Baseball Preview: Alabama Opens Season With Maryland
A new season means a fresh start for an Alabama team that did not meet expectations last season. The Tide's first series in the newly-renovated Sewell-Thomas Stadium will be against Maryland, a team that has made it to a Super Regional in back-to-back seasons.
The Terrapins will bring one of the best pitching rotations in the Big Ten to Tuscaloosa. Maryland's probable starters for the weekend are RHP Mike Shawaryn, RHP Taylor Bloom, and RHP Brian Shaffer.
Shawaryn was named a first team All-American in 2015 after posting a 13-2 record with a 1.73 ERA across 116.0 innings pitched. His 138 strikeouts led the conference, while the next closest pitcher had 95.
Most of Bloom's appearances in the 2015 season came in relief, but he came on strong for Maryland in postseason play. He had a quality start in a 2-1 win over UCLA in the NCAA Regionals, which helped send the Terrapins to a Super Regional.
Shaffer was second on the team in wins (5) behind Shawaryn. He also came on strong in postseason play specifically in the Big Ten Tournament. Shaffer was the winning pitcher in a 2-1 win over Illinois, which snapped the Fighting Illini's 27-game win streak.
Right now it appears that Maryland will rely heavily on its pitching staff while replacing four of the best hitters from last season: catcher Kevin Matir, second baseman Brandon Lowe, third baseman Jose Cuas, and center fielder LaMonte Wade. In terms of power hitting, those four players accounted for 34 of the team's 52 home runs.
The Terrapins are fortunate enough to replace their key losses with players who have big game experience. In addition, they return key players like shortstop Kevin Smith who finished tied for the team lead in steals (11).
This series will ultimately be determined by pitching. The projected starters for Alabama this weekend are RHP Geoffrey Bramblett, RHP Jake Walters, and RHP Nick Eicholtz. Bramblett is the most experienced of the bunch, and finished his 2015 campaign with an 8-3 record and 3.81 ERA. Walters came on strong for the Tide in the latter part of the year and finished with a 4-4 record.
The Sunday slot was up for grabs. However, a very impressive fall was enough for Nick Eicholtz to win the job. Eicholtz has the tools to be special, and he will be the deciding factor in more than one series this season.
In the field, you will see the familiar faces of center fielder Georgie Salem, shortstop Chandler Avant, first baseman Cody Henry, third baseman Chance Vincent, and catcher Will Haynie
The new names you will need to look out for our freshmen Cobie Vance, Chandler Taylor, and Gene Wood. All three will play pivotal roles in the lineup and their performances this weekend will set the tone for the rest of the season.
This will be the first ever meeting between Alabama and Maryland. Friday's game begins at 6:30 p.m. CT. Saturday's game will begin at 3:30 p.m. CT, and the series finale will begin at 12:00 p.m. CT. You can listen to all three games right here on Tide 99.1.
Check out our Alabama Baseball preview for more information on the Tide players to watch this season.