Opening day for the baseball Falcons may not have been as cold as closing day for the football Falcons, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of weather fans expect at a baseball game. Temperatures fell below 40 degrees as the Falcons took the field against Army, and the effect on the game were noticeable early in the game. Both pitchers struggled with control issues and the first four innings featured 6 walks, 4 hit batters, and a wild pitch. The Falcons were able to take a 2-1 lead into the 5th inning on the “strength” of both runs scoring on walks.
The lead was not to hold up as the Black Knights scored three more runs while holding the Falcons scoreless the rest of the way. This inability to hold the lead in later innings became the pattern for most of the weekend. That’s not to say that there were no positives. Each of the three games against Army featured a strong performance from the three top starters.
Doyle Gehring was the first game starter and had the control issues mentioned above, but had good stuff, allowing only 3 hits with 7 strikeout in 4+ inning. He departed after one hitter in the fifth having reached his pitch count limit due to his three walks and two hit batters.
In the second game, Dylan Rogers pitched five innings with 5 hits, no walks, 8 strikeouts, and only 1 earned run. Again after he left, the Falcons gave up the lead and lost 6-4.
In the third game, Seungmin Shim pitched brilliantly, allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings while striking out 5. The Falcon bats finally came alive with 9 runs, 14 hits and homers by Jay Thomason and Chase Spencer for the 9-3 win.
Fourth starter Kyle Moats struggled against Oklahoma on Monday, allowing 9 hits and 4 walks in five inning, but battled hard to keep the game from getting out of hand. Despite allowing 6 runs in his five innings, the Falcons had homers from Chris Stallings (first college career homer) and Thomason once again to take a 6-5 lead into the sixth. The Sooners got a run in the sixth and two in the ninth for an 8-6 win.
My preseason confidence in the starting pitching was bolstered over the weekend and as their arms get stronger through the season, they should be able to last a few more innings. The relief pitching will have to get a little more reliable as the season goes on. Duke Benge pitched well but gave up a triple and a flyout to take the loss in the opening game. Zach Peters shows promise but gave up two runs to Oklahoma in the ninth inning to take the loss.
The hitters started out slowly with the notable exception of Sam Kulasingam. He went 10 for 12 with 3 doubles against Army before going 0-5 against Oklahoma. I had some concern about a power drop-off with the departure of Garcia, Altorfer, and Skenes, but Chase Spencer, Jay Thomason, and Chris Stallings provided some fireworks over the last three game of the weekend. Keep in mind that the Falcons offensively started very slowly last year and ended up as one of the best hitting teams in Air Force history.
No Falcon fan wants to see any losses to Army, but overall, every game was competitive against both the Black Knights and the Sooners. A little more timely hitting with runners on base and some clutch pitching in the late innings should get the Falcons back into the post season.
The Falcons head to Kinston, North Carolina for a three game set against the Midshipmen on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Navy is off to a rough start this season. Their 0-4 record has been marked by poor pitching performances. The staff has given up 77 runs in the four games. Fifteen of those runs were unearned due to a total of 10 errors in the four games. They do have some pop in their bats, coming in with an average of .309 and have averaged 6 runs per game. Additionally, they have lost their promising freshman first baseman, Victor Izquerdo, to a season ending injury in the opening game. He was expected to contribute some power batting in the cleanup spot.
The one pitcher who had some success over the opening weekend is Matthew Shirah, who should be the starting pitcher on Saturday. He pitched 4 2⁄3 innings giving up no earned runs, 5 hits and 1 walk last Saturday.
Navy has four hitters that are batting over .300:
Brock Murtha is a rare transfer into a military academy. He transferred in from Notre Dame and is hitting .600 with no extra base hits. He plays all three infield positions and even filled in as a relief pitcher in Navy’s last game.
Logan Keller is a third baseman hitting .471 with 1 double.
Eduardo Diaz is a shortstop hitting .417 with no extra base hits.
Kyle Rauch is the DH hitting .385 with a double and a triple.
Air Force should definitely have the edge in this series.