The ball was flying in week three, and now teams return home to colder temperatures to play conference games.
Week three was not kind to the MAC baseball programs. As a collective, they managed a 10-26 record with a -90 run differential. But ultimately, it wasn’t all bad.
There were strong individual performances on every team, just not enough of them. Currently, the MAC is looking a little imbalanced with a premium on pitching. Heading into MAC play, any team that has their pitching staff in order will look like a favorite.
This past week was almost every team’s last weekend series before MAC games start. Western Michigan will be the lone exception this upcoming week, as they will have their last non-conference series against Southern Illinois from Friday to Sunday. Every other team plays a four-game series against another MAC school.
This weekend’s slate of games will have an interesting format. Game one will be a nine-inning game on Friday, while games two and three will be a double-header set-up with seven innings each— a leftover from the COVID season of 2021— before returning to the classic nine-inning rubber match on Sunday for a grand total of 32 innings of baseball between each MAC team this weekend.
Massive Power Surge
The weekend weather got a little warmer, and the bats noticed. Week two had MAC teams play 37 games, and there were 51 home runs hit in total. MAC teams hit 22 and their opponents hit 29.
There were 36 games played in week three, with MAC teams hit 46 home runs by themselves. Their opponents hit 58 for a total of 104 home runs. That rate is more than triple the college per game average from 2021.
The ball was flying and it punished everyone— MAC pitchers more than most. Two MAC teams combined for 21 home runs allowed.
Kent State Sweeps Austin Peay
Kent State is starting to look like the team to beat in the MAC early. Austin Peay is a good team that won their series against ACC opponent Boston College, and swept Bowling Green earlier in the season.
Kent State took all three games with a combined differential of +13 runs. As each game wore on, the Flashes kept adding runs and the Governor offense couldn’t keep up. Kent State’s defense turned four double plays and the pitching did enough to earn the sweep.
Kent State has an early test against Central Michigan to open MAC play. It’s a home series for the Golden Flashes and taking the series will put early separation between themselves and maybe their top competition for the MAC regular-season title.
MAC Offenses Improved, Pitching Did Not
Along with the slugging improving this weekend, the offenses improved across the board. The league’s batting average jumped 38 points to .274, on-base percentage grew 42 points, teams scored 1.6 more runs per game. A lineup that scores 5.8 runs per game will win a lot of baseball games.
On the flip side, pitching took a step backward. Walks were the same, which there were already too many. A full earned run was added per game, and MAC pitchers could not keep the baseball in the yard.
Next week is when the rubber really meets the road as conference play begins. Each team had their own tests so far this season, and now they begin to overlap.
Hitter of the Week: Mason Sykes, Toledo, First Base
Mason Sykes was unstoppable this weekend. In total, Sykes had eight hits, three runs, eight runs batted in, a double and three home runs. That’s a healthy 1.500 slugging percentage.
Sykes was at the plate in the right moments and delivered enough to win game one on his at-bats alone. He hit two home runs off of Elon’s starting pitcher and drove in seven in a 13-6 win.
Best Start of the Week: Jonathan Brand, Miami
Jonathan Brand took the mound in game one and pitched a gem. He set the tone in the first inning against a good Georgia Southern lineup, striking out the side on 12 pitches. In total, he didn’t last long, five innings pitched, one hit, one unearned run, four walks and ten strikeouts.
With the RedHawks entering the sixth inning, having only given up a single run, Brand should be in line for the win, right? Wrong. They trailed 1-0 and Brand gets saddled with a loss he does not deserve. He only allowed five base runners and neutralized the Georgia State offense on his own.
Reliever of the Week: Brett Manis, Ohio
Fireman Brett Manis appeared twice this weekend for the Bobcats. In their first game of the series he pitched two innings, only surrendered one walk, and closed out a great pitching performance by Eddie Kutt IV to seal the win. The game was out of save range, or he would’ve picked that up.
His second appearance came in game three of the series, pitching four innings against Evansville. In those four innings, he gave up three hits, two earned runs, hit one batter and struck out six. He picked up the win and helped close out a good weekend for the Bobcats.
Manis is essentially a starter that can be deployed when the defense is in a tight spot or a critical game situation. If the starters keep pitching how they have been and they have roughly 80 pitches from Manis to be used whenever they want, the Bobcats will be in a lot of games this spring.
Akron drew the toughest test this week against Louisville and Louisville rained on their parade. The Akron pitching staff surrendered 10 home runs and gave up 17 runs per game on average.
Only a couple relief pitchers had positive numbers at the end of the series, but the bullpen is where the wheels truly came off. The starters pitched half of the innings in this series and gave up 17 earned runs. The bullpen took the remaining 12 innings and allowed 31 earned runs.
Tough weekend for the Zips and power-hitting Toledo is up next for them.
Ball State (5-7)
Florida A&M stole a game in this series with good pitching and one offensive outburst. They had three hits total in that game and scored five runs. Must have been walks that got Ball State in trouble right? Nope, only three walks. In the third inning of game four, two of their hits, all of the walks and a hit by pitched resulted in all five runs. Ball State couldn’t answer and lost 5-3.
It’s really strange to see an entire offense’s production come in one inning.
Outside of that, Ball State played well. They hit seven home runs and struck out 38 batters while walking only eight. They committed only one error on defense.
A home series with Eastern Michigan is up next for the Cardinals.
Bowling Green (2-7)
It’s a tough weekend when the offense can only put four runs across. Three of those runs came from two home runs and the last from a wild pitch. Kyle Gurney, the catcher, had a good weekend from the plate and went 7 for 11 with two doubles. No hitters appeared in the same position in the batting order all weekend. Clearly still in search of the optimal lineup.
Eastern Kentucky ran away with game two of the series and scored 12 runs, but outside of that, pitching kept Bowling Green in the series. Especially their bullpen. The starters lasted 13 and two-thirds innings and allowed 13 earned runs. Connar Penrod came into game one and pitched three innings of shutout and hit-less baseball.
Bowling Green travels to Miami for a four-game series next weekend.
Central Michigan (3-7)
The Chippewas could really use a power bat in the middle of their lineup. Thirty runners were left on base over three games against UMass-Lowell and Wake Forest. Their on-base percentage is a solid .379, but driving runs home has eluded them.
Quality power bats like Zach Gilles and Zach Heeke left the program in the offseason and took 24 extra-base hits with them. A couple of those in some critical moments would have this season looking very differently.
The pitching staff was going to be a bright spot for this team, and so far they have struggled. The starters in this series gave up 17 earned runs in 14 innings. The pitching staff gave up eight home runs in total.
Kent State will be a tough early test in conference play.
Eastern Michigan (2-7)
Morehead State has a wild field. In right field, there is a net that keeps balls in play and left field is a huge power alley. The Eagles brought offense to this one-of-a-kind field with eight home runs.
Eastern Michigan was only able to turn those home runs into 24 runs however and let two back and forth games get away from them. Game two was especially tough. The Eagles scored four in the top of the sixth inning to take a 13-7 lead. Morehead State scored 1, 4 and 3 runs in the next three innings to take a 15-13 lead.
If this series was played again, EMU picks up at least one more win. Eastern has a week to put this series behind them and get ready for a trip to Ball State.
Hit well on a weird field. Tight series. Game 2 is a tough one.
Kent State (4-5)
The Golden Flashes went deep into the Austin Peay bullpen and it paid dividends. A six-run inning in game one helped drive the ace off the mound and used up the top-end arms early in the series.
Austin Peay used five pitchers in game two, and by game three, the Kent State hitters were ready. Kent State scored runs in every inning but the first in game three.
Kent State’s offense shows every indicator of an aggressive, potent offense. They hit six home runs over the three-game series, worked their way on base with 23 walks and stole 12 bases.
The Sun Belt is a good baseball conference and Georgia Southern is picked to finish second. Miami played them to a one-run game in each game of the series. They were walked off twice as well. It was a tough weekend for the RedHawks but not all was bad.
Jonathan Brand turned in a great game one start, Stephen Krause and JJ Woolwine produced on-base plus slugging percentages over 1.300 each. If their pitchers can get the walks under control the RedHawks will be just fine.
Miami played a midweek game against Indiana and rotated some players through the lineup. It was a 15-2 loss.
Miami will be looking to bounce back at home against Bowling Green.
Northern Illinois (0-11)
The only winless team in the MAC are the Northern Illinois Huskies. They almost got two of them against Lipscomb. The bullpen let two eighth-inning leads slip away and gave up 17 runs in innings seven, eight and nine in the series.
The Huskies are able to draw a walk and get on base, but hits are hard to come by. In this series, their batting average was below .200 and they only produced 10 extra bases from 16 hits. That’s a decent ratio, just far too few.
The Ohio pitching staff is their next challenge, and they have been performing well.
Eddie Kutt IV struck out nine in seven innings of work to open the weekend for the Bobcats while picking up the win. The middle game got away from the Bobcats when they gave up four home runs.
Outside of that, the Bobcats won two tight and well-played games. The offense was consistent and not reliant on one hot hitter. There were four batters that had five hits or more.
Ohio hosts the NIU Huskies next week for a four-game series.
The Rockets have could do themselves a favor and draw a walk occasionally. In their series against Elon, they were only able to work four walks. With easy base runners, their power hitters would have more RBI opportunities and drive in more runs.
Elon and Toledo traded blowouts in games one and two. The rubber match was a very tight game with four runs total. Toledo only managed seven hits and stranded seven runners on base in a 3-1 loss.
Toledo goes to Akron to play the Zips in their opening weekend of MAC play.
Western Michigan (1-9)
Western Michigan is a great half-team. Their offense is very strong and scoring runs has not been their issue in 2022. In their last seven games, they have averaged 6.9 runs per game and 1.4 home runs. That is good for a better record than 0-7 in those games.
The Broncos have an issue keeping other teams from scoring. They are down their ace in Easton Sikorski. He hasn’t pitched since the opening weekend. This weekend against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville saw the Broncos give up 11 home runs.
WMU is the first team to get a bye week for MAC play. They play Southern Illinois this upcoming weekend.