Even though they’ve only played three home games in Athens, the Bobcats have already reached the halfway point of the 2018 regular season.
Despite their low number of home games, the Bobcats (14-12, 3-3 Mid-American Conference) are in almost the exact same position compared to one year ago. Ohio won the MAC Championship and spent time on national television with its NCAA tournament berth in 2017. The Bobcats have set themselves up for a similar path as they begin their last half of the season.
What makes this season a bit more remarkable, however, is that Ohio has matched its overall talent from last year despite basically flipping its strengths.
Let's breakdown each part of the 2018 Bobcats through their first 26 games.
Because of its high-powered, home run-hungry offense, Ohio is a fun team to watch when it's at the plate.
The Bobcats lead the conference in slugging percentage (.420), runs scored (154), hits (257) and home runs (25). Ohio's entire lineup features players ready to drive in runs, a luxury that was never consistent in 2017 — the Bobcats' offense had a weaker .262 batting average (compared to their current .279) and drove in 132 runs through 27 games a year ago.
Ohio's offense also has four players who have hit three or more home runs, while nearly each of its other frequent starters have hit at least one home run.
First baseman Rudy Rott is at the top of the Bobcats' 2018 offensive explosion. The junior has mashed a team-leading five home runs and leads Ohio with a .368 batting average and .464 on-base percentage.
As Ohio enters the thick of its conference-schedule, the offense will need to maintain its consistency to help keep the Bobcats atop the conference standings.
Ohio's ERA is the best in the MAC, but that's not necessarily saying much.
No team in the conference has an ERA below 4.00, so although the Bobcats' 4.07 ERA is leading the MAC, there's plenty of room for improvement.
And it's not hard to find where that improvement can go.
Ohio's primary three starters in Gerry Salisbury, Butch Baird and Michael Klein have combined for a less-than-stellar 4.89 ERA in 101 2/3 innings pitched. The Bobcats' pitching has been fueled by its bullpen, which has accumulated a sharper 3.46 ERA in 130 1/3 innings pitched.
The bullpen has been led by freshman Eddie Kutt. The right-hander has hurled 25 2/3 innings, the most of any Ohio reliever, and has a 2.10 ERA with 18 strikeouts.
Kutt has been a solid injection of youth and talent for a bullpen that lost two reliable seniors in Tom Colletti and Jake Rudnicki, who combined to throw 103 2/3 innings in 2017.
Ohio has proven that it can last despite its mediocre starting pitching, but any sustained success from the three core starters will make the Bobcats one of the scariest teams in the MAC.
Fielding was Ohio's biggest strength in 2017, but it has become its biggest flaw in 2018.
The Bobcats have committed 40 errors in 26 games this season. They committed just 44 last season.
The errors come from an infield that looks vastly different than a year ago. Senior Tony Giannini has committed 14 errors in his transition from outfield to third base, sophomore Trevor Hafner has committed six errors at shortstop and freshman Aaron Levy has committed four errors at second base.
Ohio's 2017 infield was anchored by a trio of seniors at the same three positions who had the chemistry and experience, so a drop-off in the efficiency was expected.
Perhaps the defense will benefit from some home games and warmer temperatures at Bob Wren Stadium moving forward; 11 of the Bobcats' final 27 games will be in Athens.
If the defense can't progress, however, the task will be up to Ohio's pitching and hitting to maintain its solid pace and push the Bobcats toward another deep playoff run.