With the baseball season rapidly coming to a close, there aren’t many options for the Big Green and the Bulldogs: either win the series this weekend or start looking forward to spring 2008.
Though the picture might have been clearer for Yale (11-22, 3-7 Ivy) and Dartmouth (5-19-1, 2-8) had last Sunday’s Ivy League games not been postponed, the situation is clear enough to know that this will be a make or break weekend for both teams. With Brown and Harvard comfortably atop the Rolfe Division with 7-3 marks, a lot needs to go right for the division bottom dwellers to have a shot at the Championship.
“It’s very important,” starting pitcher Chris Wietlispach ’08 said. “We need to get three or four of these games to have a chance to be in the running.”
Though the implications of the games are considerable, Brandon Josselyn ’09 said the team will approach Dartmouth as though they are any other Ivy League opponent.
The Elis stumble into the weekend having lost four of their last six. But an impressive 3-0 win over non-conference foe Fairfield (9-18) in the nightcap of a double-header on Wednesday may give the Bulldogs at least some momentum heading into Saturday. The Elis dropped the first game, 7-2 , but regained their footing and dominated the Stags with superior pitching in the second game of the twin bill.
None of the pitchers in the second game threw more than two innings, but all five who pitched put up solid numbers. Wietlispach started things off for the Elis and gave up no runs and no hits in his two innings of work. Four others followed his lead, including starter Brain Irving ’08 and top closer Brett Rosenthal ’07, and the group surrendered only three hits to the Stags in the seven-inning game.
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway ’09 seemed to get back on track after an inconsistent weekend. The big Eli hitter went 5-for-6 on the day and drove in three runs.
“It felt like we finally came together as a team,” Lavarnway said. “It was nice to see everyone reaching their potential.”
Wietlispach, who earned his first win of the year, said the second game on Wednesday was one of the best the team has played all season.
In the two games combined, the pitching staff managed to hold Fairfield’s Peter Allen, who entered Wednesday batting .395, to a mere 1-for-6 night at the dish. The Eli hurlers struck out an astonishing 21 Fairfield batters in 14 total innings. That number included six strikeouts from Josselyn, who threw three scoreless innings in the first game of the afternoon.
Despite Wednesday’s strong pitching displays, the product on the mound has been largely unimposing this season. The Bulldogs will enter the weekend with a team ERA of 7.73, worst in the league, and without a single pitcher carrying an individual ERA under 5.00.
The Big Green have not done much better. Their team ERA of 7.59 betters only the Bulldog’s mark in the Ancient Eight. Co-captain Russell Young represents the single bright spot for Dartmouth, with a team-best two wins and 2.41 ERA.
“Earlier in the season it was about getting comfortable on the mound and finding consistency,” Josselyn said. “We’re gaining confidence with each inning pitched.”
Things were not supposed to be this way for either team.
The Big Green finished with a 13-7 record last year in the league, while the Bulldogs finished 11-9. Both teams returned three of their four starters from last season. The Big Green brought back Young and fellow co-captain Stephen Perry, a former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, to lead a deep bullpen. The Elis returned Wietlispach, Irving and Steve Gilman ’08, all considered among the best pitchers in the league following their sophomore campaigns.
“Dartmouth has been struggling like we have,” Wietlispach said. “But our guys are starting to put it together and I think the home field advantage will help us a lot this weekend.”
A well balanced team can pick up their pitching and defense with strong offensive play. That formula hasn’t truly panned out for the Elis. Though they entered the mid-week games against Fairfield with a strong .289 team batting average, good enough for second in the league, they only have three Ancient Eight wins to show for it. Lavarnway, one of the notable frontrunners for Ivy League Player of the Year, continues to lead the league in the Triple Crown race (.444, 8 HRs, 38 RBI entering Wednesday), but even he has had trouble keeping up the blistering pace from earlier in the season.
While the Yale pitching staff can depend on Eli batting to put up runs, the Dartmouth pitching staff has been without that luxury this season. The boys from Hanover are batting a league-worst .262 and have driven in only 96 runs, 32 fewer than anyone else in the Ancient Eight. The power numbers are even worse. The Big Green have managed to hit only five home runs out of the park in 25 games this season.
“This is a pitcher’s ballpark,” Wietlispach said. “We have deep alleys and the wind doesn’t usually have much effect.”
Lavarnway said as a batter he approaches each game the same way and he expects his teammates to continue batting well.
Like the pitching staff, there does seem to be one noteworthy exception to the sub-par offensive display for Dartmouth. Freshman breakout star Nick Santomauro, who was recruited by nearly every Ivy League school, is batting .420 on the year with 18 RBI. His average is only 24 points behind Yale’s Lavarnway. Few other Ivy League players have equaled Santomauro’s display at the plate.
“Personally, I’ll watch to see how he does in [batting practice] and against our other starters,” Josselyn said. “Some guys try to be too fine with guys like him instead of going at him. I would go at him like I would go at anyone else, and if that doesn’t work, I make adjustments.”
Santomauro and his teammates will need to step up offensively this weekend if they hope to out-hit the likes of Lavarnway, Marc Sawyer ’07 (.372) , and Josh Cox ’08 (.353). The question will be which struggling pitching staff can contain the other team, pick up wins, and keep its team in the Rolfe Division race.