the Sunday game here and clicking on the box score link
These articles are starting to sound like broken records. First of all, we can't hit with runners in scoring position. This team is simply NOT going to come through with the timely hits needed to plate the runs that end up being the difference in the game. That's why I stress those "special" situations so much; if we could get guys in those situations, we wouldn't have to have a base hit to score them, we could use other means (a bunt, sac fly, past ball, etc.). But we can't even do that right.
Secondly, we can't play defense. Our infield has 17 errors in 22 games this season. Seven of those have come from Richie. He's fielding a measly .870 on the season. That's John Hinson bad. They're freaking GROUND BALLS. Get in front of them, knock them down, pick them up, throw the guy out. How little do we practice fielding that we can't make the routine plays? Wilkerson has 5 errors, McGibbon has 3, Stolz has 2, all of which is unreal. I made the comment earlier that ground balls are tougher than fly balls, but that doesn't mean the play shouldn't be made. These guys are getting the opportunity to play major college baseball, an opportunity that many (myself included) would literally KILL to have, and this is the effort we're getting. Take some damn pride in who you are and the school you play for and make the plays that need to be made. No excuses. At all.
It is also my oh-so-humble opinion that we only have two starting pitchers on this team. Kevin Brady is our frontline guy, no question. He gives us the best chance to win on Friday, and (to me at least) Kevin Pohle is the other. Pohle did not begin the season as a starting pitcher, but his strong relief efforts and conference-leading ERA have me putting a fair amount of confidence in him. It's not always pretty, he allows plenty of baserunners, but most of the time he manages to weasel his way out of james. Everybody else on this team is a reliever. As starters, Haselden: SUCKS. "Goose" Gossett: SUCKS (and drop that nickname right now until he proves he can get somebody out). Everybody else is a bonafide reliever, with Jonathan Meyer managing to show me something as of late. This team needs some starting pitching to lean on, and we're not even close to getting it. If this shit keeps up, it's going to be an even longer season than we thought two weeks ago.
Clemson gets back into action with Tuesday and Wednesday games against Georgia and Presbyterian College, respectively. Georgia was 16-6 and ranked 18th in the country going into their weekend series against Vanderbilt this weekend. I'm not expecting a win against them. In Athens. Not by a long shot. PC, on the other hand, is 9-16 and was essentially everybody's doormat. They played South Carolina close in a midweek game, and gave two competitive games to Georgia in a weekend set, so take from that what you will. I figure they'll be the perfect thorn in our side in a midweek game. Clemson should win that game easily, but it's going to come down to whether our pitching holds up.