Kansas took three of four games vs. Iowa this weekend at Hoglund Park. On Friday they split the double-header, winning the first game handily 8-1 behind another excellent start by T.J. Walz (2-1, 1.80 ERA). Brett Bollman was off his game in the night cap and the Kansas bats never heated up in a chilly 5-3 loss. The whole ninth inning of the night cap was odd, more about that after the jump. KU came back on Saturday to win 8-4 behind a gutty start by Cameron Selik (3-0, 1.40 ERA) and buried the Hawkeyes Sunday afternoon, 15-7.
Adding in KU’s humiliating loss at Arkansas on Tuesday the Jayhawks went 3-2 last week and now have an overall record of 7-3. A loss at Arkansas normally wouldn’t hurt the team’s national standing much, but Tuesday’s defeat was a real beat-down. KU would be expected to take at least three of four at home vs. Iowa so the Jayhawks did not make up any ground in that series. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them drop out of the top-25 this week. We’ll see soon enough.
It was nice to see the crowds coming out for the early games this year. Official attendance for the weekend was 1,008 per game, although I doubt there were more than 700 people in the stands at any given time. The great weather we had Friday afternoon and Sunday certainly helped the draw. A nice sized crowd showed up for the Saturday game even though it was played at the same time as the KU-Missouri basketball contest and under a cold gray sky.
Kansas has two mid-week games this week, both against NAIA foes - Tuesday vs. Saint Mary (KS) and Wednesday vs. Tabor. Both games start at 3PM. Games vs. NAIA teams do not factor into Kansas’ RPI rating, so while these games count in the team’s overall record and the statistics compiled count, the outcomes will not effect the Jayhawk’s resume come tournament selection time. Admission for both games is free. Tanner Poppe will get his first collegiate start on Tuesday. I expect either Thomas Taylor or Wally Marciel will start the Wednesday game.
After the break there will be some more notes on individual performances, an evaluation of Iowa’s club, and a few other items of interest.
The Kansas pitching staff looked pretty good this weekend. Walz and Selik both were very strong in their starts. Selik’s stuff looked great and he only got into trouble when, it appeared to me at least, he started over-thinking his game. He seemed overly concerned with baserunners. His breaking pitches were beautiful and his fastball was topping 90 all game. Bollman was off but still managed to give the team 5.2 innings of work and keep the Hawks in the game. Normally when the KU pitching staff can hold an opponent to five runs at home one would expect a win. Thomas Taylor looked fine in his first two innings on Sunday but then completely fell apart in the third inning. Taylor walked four of the five men he faced to start that inning and was pulled.
Particularly exciting from the KU pitching perspective was how good Wally Marciel looked this weekend. Marciel went 5-3 with a 3.94 ERA as a true freshman in 2007 but missed the last season and a half with an injured shoulder. Wally pitched 1.2 innings of middle relief on Friday and came back for another 4.1 innings on Sunday. He doesn’t seem to have his velocity back (mid-80’s), and he was leaving his breaking pitches high in the strike zone, but he was getting a ton of movement and kept the Iowa batters off-balance. As these were Wally’s first mound action in 14 months I found his performance very promising. Colton Murray struggled with control in both of his appearances, and I would not be surprised to see Brett Bochy closing games in the future. It was also nice to see Thomas Marcin pitch on Sunday. He looked good. I expect he will get a few innings this week vs. Saint Mary and Tabor. If Marcin finds more consistency he could be an unexpected asset in the Hawks pen.
Until Sunday the Kansas batters were, on the whole, not very impressive this weekend. The team went 46-138 (.333) in the series but only 12 of the 46 hits went for extra bases. The Hawks did draw 19 walks and only struck-out 16 times. Iowa did not have a good pitching staff and a better showing by Kansas could have been expected.
Several individual players are due pats-on-the-back. Robby Price worked counts very well and went 4-15 with four walks. Jimmy Waters continued to Godzilla the ball. Waters went 6-15 with 3 walks, a triple and a home run. He drove in six runs in the four games. For the season Waters is hitting .375/.556/.656 with 14 RBIs. Brett Lisher continued to produce at the plate. After playing sparingly last year I did not expect the Free State H.S. product to be a big factor in his senior year. Lisher is splitting time at first with Zac Elgie and has smacked the crap out of the baseball every game he has played. He has gone 13-26 on the year and is second on the team in RBIs with 10. Jake Marasco had a great weekend as well, going an amazing 7-11. Chris Manship has been another surprising contributor. The Sophomore catcher only hit .071/.278/.071 in limited action last year. Already this season Manship has more plate appearances than he had all of last season and is making a strong case to become the everyday backstop. Manship has gone 8-19 and has five RBIs. He has not looked terribly effective at catcher, but given the demands of the position and Manship’s relative lack of experience in NCAA ball gives him a long grace period. Afterall, it took Buck Afenir three plus years to develop into the great defensive catcher we saw last year. Brian Heere, Casey Lytle and Zac Elgie are still mired in early slumps, and this is taking quite a bit of bite out of the Kansas attack.
Kansas looked fine in the field. Jake Marasco is playing third most games while Tony Thompson recovers from his injury. This downgrades the KU infield defense as Thompson is one of the better third basemen in college baseball. James Stanfield looked better fielding the hot corner than Marasco, but he really stood out on Sunday as a catcher. Stanfield made a very good throw to second to peg a runner and ran down a very difficult bunt up the first baseline to record an assist at first base. KU is lucky to have such a versatile player on the roster. Stanfield is also more than holding his own at the plate (.320/.414/.400). Both new shortstops, Brandon Macias and Kevin Kuntz, looked fine in the field.
Generally I do not comment on officiating but in the second game the umpire never established a consistent strike zone. Calls on the outside, even in the 9th inning, were a crap shoot. Both teams were frustrated. KU loaded the bases with one out in the final frame. Trailing 5-2 I expected Price to pinch hit Brett Lisher for freshman Kevin Kuntz. Price stuck with Kuntz who hit an RBI groundball. Casey Lytle was called out on a third strike to end the game with the tying runs in scoring position. The called strike did not look to be in the zone from my seat. It was a disappointing ending and most fans were shaking their heads as they filed out of Hoglund.
The Iowa baseball team looked better than I expected. At the plate they worked the counts well. They were not hacking. The Hawkeye pitching staff was hesitant and unimpressive, but for the most part willing to challenge batters and throw strikes. Freshman lefty Matt Dermody, in only his second NCAA start, was the only Iowa pitcher to get rattled. After Jimmy Waters hit a towering homerun off him in the first inning, and Jake Marasco drove a high fastball off the centerfield fence in the second, Dermody became strikezone shy and did not make it out of the second inning. Iowa shortstop Kurt Lee looked good defensively. Based on how they played this weekend the Hawkeyes should see more success in 2010 than they did last year. I could well imagine them finishing around the RPI mid-point.
KU added a few games to their schedule last week to make up for games they lost due to snow. Unfortunately the added opponents are NAIA teams, but at least the games will be played at Hoglund. I was hopeful KU could add games against regional NCAA foes, such as Northern Colorado, Oral Roberts or maybe even Dallas Baptist. A home mid-week series vs. Dallas Baptist would be sweet. The Patriots need the RPI games, and KU sure could use more quality non-conference home games. Seems like something could be worked out here.