After sweeping Princeton and Cornell last weekend, the Yale baseball team has assumed the top spot in the Ivy League’s Red Rolfe Division. The Bulldogs can extend that lead this Saturday and Sunday when they host rival Harvard for a pair of doubleheaders at Yale Field.
While the Elis (11–19–1, 6–2 Ivy) have gotten off to a surging start, the Crimson (9–19, 2–6) dropped all four games of its Ivy League-opening weekend and went 2–2 last weekend, resulting in its current last-place standing in both the division and the Ancient Eight as a whole.
“We always want to beat Harvard,” third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 said. “It’s a big weekend for us since we are in the same division. However, we approach it like every other league weekend.”
Against Princeton last Friday, right-handers Scott Politz ’19 and Chasen Ford ’17 each tossed complete games in Yale’s 6–3 and 6–1 victories, respectively. The Bulldogs needed a little more drama to put away Cornell on Sunday, as right fielder Nate Adams ’16 and designated hitter Harrison White ’17 each provided walk-off hits in extra innings to propel the Elis past the Big Red.
Politz and Ford are scheduled to take the mound against the Crimson in Saturday’s games. The starts will be each pitcher’s seventh of the season, and both sport 3–3 records.
In 42.2 innings this spring, Politz has a 3.59 ERA and 31 strikeouts, both of which are team highs. Ford is not too far behind the freshman, accumulating a 4.38 ERA and 26 punch-outs in 39 innings of work.
“The first game is very important to set the tone for the weekend,” Politz said.
With Politz and Ford on the mound for the Bulldogs, Saturday’s contests should feature strong pitching all around, as the Crimson have two reliable right handers, Nick Gruener and Sean Poppen, set to open the series.
Gruener is 4–2 with a 3.21 ERA, having thrown four complete games this season, while Poppen has recorded a 3.31 ERA this spring. Although he was tagged with the loss in Harvard’s 4–3 defeat against Columbia last weekend, Poppen gave up just one run and three hits in his five-inning outing.
The Bulldogs will start right-handers Mason Kukowski ’18 and Chris Lanham ’16 on Sunday. Kukowski ranks third on the team behind Politz and Ford in innings pitched and strikeouts, but he has not recorded a victory in the six games he has started this spring. In his last start, which was the first game against Cornell last weekend, the sophomore gave up just two runs on four hits before being taken out after the fourth inning.
Lanham also pitched last weekend, and although his outing was in relief for starter and captain Chris Moates ’16, Lanham did the bulk of the work. He entered the second game against Cornell in the second inning and lasted 5.2 innings, surrendering three earned runs in a thrilling 9–8 win for the Elis.
“We’ve played good defense all year, but our pitching staff seemed to have gotten comfortable right before Ivy play, and our bats also got really hot,” Kukowski said. “With a hot start this year, we have great energy at all of our practices, and we are confident that we will win during every game no matter if we’re down or up.”
While Yale’s bats have heated up during conference play — the Elis are batting 0.284 against Ivy teams and 0.242 against non-Ivy opponents — the opposite has happened for Harvard.
The Bulldogs’ pitching staff will take on a Crimson lineup that, despite its 0.266 average in nonconference action, has hit just 0.212 during its Ancient Eight games while averaging just 4.13 runs per game.
Harvard’s offense is led by third baseman John Fallon, who tops the Ivy League both with five home runs and 21 RBI through 26 games. Along with fellow sophomore designated hitter Matt Rothenberg, who is hitting 0.367 this season with 10 RBI, Fallon will be the biggest worry for the Bulldog pitchers.
Freshman outfielder Ben Skinner was also impressive last week for the Crimson. He was awarded the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award after tallying a 0.417 batting average in five games, including two apiece against Columbia and Penn. Skinner totaled three extra-base hits and three RBI last week.
For the Bulldogs at the plate, White has been strongest against Ivy League teams this spring. The Laguna Niguel, California, native is hitting 0.279 with 15 RBI on the season, though his average has increased to 0.300 in Yale’s eight conference contests, during which he has recorded 10 of his 15 RBI.
Adams, who usually hits from the leadoff or second position in the lineup, leads the team with an overall 0.365 batting average, while Slenker is a power threat in the heart of the Eli order.
“I think the lineup is coming together really nicely with everyone contributing,” Slenker said.
The opening pitches for Saturday’s doubleheader are scheduled for 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., while Sunday’s games will begin an hour earlier.