Dead Arms: Canisius Pitching continues to be Achilles heel

by Aaron Rispoli

Sports Reporter

The weather is starting to get warmer, the birds are flying north for summer and believe it or not we are just about one month away from the freedom that summer provides. Luckily, there’s not much to complain about this time of the year. However, one group of gentlemen should not wake up filled with such alacrity. I am talking about about the Canisius baseball team.

In 33 games this season, the Griffs have played to a 14-19 record, and 6-3 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The 19 losses is more than the Griffs had all of last year when they lost 16 games. The only statistic more alarming is that with said record, they find themselves in first place. Canisius is not only tied for the best record in the MAAC with the Quinnipiac Bobcats (6-3), their .424 overall winning percentage is the highest winning percentage by any team in the MAAC. The second highest being the .400 Rider Broncs, who won one of two against the Griffs last weekend.

After the game versus Rider, Canisius’ Head Coach Mike McRae commented on the team’s struggles in the 2015 campaign saying,“The loss was symbolic of our season. We’ve been very erratic with our play. There were times we didn’t swing the bats, times when we didn’t defend, times we didn’t pitch the way we needed too and all three of those factors plagued us.”

By erratic, McRae is referring to the team’s 50 errors in 33 games. By not swinging the bats, he is referring to the absence of timely hitting (2-10 record when trailing after the first inning). Last, but certainly not least on the Griff’s list of deficiencies, is the pitching. The Griffs have pitched to a 5.59 earned run average (ERA) after their slugfest against the Binghamton Bearcats. The team leader in ERA is owned by reliever Eric Stolzenburg with a 3.21 ERA and their number one starter, Devon Stewart, owns an ERA of 3.51. Of the 13 pitchers on the staff, eight of them have pitched to an ERA of 4.00 and above.

Yes, the Griffs are more than capable of putting on a prodigious display of offense. Led by the senior infielder Connor Panas, Canisius has 11 players with an on base percentage (OBP) of .300 or better (minimum 12 appearances). Over half the team has an OBP of .350 or better. For reference, the major league average OBP in the 2014 season was .314.

When the team’s offensive prowess is so great, the probability of a successful season is high. Unfortunately, the offense is blighted by the hellacious pitching display put on game in and game out. For a team to go 3-10 when producing 3-5 runs is nothing short of a disappointing display of baseball. That’s not championship baseball and is certainly not up to par for a team that has experienced so much success in years past. If a team is defending and pitching like the Griffs have, even the ’27 Yankees couldn’t win.

“Putting the game together is stopping us from being a much better club right now,” McRae said. “It’s not enough to tear the cover off the ball if you’re not preventing the other team from putting runs on the board.”

Even with a 14-19 record, the Griffs have a lot of positives going for them. McRae has won 257 games in his first ten seasons at Canisius, good for a .635 winning percentage. He has led the Canisius to the conference tournament in each of the last eight seasons. It would be safe to assume that the Griffs will begin to put on a better display of baseball as we approach May. Canisius still has five weeks of baseball remaining to work out their kinks before the MAAC tournament; ending their regular season with nine games versus MAAC opponents. The Griffs will have plenty of opportunities to improve with such a large portion of the season left. The key will be the production and leadership by veteran starters in senior Devon Stewart and junior Alex Godzak along with their MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Panas.

The Griffs will begin a stretch of 14 straight road games this Saturday at Saint Peter’s that will take them into May. With a record of 4-9 in road games, it is of paramount importance to play well if the Griffs wish to play relevant baseball in May. The pieces are there for the Griffs and despite poor production from the team’s pitching staff; Canisius finds themselves at the top of the MAAC. The preseason favorite Griffs are battle tested; experiencing a fair amount of success in years past and so the decision is theirs to make; pitch well and win the MAAC. The offense will show up, that much is for sure. It is up in the air as to whether or not the pitching staff will accompany them.

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