Making The Case: Clemson Baseball

Crownover, Clemson Enter Postseason With Confidence Building

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Clemson has built up a considerable amount of momentum entering postseason play, as the Tigers streak of eight wins in 10 contests includes an impressive 7-2 win over future first round pick Kyle Funkhouser and Louisville on Thursday in Durham.  But Jack Leggett’s ball club is no stranger to success and the 16-13 conference record the Tigers posted in the regular season, despite the difficulty of finishing above .500 in the ACC, was expected from Clemson this year.  The Tigers are undoubtedly playing their best baseball at season’s end and the three-game sweep of eighth-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee on May 14-16 showcases that fact.  Clemson’s baseball program is the seventh-winningest program in the country in the nearly 22 years since Jack Leggett has been the coach and the Tigers are one of only 14 programs to have gone to the NCAA Tournament every year from 2009-14, a statistic that is likely to improve in the coming weeks.  Clemson showcases the conference’s best arm in ACC Pitcher of the Year Matthew Crownover, a junior southpaw that has posted numbers to rival the nation’s most talented arms.  The Tigers’ 32-26 record doesn’t completely reveal the high talent level of the 2015 version of Clemson baseball, as the team has the potential to turn heads on the road to the College World Series.

Here are two reasons why you will see Clemson back in Omaha for the first time since 2010:

One through five in the Tigers’ lineup hit .325 in the regular season

  • The top of Clemson’s batting order isn’t particularly flashy, but it’s arguably the most effective one through five in the entire conference.  As a team, Clemson ranked in the middle of the pack in total home runs in the regular season (T7-35), but the Tigers were second in hits with 565.  Only one of the first five batters in Jack Leggett’s order, Chris Okey, has more than five home runs. So while Clemson isn’t even close to the most powerful offensive team in the conference, the Tigers know how to get runners on base and get them home, a team trait that will prove beneficial in the postseason.  While power doesn’t necessarily travel well to the various different stadiums on the road to Omaha, small ball does, making Clemson’s offense much less likely to slump at crucial times.
  • Eli White, Steven Duggar, Tyler Krieger, Reed Rohlman, and Okey, the first five batters in the Tigers’ order, were all pegged as either First-, Second-, or Third-Team All-ACC after the regular season.  Each batter has at least 61 hits and Krieger (71) and Rohlman (71), the third and clean up hitters, respectively, rank T4 in the ACC in hits (regular season).
  • Okey provides the pop, but he’s the only major long ball threat in Clemson’s entire order.  Instead, the top of the Tigers’ lineup is stacked with hitters who make good contact and don’t strike out much.  For that reason, Clemson will be a difficult team to eliminate this postseason.  A pesky, contact-making lineup paired with Matthew Crownover on a day that he starts is a recipe for success regardless of opponent.

The ACC’s best pitcher headlines Clemson’s rotation

  • In the regular season, Matthew Crownover was absolutely lights out.  In 14 starts, he posted a 10-1 record, 1.42 ERA, and 1.02 WHIP over 95 innings pitched en route to garnering ACC Pitcher of the Year honors.  The lefthander doesn’t blow opponents away with an overpowering fastball, but he is crafty enough to keep hitters off-balance with pinpoint accuracy.  Crownover took the loss Wednesday against Florida State, but opponents still hold just a .183 batting average off of the southpaw this season and he’s allowed just four home runs all year. 
  • Despite Crownover earning Pitcher of the Year honors, it’s hard to convey just how important he’s been to a Clemson team without an overabundance of depth in the starting rotation.  Without Crownover, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to believe Clemson would have missed the conference tournament entirely. 
  • Zack Erwin is the Tigers’ number two starter and his stat line of six regular season wins and a sub-3 ERA is more-than-respectable.  Erwin dazzled the Durham crowd Thursday afternoon against Louisville, dealing eight spectacular innings of one run, 11 strikeout baseball.  He exhibited remarkable control, throwing 84 of his 119 pitches for strikes.  There is, however, a considerable drop off after Crownover and Erwin.  Starter Brody Koerner has struggled immensely in 2015, posting a 7.55 ERA in 12 stars while allowing opponents to hit .331.  East Tennessee State transfer Jake Long started six regular season games, winning two and recording a 1.99 ERA over 45.1 IP.  Clate Schmidt also started six regular season games for the Tigers, but his 4.67 ERA suggests he didn’t fare quite as well as the aforementioned Long.
  • The talented duo of Crownover and Erwin has the potential to carry Clemson past the NCAA Regionals, but there will come a point in time when the Tigers face elimination and need a third or fourth starter to step up.  Still, Clemson has a luxury many teams don’t have in Crownover, a go-to ace who can go out and earn a win against any opponent.

Catch Clemson’s final game of the ACC Tournament Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. versus North Carolina.  Follow @ACCBaseball on Twitter for tournament updates leading up to Sunday’s championship game.