Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bulldogs have to protect leads with arms, gloves — and bats

As was pointed out to me during Barton College's 12-11 loss to Wingate in the Bulldogs' 2008 baseball home opener Tuesday, there are still a lot of games left in the season.

Forty-nine to be exact, which is a comforting thought given the Bulldogs are 0-4.

But the nature of three of those defeats is what is troubling.

Barton entered the season with 26 pitchers which might be too many — or not enough. Bulldogs starters have done a credible job, working 17 1/3 innings while yielding just 11 earned runs. But the bullpen hasn't done its job, giving up 19 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings while blowing three leads, including an 11-2 bulge Tuesday.

That means Barton starters have a respectable 5.71 earned run average by my calculations, even though they are a bit skewed due to the seven-inning games in Saturday's doubleheader loss at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. The formula for ERA here is based on nine-inning games so, technically, I'm a little off but close enough.

The relievers' ERA is 16.03 and the team ERA comes in a 8.71. Now, to be fair, the three blown leads haven't all been due to poor pitching as erratic defense has played a role.

Barton head coach Todd Wilkinson pointed to defensive lapses on Tuesday as a culprit in the collapse. One such lapse didn't even involve an error, just a near double play the Bulldogs couldn't convert that preceded a seven-run Wingate outburst in the seventh inning.

Baseball is a game of details and Wilkinson, as sharp a baseball mind as one will find in these parts, is well aware.

"That would have been big and it’s something we do in practice every day," Wilkinson said of the missed chance to turn two. "Evidently, (we had) some bad coaching and we’ve got to coach better to pull it off."

Better coaching might not be the Bulldogs' biggest need right now. Certainly some more efficient relief pitching and defense in latter innings would be a start. However, more offense might also help.

Barton grouped all 11 runs over a three-inning stretch and when Wingate reclaimed the lead, the Bulldogs didn't answer.

"We scored 11 runs but we didn’t score after the fifth inning," noted senior center fielder Travis Holloman. "If we’re going to score (like that), we should pace them out."

Or, as Wilkinson said: "You gotta keep scoring."

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