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Sanzo: Inability to win close games has hurt UMass baseball

Robert Rigo/Collegian

Tuesday night’s 15-5 beating at the hands of Holy Cross doesn’t exactly scream “a close game.” But the box score would show you that heading into the eighth inning the Massachusetts baseball team and the Crusaders were in fact tied at five.

While the Minutemen had a done a good job of coming back each time they went down in the first seven innings, missed opportunities kept them from taking the lead.

“I don’t know if we were playing too much catch up but we were behind and we answered so that was good. That was a good, that was a positive thing,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “It doesn’t do you any good if you get behind and give so that certainly wasn’t the case, we didn’t give up.”

While a 10-run eighth inning for the Crusaders was certainly a pitching meltdown for the Minutemen, UMass pitchers have done a quality job so far this season. Opponents are averaging only 5.8 runs per game.

Starters Justin Lasko and Mike Geannelis have given the Minutemen plenty of length. In three starts a piece, both have averaged over six innings per start. Lasko even has an earned run average of 2.18.

The blame for a slow and frustrating start to the season falls on the offense.

UMass’ 64 total runs this season average out to roughly five a game, much like its opponents. However, the Minutemen (4-8) have double the amount of losses as they do wins.

In the eight games they have lost, UMass has only scored an average of a little under three runs per game (2.8 to be exact). But in the four cases where the Minutemen have won, the offensive production soars to an average of 10 runs per game.

There is little middle ground. UMass has either slugged its way to a win or gone nine innings barely cracking the scoreboard.

Given their record and the average amount of runs they score when they lose, the Minutemen have struggled to score in most of their games this season.

However its biggest Achilles’ heel has been close games. UMass is 0-4 in games decided by one or two runs.

It’s a small sample size. The Minutemen have only played 12 of their 49 games this season and none on their home field. UMass has been prone to slow starts in recent seasons. Each of the last two years it has lost its first five games of the season and in 2016, started off 1-7.

There is still plenty of baseball to be played, though the immediate future may be challenging.

A three-game series at George Washington this weekend could prove to be a tough task for UMass. The Colonials are hot as of late, winning six of their last seven games and UMass has not performed particularly well on the road this season.

“We just need to bounce back from a tough loss and put together a good series,” Stone said. “We need to get good starting pitching like we’ve gotten and bridge the gap to the end of the game.”

In losing all four of its road games – three to Elon and the one to Holy Cross – UMass has been outscored 27-9. That number is greatly inflated by the 15-5 loss to the Crusaders, but it does not take away from the fact that the Minutemen have only scored nine runs in those four games.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at psanzo@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

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