What Happened To The Coogs In Tampa?

Brad Burckel

 
The UH baseball team had a chance to pick up critical conference wins against last-place USF this weekend. Instead, the Cougars left with a brutal series loss that carries potential long-term damage to the season.

 
Synopsis – USF had just two conference wins (2-10) before beating the Cougars on Friday and Sunday. Once again, the top-of-the-lineup bats disappeared and UH slid back into the 3-runs-or-less funk that has dominated the season.

 
Deeper – In 18 of 44 games this season, UH has failed to score more than 3 runs. That’s 41% of the time. Record: 6-12. In league play, UH has scored 3 or fewer in 10 of 18 games. Record: 2-8.

Which means the Coogs are 7-1 in conference play when they score 4+.

 
All Over The Place – In the last dozen games, this team is helter skelter: 7 games scoring 7 runs or more (7-0) and 4 games at 3 or less (1-3).

In those 4 games where UH can’t score, the reason is obvious. Triolo, Davis, Bielamowicz, and Padgett have combined to go 5/51 – an .098 BA. Even worse: all 5 of those hits came in the same game. In the last 3 games where UH has been held to 3 or fewer runs, the foursome is 0/37 combined.

Ouch.

Starters Look Ok. Are They?

The starting rotation had an adequate, certainly not spectacular, weekend. Lockhart, Aguilar, and Randel combined to go 16 innings and gave up 6 earned runs. But we’re at a point in the season where that’s really not getting it done. Specifically as it relates to innings pitched.

Ideally, you’d like to get 18+ innings out of your weekend starters with the bare minimum being 16 IP. In 6 weeks of AAC play, UH’s starters have yet to go more than 16 combined innings.

 
Go Further – UH starters have gone over 16 innings in a weekend just twice all year: 16.1 IP vs. Arizona and 17.2 vs. Dallas Baptist. At no point have they combined for 18 IP.

Why does this starting staff struggle to go deep? It’s simple: first-pitch strikes.

 
First Pitch Strikes: – This weekend was a glaring example of the need to throw first-pitch strikes. Cougar starters threw 29 first pitch strikes against 70 batters faced this weekend – that’s just 41% of the time. That’s not good enough.

Why? In plate appearances where Cougar starters threw first-pitch strikes, hitters were 4/26 (.154) with 3 walks. In the 41 plate appearances that started with a ball, USF hitters were 13/34 (.382) with 6 walks and an HBP – a .488 on-base percentage.

You cannot be successful at this level when you throw so many first-pitch balls.

 
Some Good News – Derrick Cherry and Brad Burckel each had a really nice week. Cherry went 7/16 with 5 runs scored and 4 RBI while Burckel went 6/12 with 4 runs scored and 3 RBI.

 
4th In Conference – Tied with UH in the American standings going into the weekend, Cincinnati swept Wichita State at home. The Bearcats now have a two-game lead for 3rd place in the conference with 6 games left for each team. If the Coogs can’t finish 3rd or better, it’s possible that the AAC is a two-bid league this season.

 
Or Could It Be A 1-Bid League? – UConn is just 7-8 in the conference but are 26 in the RPI with their 26-18 record. Their strategy of playing almost the entire season on the road or at neutral site (32 of 44 games) seems to be paying off. But if they don’t finish above .500 in the conference, there’s zero chance they get in.

 
RPI Bump and Dump – By midweek, UH had crept up to 38 in the RPI after the SHSU win and Northwestern State’s upset of #3 RPI Arkansas. But the losses in Tampa killed all momentum and the Cougars have now slipped to 48.

UH finds itself in no man’s land – likely not in the tournament and an upcoming schedule that won’t help the Cougars get back in the field.

 
Upcoming schedule – So what can be done? Houston has 12 games left: two against Rice (RPI: 120), 3 vs. UNLV (111), a home game vs FAU (52), a weekend with Tulane (74), and finishing at UCF (76). Houston will need 9-3 or better with at least two of those wins coming in Orlando.

 
Lagniappe – UH is 8-6 in one-run games in 2019 but have lost their last two (including Sunday’s walk-off by USF). Five of those one-run wins have come in games that UH scored 3 or less.

Lagniappe 2 – Since Joe Davis homered in back-to-back innings on April 12th, he’s now gone over 10 games without one. After producing 1.33 RBI per game to that point, he’s driven in just 5 in the 10 games since.

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