Northeastern (0-0; 0-0) at Texas A&M (0-0; 0-0)
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring" - Rogers Hornsby
That's right, folks! No more staring out the window and waiting. Olsen Magic makes its return at long last starting this evening as the Aggies get set to take on Northeastern. If you missed our 2-part Season Preview, not to fret - you can click here for Part One or click here for Part Two. There will be quite a few new faces out there for the Aggies this weekend, and hopefully a number of those guys can contribute to putting more runs on the scoreboard than we did for most of last year.
Let's take a quick look at what Aggie fans can expect from the visiting Northeastern Huskies, from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), this weekend. The Huskies finished 5th in the conference in 2013 with a 12-16 conference record (31-26 overall), but made a run to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament - which included ousting the #1 seed UNCW - before falling to William & Mary.
Friday (6:35pm CDT)
RHP Nick Berger (6-6, 3.56, 53K, 29 BB)
Daniel Mengden (8-4, 2.11, 94 K, 24 BB)
Berger leads a Northeastern pitching staff that led the CAA in ERA (3.89), fewest hits allowed (476), and fewest wild pitches (25) in the 2013 season. The junior right-hander leads all returning Huskies pitchers in innings pitched (93.2) and starts (14) from 2013. He did also hit 16 batters and gave up 8 home runs last season - both the most on the team - and allowed opponents to hit for a .263 average.
Mengden's is coming off a very successful 2013 season and looks to improve on that even further in 2014. Mengden led the A&M pitching staff in a number of statistical categories last season, including innings pitched (110.2), starts (16), and strikeouts (94). Look for him to come out and challenge hitters from the get-go and mix some quality breaking stuff with a strong fastball.
Saturday (2:05pm CDT)
LHP James Mulry (3-3, 4.11, 46 K, 24 BB)
RHP Parker Ray (2-1, 1.73, 44 K, 19 BB)
Mulry is a sophomore southpaw who made 12 appearances - and 7 starts - in his freshman season last year. He finished the 2013 season with a 3-3 record in 46 innings and allowed opponents to hit .253. He was named to the CAA All-Rookie team after the season, and he actually earned the win against top-seeded UNCW in the CAA tournament.
Parker Ray made his way from the bullpen to the rotation for the Aggies last season, and Coach Childress has high hopes for the senior in 2014. Ray led the A&M pitching staff in ERA in 67.2 innings of work, including 23 appearances and 6 starts. Parker was the losing pitcher in last Saturday's scrimmage, including giving up a HR to center to freshman Ronnie Gideon, but I'm expecting a strong performance on the mound to start his regular season campaign.
Sunday (1:05pm CDT)
RHP Chris Carmain (1-1, 6.85, 16 KK, 10 BB)
RHP Grayson Long (4-2, 3.52, 38 K, 25 BB)
Carmain struggled to recover effectively last season from Tommy John surgery he had in 2012, throwing just 22 innings and allowing 17 earned runs. Carmain will be looking to bounce back as one of the Huskies' captains in his senior season, and he will certainly need to improve upon allowing opponents to hit for a .292 average.
Long came on extremely strong to end the 2013 season, and after a nice summer and fall he has earned the Sunday starter role to start the season for the Aggies. Long made 10 starts and threw 46 innings last season and allowed opponents to hit .235. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is one area that he can improve upon this season, as he needs to challenge hitters, pound the strike zone and trust his stuff in order to cut down on the number of walks.
What to Watch
Northeastern returns 4 position players who played in all 57 games in the 2013 season, as well as 4 of their top 5 hitters. Junior 1B Rob Fonseca led the Huskies in batting average (.309), home runs (6) and was tied for the lead in total bases (100). He did, however, also lead the team in strikeouts on the season with 50. Senior OF Brad Burcoff was tied for the team lead in walks (23) and second to Fonseca in the HR category (5). Redshirt sophomore 2B Michael Foster led the Huskies in 2B (17) and slugging percentage (.469) in the 2013 season, and he also finished with 5 HR. Foster was also named the best defensive infielder in the CAA coming into the 2014 season. The Northeastern RBI leader last season was junior SS Jason Vosler, who knocked in 41 runs to go with a .290 average. A pair of brothers - Connor Lyons and Sean Lyons - will feature in the outfield for the Huskies, and the pair are the first brothers in team history to serve as captains for Northeastern. Let's look at the overall team stats for last season.
The 2 teams actually don't appear to have been all that far apart in terms of hitting in the 2013 season; this is also a brutal reminder of just how much the Aggies struck out last season. As for pitching (and defense), here's a quick comparison of the Aggies and Huskies. The Aggies certainly have a big advantage in terms of starting pitching in this series, but the overall numbers aren't all that different. That's quite a few hit batters there, Huskies!
On paper, this is a series that the Aggies should sweep to start the 2014 season. The Huskies finished last season at #111 in the RPI and 4 games under .500 in the Colonial Athletic Association. A&M returns a number of major contributors from 2013, and will also feature some newcomers who have a chance to make a big impact on the Aggies' lineup.
As we know, though, the season isn't played on paper. A&M dropped the season opener last season to University of Illinois-Chicago (sorry for the unpleasant memory), so we certainly can't come into this series assuming we can just cruise right past Northeastern. They, too, return a number of their top players last season and will be looking to pull an upset in College Station.
Having said that, 2014 is not 2013. I think this year's team is going to be much improved, and I'm going to start the season with a prediction of an Opening Weekend sweep. I think the Aggies will lean on their strong pitching staff, but I also expect that the lineup may come out and surprise some folks.
See you at Olsen and BTHO Northeastern!