If it had the option, Ohio would likely hit the restart button for 2019.
The Bobcats have struggled to sustain any success for most of season. The offense spent the first month desperate for baserunners and struggled to hit over .200. The pitching staff has been mired with inconsistency. Strong outings from its starters have been spoiled from a lack of run support. The defense has been shaky, too, and it’s cost Ohio several comeback chances in close games.
But through 29 games, Ohio is still in the thick of the Mid-American Conference Tournament race. The Bobcats are in seventh place — one spot away from a tournament berth — with plenty of games left.
Here’s how Ohio (8-21, 3-6 MAC) has fared in each part of the field so far:
A few series into the season, Ohio knew its misfortunes at the plate would eventually change.
The Bobcats scored just 14 runs and accrued a .206 batting average in their first seven games of the season. It’s tough to for an offense to sustain such a drought for longer than two or three weeks, and Ohio knew things had to turn around soon.
The Bobcats waited for that spark. One month later, nothing changed. They limped into MAC play with a .196 average and had yet to win a game by more than two runs.
Then, Tanner Piechnick hit a walk-off grand slam against Central Michigan on March 23. Ohio secured its first conference win in style against an opponent who may win the MAC, and the Bobcats slowly began to improve at the plate.
Ohio is trying to keep it that way. The batting average has crept up to .230 — not great, but miles better than a month ago — and the Bobcats pieced together a three-game win streak after they scored 12 runs in three-straight games. Since Piechnick’s grand slam, Ohio has hit .326 at the plate.
Despite little help around him, Rudy Rott has still mashed opposing pitchers from the No. 3 hole in the lineup. The first baseman is hitting .336 and leads Ohio with five home runs and 26 RBIs.
The next leader in RBI? Aaron Levy. He has 10.
But Rott can’t keep doing things himself. Ohio is outside of the MAC Tournament, and it needs more production from the top of the lineup to win close games.
Similar to its offense, Ohio’s pitching has begun to click.
The starting rotation has two pitchers with an ERA below 3.00, and the Bobcats replaced Jake Roehn, who graduated last year as one of the best closers in Ohio history, with a formidable replacement in Brett Manis.
Ohio’s current success on the mound came with growing pains. Joe Rock, a freshman left-hander, struggled as a weekend starter, and Kenny Ogg, a senior, has fought consistency issues in his first year in the rotation.
The improvements, however, have come from a few tweaks from Smith. Eddie Kutt, who leads Ohio with a 2.19 ERA after pitching mostly out of the bullpen, made his first start of the season on Sunday against Northern Illinois and allowed just one unearned run in five innings.
Kutt will likely replace Rock as a weekend starter in the future. He’ll join Ogg and Jack Liberatore, a redshirt freshman who has an impressive 2.95 ERA in 39 2/3 innings, and round out what could become one of the better rotations in the MAC.
Ohio needs its most improvement in the bullpen. Yes, Manis has proved to be a reliable closer and has grabbed four saves this year, but the Bobcats’ middle-inning relievers have still been shaky. Of the six relievers who have pitched 10 or more innings, just two own ERAs below 4.50.
If two or three relievers find their stride in the final two months of the season, Smith can utilize a solid mix of pitchers for conference games.
If it wasn’t for poor defense, Ohio might have avoided a sweep last weekend against Northern Illinois.
The Bobcats committed three errors and allowed five runs Sunday in the first inning against the Huskies. Northern Illinois never scored again, but the first inning miscues were the difference in Ohio’s 5-1 loss.
It was just one game, but it showed how important it will be for Ohio to play smoother defense in the future. The Bobcats are ninth in the MAC with a .960 fielding percentage and have committed 36 errors, but Ohio is hoping to limit its errors while at home.
The Bobcats replaced the natural grass at Bob Wren Stadium with artificial turf, and they’re starting to see its benefits.
The turf, which only covers the infield, has made a huge difference in eliminating bad hops and offering a more consistent bounce to ground balls. Ohio committed only three errors in its last six-game homestand where it went 3-3 and pieced together its best stretch of the season.
The Bobcats will boost its chances of making the MAC Tournament if their defense continues that trend in Ohio’s 11 remaining home games.