Starting Pitching Advantage: Miami
The Canes will get a monumental lift this season with redshirt junior Eric Erickson returning to the rotation after Tommy John surgery. Most pitchers come out of Tommy John even stronger, but if he’s anywhere close to where he used to be, watch out. He and junior Chris Hernandez look to lead the starters. Both are in comeback mode as Hernandez wants to get back to his Freshman Pitcher of the Year form from 2008, in which he recorded an 11-0 record and a 2.72 ERA. As for Rutgers, they have an experienced rotation and will likely call on seniors Casey Gaynor and Dennis Hill who both started games against Miami last season, and both pitched five solid innings giving up one earned run in their outings. Nonetheless, Miami won those two games.
Bullpen Advantage: Miami
Miami can no longer rely on former stellar closer Kyle Bellamy to lock up victories in the ninth. All eyes will now be on David Gutierrez in those late-inning pressure situations to see if he can effectively make the transition to fill the void at closer. Rutgers also lost their closer from a year ago in Ryan Beard and will likely depend on senior right-hander Kevin Lillis who was the only other Scarlet Knight to record a save last season. The Hurricanes have depth in the bullpen provided by Sam Robinson and Daniel Miranda amongst others. Rutgers does not have a single returning pitcher who posted an ERA under 5.00 last year while pitching at least 10 innings.
Catcher Advantage: Miami
The Scarlet Knights have senior Jayson Hernandez returning behind the dish. He hit a consistent .272 last season in the middle of their lineup and provides a decent arm throwing out 19 would-be base stealers a year ago. However, the Canes will respond with second team All-American Yasmani Grandal who hit just under .300 last year while leading the team in homers with 16 and boasting a 1.009 OPS.
Infield Advantage: Even
Reigning team MVP and second team All-ACC selection Scott Lawson headlines the Miami infield. He hit .333 last year while leading the team with 10 stolen bases, albeit while being caught nine times. Harold Martinez, the sophomore out of Braddock Senior High, will also be key as he looks to improve on his .270 average and .323 on-base percentage from last season. This will be an infield losing Jason Hagerty, Chris Herrmann, and Ryan Jackson, who were vital to the team a year ago, while bringing in some young talent including freshman switch-hitting infielder Stephen Perez out of Gulliver. Rutgers brings along with them experienced starters Dan Betteridge at shortstop and the talented Jaren Matthews at first base. They also bring in a true freshman second baseman that they are very high on in Steve Nyisztor.
Outfield Advantage: Rutgers
There’s no doubt that the strength of this weekend’s Big East foe lies in their offense, especially in their outfield bats. Out of their three projected starters, Jarred Jimenez was the worst with a batting average of .311. Lead-off man Michael Lang, who produced an OPS last season of exactly 1.000, led his Scarlet Knights in nearly every offensive category, and the ones he didn’t lead in, he only missed by a small margin. Pat Biserta is the other guy to look out for in this group. Meanwhile, for the Canes, they will depend largely on sophomore Nathan Melendres for production as he is the only returning starter in the outfield. They will likely miss having Dave DiNatale out there every game and are expected to start Miami-Dade CC transfer Chris Pelaez and freshman Zeke DeVoss, who may take over at center field while moving Melendres to right.
Intangibles Advantage: Miami
While Rutgers is a very experienced team throughout their roster, Miami will be playing in front of a home crowd for the weekend series. They took three of four from this team just last season in their inaugural series. Miami is ranked 13th in the nation according to the USA Toda/ ESPN Top 25 coaches’ poll, and don’t underestimate the X-factor of Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez looking to start their potential comeback seasons off right as well as all the first-time starters hoping to prove themselves early.
David Furones may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.