It’s been a rough end to the baseball season for the Cougars. Now at 12-14 in AAC games and 8-11 in Q1, I believe we’ve seen the last of UH for 2019. Unless something unforeseen happens, the Cougars will not make the NCAA Tournament.
I’d love to eat my words on Monday at 11 a.m.
Because Arizona and UCF have moved into the top 50, and Texas State has slid out, UH now has 7 more Q1 games than they did 10 days ago. But that won’t matter: it would be shocking if the NCAA chooses a 12-14 AAC team that finished 5th in the league and 0&2 in the tournament.
Collapse Down The Stretch
UH played a lethargic six games in 8 days to end the season. The Cougars hit .217 over that stretch and scored just 18 runs. That looks paltry but when you eliminate the wild Saturday night game from the equation, it’s much worse.
If you pull out the 10-run game from Saturday night, UH scored just 8 runs in 5 games. The team hit .204 in those games and collected just 32 total hits. UH had six hits in each of the first four games of this run but, thanks to a late ‘rally’ against ECU, got the total up to eight on Wednesday. Five of those hits vs. ECU came after the 7th-inning stretch when the Pirates had shut it down.
This team looked different in those eight days – they looked tight and like they were pressing. That’s a Todd Whitting trait, to be sure, and it rubbed off on this team. It’s a shame: after the Tulane series ended on 5/12, I thought the Cougars were firmly in the tournament barring a collapse.
Well, the collapse was not barred. In fact, I was damn near prophetic.
It was an and kinda week.
Goofy Lineup Change Makes Little Sense
The most puzzling thing in a season of strange decisions was moving Triolo to 3rd in the lineup during the AAC tournament. Just baffling.
Backstory: On a windy day in late March, the Cougars had just dropped their second-straight conference series to open the season. This time, they lost both ends of a Friday doubleheader to Memphis. They were 13-13 and in no danger of making the tournament. With 40+ hours until Sunday’s game, Whitting and offensive development coach Ryan Shotzberger had time to think.
As often happens after a loss, Whitting moved people around in the lineup in Memphis. Maybe he feels that the lineup that lost a game is bad luck. My instinct tells me that the constant lineup churn hurts players: they come to the ballpark not knowing what to expect and are never able to settle into a role.
Go deeper: The day-after-a-loss lineup change is an odd superstition that Whitting employed in 22 of 23 games after a loss this year.
But the major change he made in Memphis stuck: he moved Triolo to the top of the order.
In the leadoff spot for the last 7+ weeks of the regular season, Triolo hit .342 with 28 RBI and 25 runs. Most importantly, UH was 13-13 when he moved to the top – they were 19-9 the rest of the way. This move worked.
On To Clearwater
In the final game of the regular season, the 11-10 loss to UCF, Triolo went 3/5 with 3 RBI, two runs, and a walk. Obviously, Whitting would change the lineup but this was surprising.
When the lineup was announced for the first game of the AAC Tournament, Triolo’s name was missing from the leadoff spot after living there for 28-straight games. What’s going on? He was moved to 3rd – behind Brad Burckel and Joe Davis.
It made no sense to move Tri to 3rd, especially behind Joe Davis. What’s the point of putting Triolo third in order to drive in runs behind the slowest guy on the team? And, also, why is Davis batting second?
After the opening-morning loss to UConn, Triolo was back at 3rd in the lineup vs. ECU. The two guys that replaced him in the leadoff spot, Burckel and Lockhart, combined to go 2 for 9 with five strikeouts. Triolo, batting out of position, still managed to go 4 of 7.
That production should have been at the top of the lineup as it had been for 50+ days. Lockhart and Davis, the two guys that have regularly played 1B this year, were 1-2 in the order Wednesday. You’ll never see your two first basemen 1-2 ever again.
There’s no rationale that can explain moving Triolo away from a spot he thrived in.
Legend Of Joe Davis
The lone bright spot in a week of darkness was the Friday night game against UCF. Aguilar, Bretz, and Villarreal combined on a 7-hit shutout on the same night that Joe Davis broke his homerless streak.
Davis now has 18 home runs in 2019 and 53 for his career. Because of the peculiarities of the sport, that number won’t be broken in my lifetime, if ever. If the season is over, Davis will finish his career 22 dingers ahead of #2 on the all-time list, Pat Hewes.
2019 is the first season that Davis has fallen below 70 hits (59) but largely through no fault of his own: his 200 ABs are 42 below his average and his walk total is more than the last two years combined.
Joe’s 18 homers this year are tied for second-most for a season in UH history (Jake Scheiner – 2017, Brett Cooley – 2002, J.P. Woodward – 1999). Hewes hit 23 in 1986.
UH’s .253 batting average is the lowest in school history in the metal bat era. Metal bats were introduced in the game in 1974.
You have to go back to 1970 to see a UH team that hit worse (.226).
The Cougars are 1-6 this season in neutral-site games and 0-5 in tournament games (including Minute Maid). UH was 6-8 in neutral-site games last year after six-straight years of .500 or better.
Despite the abysmal showing this week, UH is still the “all-time” leader in wins in the AAC Tournament. The Cougars are now 14-7 but UConn (13-9) and ECU (11-6) are closing in. UH has 5 total titles in the league while ECU has 3. No other program has more than one.
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