Clemson baseball: On deck – Louisville Cardinals

The Clemson baseball team will travel to Louisville, Kentucky this weekend for a very big ACC series versus the Louisville Cardinals, who are 28-12 and 11-7 in the conference.

Beef Tips: The Tigers had two huge victories this week against Presbyterian and #22 Wofford.  I say huge because they left no doubt in either game.  After getting behind in both games early, they continued to battle each and every at bat and were completely dominant and in control as soon as they took the lead.

Solid pitching from many guys, from Ricky Williams to Jay Dill to Nick Clayton and Nick Hoffman.  Ty Olenchuk was great out of the bullpen versus Wofford on Wednesday.  I am inadvertently leaving some guys out but I told a friend that as much as we love what is happening at the plate, the pitching has been very good of late.  Of course, giving the staff a 9 and 14 run lead helps the cause, the “free 90s” are fewer and fewer and the wins are piling up.

9 of the last 11 games have resulted in Tigers victories and this weekend is a major test for one of the hottest teams in the country.

Preview:  The Louisville Cardinals are 28-12 and 11-7 in the ACC.  They are currently ranked by multiple polls, notably #12 by Baseball America, 16 by D1Baseball.com, 17 by USA Today Coaches, and (surprisingly) 41 in the RPI.

The Cardinals are led by 16th year Head Coach Dan McDonnell.  The Citadel alumni has grown this program into a perennial powerhouse in the national college baseball landscape, and has been to Omaha for the College World Series on a few occasions.

In looking at the Cardinals wins and losses there are some really impressive wins, and series wins and also some head scratching losses, but thus, “it’s baseball.”  The 28 wins are against: Charlotte, Xavier, Dartmouth (x2), Morehead State, Akron (x3), TCU, Michigan (x2), Northern Kentucky, Bellarmine, Notre Dame (x3), Boston College (x3), Western Kentucky (x2), Pitt, UNC (x2) Cincinnati, Kentucky and NC State (x2)

The 12 losses are by way of: South Florida, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Michigan, Lipscomb (following the 3 game sweep of then #1 Notre Dame), Pitt (x2), UNC, Florida State (x3) and NC State.

The Cardinals are mostly led by seniors and sophomores, with 5 sophomores and 3 seniors and a junior added in.  Coach McDonnell does not really mix the lineup much, however the pitching staff is another story.  I’ll get to the staff in a bit.

Louisville is led offensively  by Senior 3rd Baseman Ben Metzinger.  .315 batting average with an OPS of 1.086 and adds 8 doubles, 2 triples and 14 home runs.  He’s also 8-8 in stolen bases and is tied for the lead in RBIs with an impressive 48.  Sophomore Shortstop Christian Knapczyk is currently second on the team in batting average hitting .355 with an OPS of .983.  He also has led off for the Cardinals in all but one game for the season.  He adds. 10 doubles, 4 triples, 2 home runs and is 14-18 in stolen bases.  A daunting task to keep him off the basepaths.

The rest of the Cardinals projected regulars look as follows: Batting Average/OPS (with notable stats in parentheses):

Senior Left Fielder – Cameron Masterman – .317 BA/1.048 OPS (10 2bs, 14 HRs, 48 RBIs)

Junior DH/Catcher- Dalton Rushing – .289/1.089 (9 2bs, 12 HRs, 39 RBIs)

Sophomore Catcher/DH – Jack Payton – .389/.984 (15 2bs, 1 3b, 2 HRs, 4-6 SBs)

Senior Center Fielder – Levi Usher – .291/.886 (11 2bs, 3 3bs, 5 HRs, 23-23 SBs)

Sophomore 2nd Baseman – Logan Beard – .323/.861 (7 2bs, 3 HRs)

Sophomore Right Fielder – Isaac Humphrey – .331/.979 (8 2bs, 1 3b, 3 HRs, 9-13 SBs)

Senior 1st Baseman – Ben Bianco – .301/.956 (5 2bs, 3 3bs, 9 HRs)

The Cardinals have scored 382 runs for an average of 9.6 runs per game.

On the mound is mostly anyone’s guess for both teams this weekend.  For the loyal followers of this column, you’ll know that I do like to cheat on the weekends and get the notes from either or both teams (more often than not from the opponent) in regards to starting pitchers.  In a rare occurrence for this weekend’s series, neither school has put out probables.

NOTE: Therefore, this is an educated guess, but still a guess nonetheless. And at the time of publishing this is the best information I have.

The regular Friday starter recently for the Cardinals has been Senior Right hander Jared Poland, and I do anticipate Poland getting the ball in game 1.  He comes into the weekend with a 2-2 record with a 3.00 ERA over 10 appearances and 9 starts.  He leads the team with 63 Ks and 17 BBs across 48 innings pitched while opponents are batting.242 against him.  For the fifth consecutive weekend, Tigers ace Mack Anglin will have his handsful against this Cardinals lineup.  And this pitching matchup should be a really good one to watch.

Projected starter for Game 2 for the Cardinals will likely be Sophomore Right hander Kaleb Corbitt.  Corbitt is 2-1 on the season through 16 appearances and 2 starts (the last two weekend series).  He has an unsightly 7.71 ERA over 21 innings pitched with 21 Ks and only 8 BBs during that time.  Opponents are hitting .322 against the righty.  It is anyone’s guess as to who will oppose Corbitt for the Tigers, but you would have to think that Head Coach Monte Lee will counter with a Geoffrey Gilbert again with Nick Hoffman, Ty Olenchuk, PJ Labriola like last weekend versus Florida State.

Sunday seems to be consistent for the Cardinals and Dan McDonnell.  Sophomore Left hander Riley Phillips has gotten the ball for most of the game 3’s for the Cardinals, so it’s a good bet that he will again take the ball versus the Tigers.  Phillips is 3-1 on the season through 10 games and 9 start with a 4.89 ERA across 42.1 innings.  45 Ks and 12 BBs while opponents are hitting .294 against the lefty.  For the Tigers, I would guess it would be Freshman Billy Barlow, among other casts of characters.  Guys like Jay Dill, Caden Grice, Austin Gordon, Jackson Lindley and Ryan Ammons.  Yep, you guessed it, the same crew that were so effective last Sunday against the Seminoles.

The Tigers have scored 322 runs on the season for an average of 7.7 runs per game.

This should be another hard fought series for the Tigers as they travel to face a very well-coached, good all-around ball club.  The Tigers, winners of 9 of the last 11 games are playing with some swagger and are really start to round into form.  If the pitching can hold up, one would have think that the bats will remain somewhat hot.  I believe the Tigers are good enough to go into Louisville and win the series, but…

Prediction:  Louisville wins the series 2-1

Game 1 

Final
Clemson Tigers
6
Louisville Cardinals
4

Game 2 

Final
Clemson Tigers
4
Louisville Cardinals
11

Game 3

Final
Clemson Tigers
9
Louisville Cardinals
10