After a series win on the road against Western Kentucky to open up conference play, the Blazers will try to carry that momentum into a home series with Florida Atlantic this weekend.
The Owls come into this series with an impressive 14-6-1 record after sweeping Middle Tennessee in Boca Raton last weekend. They fell to Miami on Wednesday night 7-5, so they come in on a bit of a down note.
FAU was one of four Conference USA teams to make the NCAA Regionals last year. They went 1-2 in the Coral Cables Regional with a win over Stetson and two losses to Long Beach State by an identical score of 5-1.
They lost their best player last year in shortstop C.J. Chatham who hit .357 with 8 home runs, 48 runs scored and 50 RBIs. He was drafted in the second round of the MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox.
Led by David Miranda, the Owls are one of the best offensive teams in Conference USA hitting .313 as a team, while averaging 8.5 runs per game.
Miranda is batting .385 and hit his team-leading sixth home run on Wednesday night against Miami. Gary Mattis is hitting .367 with 22 runs scored, 5 home runs and 21 RBIs. Tyler Frank is hitting .356 and leads the team with 23 runs scored and 24 RBIs, while also hitting 5 home runs.
They have three other hitters in their lineup hitting over .300, and no one with more than 36 at-bats is hitting lower than .265.
On the other hand, the pitching staff for FAU has not been great this year as they rank in the bottom half of the conference in ERA at 4.48.
Friday night starter Marc Stewart has a 4.02 ERA in three starts with 16 strikeouts in 15.2 innings pitched.
Alex House should get the start on Saturday with a 4.76 ERA in 28.1 innings with 20 strikeouts and 8 walks. Jake Miednik is the Sunday starter with a 5.34 ERA in 28.2 innings with 29 strikeouts.
Closer Cameron Ragsdale has 5 saves with a 3.68 ERA in 7.1 innings with 6 strikeouts.
Drew Peden has been a solid bullpen arm with a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings with an impressive 20 strikeouts. Mark Nowatnick has been good as well with a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 innings with 14 strikeouts.
As for UAB, they continue to lead the conference in pitching, but are last in offense.
The bats woke up a bit last weekend against Western Kentucky, but fell silent again in the mid-week game versus Alabama.
Brewer Hicklen and Carter Pharis continue to hit as they were 1-4 and 2-4 respectively against Alabama, and Pharis scored the Blazers’ lone run.
I think coach Shoop has found a lineup that he likes with Tyler Tolbert, Hicklen and Pharis at the top, but the rest of the lineup has to get it going.
After a complete game, one hit shutout from Thomas Lowery it will be hard for coach Shoop not to leave him in the starting rotation with Garrett Whitlock and Ryan Ruggles.
Those three really have to carry UAB this weekend if the Blazers are going to have a shot at winning this series.
Keys to Beating FAU:
- Pitching and Defense – This will be a key for UAB baseball all year. In order for the Blazers to win any game they need good pitching and defense. They have one of the best fielding percentages in the conference at .976 with just 19 errors, and of course they lead the conference with a 2.73 ERA. FAU is going to hit the ball this weekend, so we need our defense to make some plays and help out the pitching staff.
- Hold them to 5 runs or less – This goes in line with the first key, but FAU has not lost a game this year in which they’ve scored more than 5 runs. They do have a 6-6 tie, but that’s not a loss. UAB only averages 4.1 runs per game this year, so we aren’t going to win too many games when we give up more than 4 runs. In fact, in 12 of UAB’s 13 wins they’ve allowed less than four runs. FAU has scored 10-plus runs in 10 games this year. However, they’ve also given up 4-plus runs in 13 games this year. If UAB is going to win this series they need to hold FAU to 5 runs or less.
- Keep the ball in the ballpark: FAU leads Conference USA with 33 home runs, which is 30 more than UAB has. Fortunately this game is being played in Regions Field where there is a lot of room in the outfield. That should help UAB pitchers keep the ball in the yard. As mentioned previously, UAB needs to avoid giving up crooked numbers. And there isn’t one guy who will hurt them; FAU has four guys with 5 or more home runs. If UAB pitching can keep the ball in the ballpark and prevent them from having big innings, I like our chances of winning this series.
- RUN: The Blazers are at the top of the conference in stolen bases with 27 steals in 33 attempts. FAU has given up 18 stolen bases in 23 attempts. For comparisons sake, UAB has only allowed 8 stolen bases in 16 attempts. Any time Tolbert, Hicklen and Pharis get on base they need to take off. That will put some added pressure on the FAU pitching staff.
- String some hits together: In Tuesday night’s loss to Alabama the Blazers had 6 hits, which isn’t terrible, but they all came in different innings. They didn’t have a single inning where they had multiple hits, while Alabama had four innings with multiple hits. FAU has given up the fourth most hits in the conference. The offense has to do a better job of stringing some hits together and having some big innings.
Weekend Schedule (Starters are Probable)
Friday – Regions Field – 3 p.m. CT
Marc Stewart (1-0, 4.02, 16) vs. Garrett Whitlock (3-1, 2.15 ERA, 22 Ks)
Friday – Regions Field – 6:30 p.m. CT
Alex House (2-1, 4.76, 20 Ks) vs. Ryan Ruggles (2-2, 3.18, 19 Ks)
Saturday – Regions Field – 2 p.m. CT
Jake Miednik (2-1, 5.34, 29) vs. Thomas Lowery (1-1, 2.22, 16)