Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Advantage: Harvard

Harvard is playing URI right now, but events of greater consequence happened in Hanover, NH today.

Dartmouth won its first game against Yale but got thumped in the second, meaning that Harvard (12-4) is a game up on Dartmouth (11-5) heading into this week's pivotal four-game set in Cambridge and Hanover. Yale is now 10-6 and continues to lurk. Brown, at 9-7, has been eliminated from contention.

Scenarios (Am I wrong? Hit the comments):

If Harvard wins three games this weekend, it wins the division outright.

If Harvard splits the series with Dartmouth this weekend, it clinches at least a tie for the division title. At that point, Yale would have to sweep Brown in order to force a tie and a one-game playoff for the division. Otherwise, Harvard wins the division outright.

If Dartmouth wins three, Dartmouth would either win the division outright or tie with Yale (if the Bulldogs sweep Brown). If Dartmouth sweeps, they win the division outright.

Harvard has thus earned itself the luxury of a likelihood of a division title with a mere split.

In a similar situation once upon a time (2001), Harvard went to Dartmouth for the Saturday games and came home for the Sunday games. Harvard Coach Joe Walsh saved his two best starters, John Birtwell and Ben Crockett, for the home games. The strategy did not bear fruit; Harvard lost two tough ones in Hanover (amidst catcalls from Dartmouth's classless "fans") and then dropped a heartbreaking opener in Cambridge the next day. Dartmouth piled onto the field to celebrate. In the newly meaningless second half of that doubleheader, Ben Crockett no-hit the Big Green, striking out 16. No-hitter, but no playoffs. All of this is to demonstrate that there are very real strategic components to laying out a rotation at this point in the season.

This year, with the first two Dartmouth games at home, I'd hope to see Haviland and Cole right in their usual spots, in the first two games of the weekend and the only two that are guaranteed to be meaningful. Try and make Sunday irrelevant. Exercise real patience at the plate. Be mindful of the fact that Dartmouth's Josh Faiola threw a borderline illegal 145 pitches in his last start. Throw Castellanos out there for the first Hanover game in his usual spot, where he's proven a solid weekend starter in his senior year.

And the fourth game? Hopefully it won't matter. But if all three of the early starters can go deep into their starts in games where Harvard is able to get a big lead and doesn't have go deeper than Brown or Bruton or Foushee or Dukovich in the pen--and we haven't seen that in a little while--give me Matt Brunnig against one of the Dartmouth guys who pitched today. Have Salsgiver or Wilson or Ungar ready to go, but I like our chances with the big senior. If you need to use Brunnig earlier, Salsgiver might be your next best option.

The word is that Klimkiewicz should be ready to go for the weekend. That should push Taylor Meehan back to second (I have been horribly negligent in not posting anything on the injured Brendan Byrne) and Jeff Stoeckel to the bench in the first game, although who knows. Either way, this weekend is what it's all about. Meanwhile, Princeton plays Cornell for the Under .500 Division title. I chuckle as I write that, as either team would likely be a more than worthy challenger in the league championship series.

Lock and load, gang.


cg said...

All I know is that Klimkiewicz makes a huge difference to this lineup. Also for what reason is Coach Walsh so enamored with Matt Brunnig as a hitter? He is batting .231 with no extra base hits and at times was up in the order. I would feel more comfortable with a number of others as the dh.

mb said...

Re: Brunnig at the bat--

We've got our theories here. There will be a post on this after this weekend. I will say that he actually looks a lot better swinging the bat than his stats suggest. Suffice to say, our working theory has a lot more to do with Matt Brunnig, the pitcher...

cg said...

Theory or not, pitching-wise I like him but hitting I'm not sure. He slaps at most pitches, very rarely pulls the ball and gets behind in a lot of counts. How does he have him batting 4th or 5th? I know kids look good in the cage in practice and you want to give people a chance but they need to produce on the field. As I said I like him as a pitcher not so much as a hitter.

Anonymous said...

I thought I saw this kid batting 3rd in the lineup at one point? I must say, he looks really unorthodox at the plate ... so much so that if his stats aren't good it makes you wonder why he's in there. I'm interested to hear the theories.

Brian said...

One superficial theory: at the time he first cracked the lineup, Brunnig offset an otherwise disproportionately righthanded-hitting batting order. The Crimson's starting lineup in its first two games, for instance, was all righties, 1-9.

At this point, of course, the Crimson has identified other sources of balance. Mackey has quietly pieced together a solid season--good enough that he has been slotted second in most of the Klim-less lineup iterations--and all of a sudden, Taylor Meehan has the best OBP on the team after the Crimson's big four. The rise of these two, who don't strike out much and can run when asked, is one of the less obvious, more noteworthy developments. With Brunnig in there as well, Walsh is able to go lefty-righty through a major portion of that lineup card. (Whether that means Brunnig--who, as the earlier commenter noted, seems to be a singles hitter--fits best in the five spot, is a different argument.)

cg said...

I like this dialogue. I can see batting him in the beginning, but at some point, righty or lefty, you have to hit. It might be a different story if you left a .237 hitter in who could hit home runs, but this isn't the case. I think Coach needs to give up on this experiment and have Brunnig totally ready to pitch.