Clemson baseball must step up for difficult portion of schedule

Jun 13, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; General view of logo before the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; General view of logo before the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

Clemson baseball has been tremendous this season, firing on all cylinders across the board en route to a 30-7 start, but its schedule has not exactly been as challenging as some of the other top-ranked teams in the nation.

That is completely understandable, though, as the ACC has been weaker than usual this season. With only five teams currently ranked in the top 25 (a particularly low number for the ACC at this point in the season), the ACC is very top-heavy, as Louisville, Clemson and North Carolina are all ranked in the top five.

Powerhouses like Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami are having down years, and the bottom feeders of the conference are worse than usual. As a result, Clemson has not exactly been put to the test quite like it was last season. In 2016, it almost seemed like Clemson came out of nowhere to earn a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, but it was deceptive because of the Tigers’ record and ACC standing.

Entering last year’s ACC Tournament, the competition in the ACC was as deep and impressive as any conference in the country, and Clemson was only in the middle of the pack, despite being one of the league’s most talented teams. Proceeding to win the tournament, Clemson earned the right to host a regional, as well as a super regional, had they advanced that far.

But that sense that Clemson had “come out of nowhere” was rooted in the fact that the Tigers sported a modest 16-14 conference record at the start of the tournament. This season, with the final month of the regular season closing in fast, the Tigers stand at 14-4 in the ACC, which is tied for the second-best record.

However, an easy conference scheduled has likely contributed to that. Or maybe it has not. The coming weeks will reveal all as far as Clemson is concerned. With a three-game series this weekend at home against the 18th-ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons and a three-game affair at the fourth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels next weekend, the Tigers are about to experience their most difficult stretch of the season.

Clemson faltered in its recent series versus Florida State, an opponent that always seems to give the Tigers fits. But that was very telling, as FSU was the first quality opponent that the Tigers had faced in a month, and Clemson dropped two of three to the Seminoles.

All in all, Clemson is, without a doubt, a national power this season, but the FSU woes proved that the Tigers’ easy schedule has not done Clemson any favors. The series that has been circled on the calendar by many Clemson fans for quite some time now, the Tigers’ clash with second-ranked Louisville in mid-May, will be the ultimate indicator of where Clemson stands in terms of national superiority, but there is still much work to be done in the meantime for the Tigers.

While relief pitching has been a definite plus for Clemson overall this season, the Florida State series saw the fears of inferior relief pitching that surrounded the Tiger program throughout the preseason come to fruition, with the Tigers’ bullpen not faring particularly well, even in Clemson’s lone victory in Tallahassee.

Additionally, while slugger Seth Beer and some of the other mainstays in the batting order continue to produce game in and game out, the offense has grown too staid for the most part. The tremendous depth of Clemson’s hitting has almost served to hurt them, as certain batters have been unable to settle into a rhythm lately.

Clemson has dealt with its lulls before under head coach Monte Lee, but he has always done an excellent job of amending the situation, no matter the problem facing the Tigers. This time around, the only problem is the ease with which the Tigers have been earning wins for most of the conference slate, enabling them to grow complacent. Now that their schedule is growing increasingly difficult, adjustments must be made in order for the third-ranked Tigers to remain among the best of the bunch in college baseball. And it all starts this weekend.