This weekend the men of Yale baseball will begin their trek out of the Ivy basement where they ended last season. The Elis will play two pairs of doubleheaders — one set on Saturday against the University of Pennsylvania (1-3) and the other versus Columbia (3-1) the following afternoon.
“I think there is anxiety for everyone, even seniors,” outfielder C.J. Orrico ’05 said. “This is the Ivy Leagues, this is what counts.”
The Elis hope this will be the beginning of a season in which the Bulldogs relinquish the dubious title of last place. Last year, the Bulldogs finished at the bottom of the Red Rolfe Division with a 6-14 Ivy League record behind Harvard, Dartmouth and Brown, respectively. Yale’s paltry .300 winning percentage last season was also good for last place overall, behind all four teams in the Lou Gehrig Division — Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and Penn.
“We have a lot more talent this year than last year at every position,” outfielder Josh Zabar ’06 said. “We have a better attitude, a better approach to the game — we have more fun out there [this season].”
But Zabar says the Elis have every expectation that they will compete among the top teams this year.
“There’s not question our number one goal is to win the division and compete in the playoffs,” Zabar said.
The top team in each division plays for the Ivy crown, which then takes the league’s bid to the NCAA playoffs at the end of the season.
Last season, Yale split a pair of two-game series against Penn and Columbia. In a Saturday day-night doubleheader against Penn last year on April 12, the Bulldogs won the first game 8-4 before dropping the nightcap 7-2.
The next day at Yale Field, again the Elis edged the Lions 3-2 in the day game before being clobbered in the nightcap 16-1. In that final game Yale committed six errors. But this year, the Elis rank third in fielding percentage while committing the second fewest errors in the league so far.
“Every team in this league is a rival,” Orrico said. “If we play the way we’re capable of, we can beat anyone in this league.” Penn and Columbia opened up the Ivy League season last weekend with a doubleheader at each school. In four games, Columbia outscored Penn 44-16 while taking the series 3-1. The Lions’ offensive explosion is surprising considering their struggles at the plate this spring.
Columbia is ranked last in hitting with a .245 team average. But the Lions took advantage of the Quakers’ less than stellar pitching staff which is ranked sixth among Ivy League teams with a 7.58 ERA.
Columbia also has a lot of speed on the base paths, with three Lions ranked in the league’s top four in stolen bases this spring. But Yale catcher Eric Rasmussen ’06 said the Eli pitchers have been preparing for the speedy Lions this week in practice.
“In practice we’ve been working with the pitchers to speed up their delivery to the plate,” Rasmussen said. “[Stealing bases is] one of their strengths, we just have to try and minimize it.”
Pitcher John Janco ’06 said despite the speed of the Lions, he is confident in the Eli behind the plate — Rasmussen.
“I think everyone on our staff tries to keep the runner close to the bag normally,” Janco said. “But if they do run, we have a lot of faith in our catcher [Rasmussen] to throw them out.”
Rasmussen and the Elis have allowed the second fewest stolen bases of any Ivy team this spring, giving up 18 swiped bags compared to six runners caught stealing.
On the other side of the inning, the Bulldogs look to carry off a few bases of their own this weekend against a Columbia team that ranks last in stolen bases allowed, catching only one runner while giving up 27 total bases. Penn looks little better on paper, catching eight runners while only allowing 39 stolen bases.
Orrico said he expects the pitching to stay strong as it has all spring, and he looks for the hitting to come alive.
“Hopefully it’s a pitching duel for our pitchers, and a high scoring game for our hitters,” Orrico said.