The Teams: No. 18 Maryland Terrapins (27-11, 8-4) vs. VCU (22-16, 7-5)
The Location: Home-and-home
The Backstory: VCU is right in the thick of the Atlantic 10 conference race as the final month of the regular season is upon us. The Rams only trail Richmond and Saint Louis by two games for the top spot in the conference. VCU is coming off nearly an identical stretch to Maryland as the Rams were on a three-game winning streak before dropping the series finale to Saint Joseph’s on Sunday afternoon. They also had beaten Longwood last Wednesday, much like how the Terps defeated Liberty on that very same day.
In terms of the hitting department, VCU has a very dangerous table-setter in outfielder Logan Farrar. In the Rams last series against the Hawks, Farrar went 6-of-13 at the plate, which was good for a .462 average. The sophomore also was the designated hitter for the final two games of that series. Farrar is the type of player that can definitely hit for average, but can also swing for the fences with regularity. He is one of five Rams that has multiple long balls in 2015.
VCU also gets quite a bit of production from the clean-up spot in the order. Shortstop Vimael Machin leads the Rams in RBIs (31), and is tied with Farrar for the team lead in hits (48). Machin is a very smart hitter that is capable of hitting one over the fences or spraying a blooper into the gap. The senior shortstop wasn’t just extremely productive this season. In 2014, Machin was second in the Atlantic 10 in RBIs (52), and had the highest on-base percentage (.421). The Puerto Rico native is the one hitter that Maryland pitching is going to be careful of during these two games.
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On the other hand, Maryland is coming off a series win against Cal-State Fullerton. The Terps took the first games with some help from some phenomenal pitching. Staff ace Mike Shawaryn struck out 13 batters in a strong eight-inning effort on Friday, while junior Rob Galligan tossed six innings of one-run ball in relief of Tayler Stiles on Saturday. Lefty Jake Drossner pitched a gem on Sunday, but a late Cal-State Fullerton solo home run spoiled all of his hard work.
Shortstop Kevin Smith had a very productive series as he went 6-of-12 against the Titans. On Saturday, Smith and catcher Kevin Martir each had three hits apiece to pace the Maryland lineup. The Terps are still without outfielder Tim Lewis, who has been battling a stomach bug over the last few days. Aside from Saturday’s offensive explosion, Maryland only managed nine hits in the other two games. Timely hitting definitely plagued the Terps on Sunday, but obviously, this is a lineup that is capable of putting a ton of runs on the board at a moment’s notice.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) Wounded Terps – Outfielder Tim Lewis (stomach bug) and first baseman/outfielder LaMonte Wade (hand) are both battling injuries. In turn, Maryland was forced to play five freshmen over the weekend against Cal-State Fullerton. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Lewis saw action at some point in the this series. On the other hand, Wade’s injury was supposed to sideline him around a month, and we’ve reached that timetable. If Wade was able to return to the lineup, it would be huge for the Maryland offense. He was hitting .370 with 12 RBIs before suffering his hand injury.
2.) Manufacture runs – Even when a team isn’t hitting home runs, good teams will find ways to win. The Terps seem to have a knack for manufacturing runs. It doesn’t hurt that Maryland leads the Big Ten in players getting hit by pitches. For example, with bases loaded in the ninth inning, the Terps worked a pair of walks that ended up being the difference in the game. Maryland only ended up with seven hits in the entire game, but were disciplined at the plate and got very timely hits. They’ll need more of that against the Rams if they want a series win.
3.) Strong pitching – Maryland got excellent starting pitching against the Titans as Drossner, Galligan, and Shawaryn all turned in superb efforts during the Terps weekend series. Drossner may have gotten the win if not for Maryland’s bats being silenced on Sunday afternoon. With some heavy artillery in the VCU lineup, Maryland’s pitchers will have to be on their toes once again.