Starting Pitching Advantage: Miami
The Canes’ dynamic duo of Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez cannot be matched. Both pitched well in their first outings of the season. The two combined to give up only one earned run against Rutgers over nine and two-thirds innings of work. They will be matched up against a solid lineup in the Manhattan Jaspers, but Manhattan doesn’t see pitchers like these in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). The projected starters for Manhattan for the three-game set will be senior lefty Mike Gazzola and senior right-hander Tom Costigan; either sophomore Mike Giordano or true freshman Eric Luksis will get the start in game three. Gazzola and Costigan combined for a 14-3 record last season in their 25 starts.
Bullpen Advantage: Miami
So far so good for newly converted senior closer David Gutierrez. In his two appearances thus far, he has not given up a run while picking up the save in last Saturday’s 10-8 victory over Rutgers and earning the win in Sunday’s walk-off win. Daniel Miranda, E.J. Encinosa and Sam Robinson have all been reliable as well in relief stints. Tom Moran will be Manhattan’s primary option at closer. He recorded six of the team’s eight saves a year ago. The team is also very high on true freshman reliever Mike Gonzalez, a Miami product coming out of Christopher Columbus High School who will begin his collegiate career pitching in the city he grew up in.
Catcher Advantage: Miami
Preseason All-American Yasmani Grandal is off to a solid start to his junior year. In the opening series against Rutgers he went 3-for-7 (.429) and was respected by opposing pitching as he drew six walks. The Jaspers will respond with another local Miami kid, who also attended Columbus, in redshirt freshman Ramon Ortega. Ortega missed most of last season due to injury and only ended up playing six games. Senior Anthony Armenio stepped in for him at catcher, but with Ortega back healthy, Armenio will likely return to DH.
Infield Advantage: Miami
Scott Lawson and Harold Martinez will be essential for the orange and green to have the advantage here as Manhattan will challenge them. Lawson went 4-for-10 (.400) in the series against Rutgers and Martinez went 3-for-10 (.300). Also, look out for David Villasuso to once again DH for the Canes and catch on Sunday allowing Grandal to move to DH in that day-game-after-a-night-game scenario. The Canes would like to cut down on the errors, which got them into some trouble in Sunday’s nail-biter. Manhattan is strong and experienced in the corner infield spots with first baseman Austin Sheffield and third baseman Chad Salem. Freshman Nick Camastro will start at shortstop, and it is uncertain whether freshman Kyle Murphy or sophomore Will DeRuve will start at second. The Jaspers’ offensive stats are through the roof, but don’t let that fool you since they feed off of MAAC pitching.
Outfield Advantage: Manhattan
Three of Manhattan’s top returning offensive players are their three outfielders. A third player from Christopher Columbus High School on this roster, in senior center fielder Kevin Nieto, is the team’s centerpiece offensively. He accumulated an OPS of 1.234 last season while driving in 54 runs and stealing 25 bases. Nieto was named a Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American. The team’s corner outfield spots will be occupied by juniors Mike McCann and Mark Onorati. For the Canes, they will respond with Sunday’s walk-off hero, Zeke DeVoss, who will be accompanied by Chris Pelaez and Nathan Melendres. Melendres struggled going 2-for-11 (.182) in the opening series, but the JUCO transfer Pelaez flourished hitting a stunning .727 in the middle of the lineup.
Intangibles Advantage: Miami
Miami is hot coming off a series sweep at home against Rutgers last weekend. In the meantime, Manhattan will be playing the first three games of their season. This is a talented Manhattan team that is expected to finish atop the MAAC. That’s exactly where they were after last year’s regular season but eventually lost to Canisius in their conference tournament, leading to elimination. The Jaspers have a total of four players who played high school ball in Miami and will be on a homecoming trip. However, according to catcher Ramon Ortega, they have not been able to practice outdoors or even set foot on a baseball diamond due to inclement weather in New York. Look for Manhattan to be a bit rusty, especially defensively, for this three-game series at the Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field.
David Furones may be contacted at email@example.com.