Red and Green: Spring is somewhat in the air in St. Louis
The St. Louis Blues (maybe) march toward the Stanley Cup playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals play ball in today’s home opener at Busch Stadium and the Washington University baseball and softball teams enter the dog days of after-spring-break-before-final-exams. Yes, April is here, snow, thunderstorms and all. And that means just one month remains in this year of Bear sports. Welcome to the final edition of Red and Green, where we digest and regurgitate the best and worst that represent Wash. U. athletics.
That’s the number of freshmen on the baseball Bears’ roster. Consider this: It’s more than the number of sophomores, juniors and seniors combined, 12, that make up the rest of the Red and Green’s 25-man crew. The distribution of age is startling; take out the nine sophomores and you’re left with just three upperclassmen, including the lone pending graduate, outfielder Auggie Mense. It’s an odd year when the team doesn’t even have a Senior Day on its schedule.
Youth isn’t a negative on its own, necessarily. The cubs have scratched out a 14-8 record, just two games behind the pace of last year’s squad, a veteran group that earned its third consecutive UAA title. But with youth comes inexperience and, potentially, fatigue. Over half the team hasn’t yet played a full college season. When it’s in the home stretch, with a playoff berth in sight, will it be able to maintain the energy that has gotten them to this point? Again, to be fair, they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down yet. In fact, they’ve demonstrated the opposite: They started 0-3, then turned things around and haven’t lost consecutive games since. But the April calendar may prove daunting—it’s never easy to go to Emory University, and Wash. U. must navigate through four against No. 13 Case Western Reserve University.
If these Bears are going to keep it up, the load will fall on the shoulders of three freshmen—literally. Though junior John Howard is the ace, three rookies are among the five pitchers who have fired double-digit frames: righties Ryan Loutos, Tim Tague and Rees Viersen. Loutos and Tague in particular aren’t a huge step behind Howard’s 0.89 ERA. The two have combined for a stellar 1.70 mark over 69 innings, and if they can maintain that through the century mark, the Bears will be in good shape come late April.
Once again, the softball Bears are relying on two pitchers for the bulk of their innings, seniors Maggie Clapp and Anna McKee. The pair has combined for a 2.90 ERA, which isn’t bad by any means. But it isn’t quite up to the standards the two established last year. In 2017, Clapp and McKee delivered 264.1 innings of 1.85-run ball, and the full-run regression is a big reason why Wash. U. is 6-6 right now when it was 14-6 after 20 games last season. It’s important to note the sample size: The current mark is over just 59 innings, over 200 innings short of the 2017 total, mostly due to rainouts. So, the duo has plenty of time to sort things out, and in all likelihood, they’ll experience positive regression to the old baseline. If they do, no opposing offense will want to face the Red and Green the rest of the way.
For a relatively inexperienced squad, the baseball Bears sure do the single most important thing in baseball pretty well: get on base. Their .368 clip is a full hundred-plus points above their .264 batting average, while last year’s Bears sported only a .089 differential. Mense, of course, is near the top of the leaderboard, third among Wash. U. batters with a .426 on-base percentage. That’s actually part of a downward trend—from .465 sophomore year to .448 junior year to .426 at the moment—but Mense has continued to show a good eye, evening out his strikeout and walk totals at 24 apiece. In the top two are freshman Henry Singer at .431 and junior infielder Evan Nagel at .440. Nagel’s improvement is impressive; after hitting just .171/.326/.286 as a sophomore, he’s made the leap as an upperclassman, hitting .288/.440/.364 to morph into one of Wash. U.’s top hitters.
The collective onbase skills have helped minimize the adverse effects of the Bears’ lack of power. The Red and Green haven’t mashed a single tater to date and have dipped 87 points in slugging percentage to .320—below the on-base mark, a rarity. Still, if there’s one skill to possess, it’s getting on base, and the Bears definitely know how to do that.
The softball team has only played three games against ranked teams this season, thanks to four rainouts against Illinois Wesleyan University (in two different states on two different weekends, no less). But in those matchups—against No. 16 Ithaca College, No. 12 Ramapo College and No. 5 Trine University—the Red and Green feature a plus-14 run differential, blowing out Ithaca and Trine, 11-2 and 11-3, respectively, and dropping a close contest to Ramapo, 5-2. What does that mean? Maybe nothing; it can be dangerous to draw conclusions from individual games, especially in this sport, where even the best teams lose 40 percent of the time and the worst teams win 40 percent of the time. But the scores at least prove that Wash. U.’s talent, if things come together, can take the field with any team. No team the Red and Green have on the docket sports a record better than 13-6, which is very good but not dominant. If the Bears play up to their potential, they can run through the remainder of the schedule with ease.