The Mountain West Conference baseball tournament is upon us, so we reached out to people familiar with each of the seven teams in order to gain some insight about them.
Perhaps no team in the Mountain West carries expectations as high as those in the Land of Enchantment. Since their last NCAA tournament appearance in 2012, the New Mexico Lobos have once bowed out of the MWC postseason in two games and twice been swept in its best-of-three title series. They want to win, they expect to win and, this time around, have both talent and home-field advantage on their side.
Christopher Jackson of Examiner.com has more on the hosts.
Mountain West Connection: The Lobos have a bit of history in developing power bats, so how do you think Chris DeVito (.373/.436/.665, 14 HRs, 58 RBI) and Carl Stajduhar (.351/.432/.658, 17 HR, 61 RBI) stack up with UNM sluggers of the past?
Christopher Jackson: They're right up there with some of the better power bats UNM has produced. The issue right now is injuries. DeVito has a bad hamstring injury that's limiting him to just DH. Stajduhar has battled through a series of nagging injuries. He also tends to be streaky; he can get red hot for a while or dip into a deep slump. The Lobos have to hope it's the former this week.
MWC: How critical has Colton Thomson's re-emergence (6-3, 3.81 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 80.1 innings) been for UNM pitching? Has he shown any ill effects from last season's injury?
CJ: Thomson has been their best pitcher this season. The injury has shown no lingering effects, though they've been pretty cautious with him as far as the pitch count goes. He's never gone over 100, though that might have changed more recently (I've missed a few games due to overlapping Isotopes coverage).
MWC: As a team, the Lobos have proven to be among the most patient and potent lineups in the nation, finishing 7th in on-base percentage (.412). How could that proficiency work in UNM's favor in the tournament?
CJ: Every team in the MWC is vulnerable in the bullpen. By working the count in their favor, or just racking up a high pitch count to an opposing starter, and the Lobos can get to those shaky relief corps. And while they do have the big power duo, a lot of their guys are more line-drive hitters, so they need to manufacture runs, and do so without giving away outs.
MWC: Given the overall expectations for this year's team, is it essentially "NCAAs or bust" for the Lobos? Does anything change if UNM comes up short?
CJ: The expectation with this program every season now is regional or bust. They came up a game short of the regular-season title, but there was never going to be an at-large bid coming out of the MWC this season, so it was always going to come down to the tournament. As the host school and No. 2 seed, UNM has to be the favorite. If they do not make it, I doubt there will be any major ramifications. The school is still building out its facilities. Once those are completed, then if better results fail to materialize, things could change. But right now, the school is being patient due to the recruiting disadvantages they currently have with subpar facilities.