The well-traveled Massachusetts baseball team has done a lot of sightseeing on its way to its first 16 games this season, while watching its record plummet and its name fall in the standings.
Two weeks ago, UMass coach Mike Stone spoke about his team needing to find a rhythm and that it would take an uncertain number of games to begin to play comfortably on the diamond. He hoped that his team would improve with every outing but, so far, that has not happened.
“Baseball is a tough game mentally,” Stone said. “[Our play] has been inconsistent at times, sloppy at times, in all facets of the game. It has not been a smooth road.”
Following a weekend in which they were swept for the fourth time in five series, the 2-14 Minutemen seem to be stuck in spring training mode. UMass has been unable to snap out of a funk that has seen no reliable batters step up to the plate and a starting rotation that’s lacking leadership
“Some days, some parts of the order are better than others,” Stone said. “It would be nice to have a solid one-through-nine performance everyday, but that hasn’t been.”
The Minutemen have been hankered by a strenuous schedule in their first 16 games this season. In three weeks of play, all but one game has come on the road, including four separate road trips amassing nearly 6,000 miles of travel. That is the equivalent to traveling clear across the country and back.
In the upcoming month, the Minutemen will leave Massachusetts twice with a game against Connecticut and a three-game series against Rhode Island. That means 17 of the next 21 UMass games will be enjoyed in the Bay State’s confines and 14 of those at Earl Lorden Field.
“The field is ready. It looks great. Everyone’s a little more excited to play at home,” Stone said.
In defense of its early struggles, UMass has played teams with a combined record of 88-55 this season. That amounts to a .620 winning percentage. Excluding its game against Hartford which it won at home, its opponents’ winning percentage jumps to .660.
The next 10 opponents for the Minutemen – excluding one provisional game played in the Beanpot competition – share a combined record of 119-116, just over a .500 winning percentage.
Yet, Stone is not willing to concede that his team’s ineptitudes correlate with time spent on the bus, saying that it is normal for his teams to play their first 20 games on the road. As for the possibility for his players to perform more steadily on familiar ground, he accepts that part of the game as a surety. He is also not at a point where he will admit that his competition has simply been more talented.
It seems that Stone and his team are in a pickle. Stone’s approach for breaking his team from its current slump is to be upfront and challenge them, while encouraging them to stay positive.
Moving into a more favorable schedule in the next month, the Minutemen will attempt to find an identity, or else, they will continue to slump.
“Some days you have it, some days you don’t,” Stone said.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.