Around The Diamond: Baseball Season Enters Home Stretch

Published by Loren Amor on April 23, 2010 at 11:18PM

It's a do-or-die weekend for Harvard baseball—but it will need help to make a run for a Rolfe Division title.

In the cruel world that is the Ivy League baseball schedule, the winds of fortune are unpredictable. One weekend set of doubleheaders can turn a last-place loser into a contender, while at the same time derailing a promising championship run with ruthless efficiency.

Consider the Rolfe Division standings. Before this past weekend, Brown sat securely in the driver’s seat, boasting a 6-2 league record and cruising on its way to the Rolfe title with a scuffling Harvard squad on deck. But the Bears could only muster a four-game split with the Crimson, and in the Ivy League, splits kill.

Brown’s inability to at least squeak out a series win against Harvard opened the floodgates for a surging Dartmouth. The Big Green wiped the floor with Yale and vaulted itself from the middle of the Rolfe pack into a tie with the Bears for the division lead with an 8-4 Ivy record.

Now we have a race to the finish, and Harvard is in danger of once again being left in the dust. At 6-6, the Crimson is two games out and certainly not dead, especially in the volatile Ivy League. But another split weekend, Harvard’s hallmark this season, is a one-way ticket to another year defined by mediocrity. The Crimson needs to make a stand now, or else sit on the sidelines as the rapidly-flagging Bears and suddenly-streaking Big Green duke it out for a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series.

DARTMOUTH (18-12, 8-4 Ivy) AT BROWN (11-24, 8-4)

This outcome of these four games may very well affect Harvard’s Rolfe chances more than the Crimson’s own pair of doubleheaders.

If the Big Green beats up the Bears, Brown will be effectively knocked out of contention and give Harvard (provided that the Crimson picks up at least three wins this weekend, not a given by any means) a legitimate shot at upending Dartmouth in the season’s final pair of doubleheaders.

If the Bears take the series or even manage a split, too many factors will be in play to give Harvard any real chance at winning its division.

Fortunately for the Crimson, Brown’s store of early-season luck has run out, and the Big Green has found its pitching groove. I’m less confident about Harvard’s ability to position itself for title contention, but I think Dartmouth will at least provide the Crimson with the opportunity.

Prediction: Dartmouth wins, 3-1

COLUMBIA (18-16, 9-3) AT CORNELL (11-17, 4-8)

Columbia’s lineup is a behemoth, with seven regulars batting at least .300 and a team slugging percentage of .480. Add a decent, if not exactly inspiring, pitching staff, and the Lions are the best team in the Ivy League.

Cornell is not. In Tony Bertucci and Corey Pappel, the Big Red boasts two front-line starters better than anyone in Columbia’s rotation, but beyond that the pitching wears thin, and there’s no one in the Cornell lineup that holds a candle to the Lions’ sluggers.

Prediction: Columbia sweeps

PENN (17-16, 6-6 Ivy) AT PRINCETON (9-24, 4-8 Ivy)

These squads had their weekend set shifted to Friday and Saturday, with Princeton having won the first game and Penn leading in the nightcap as I’m writing this. The Tigers’ victory, an 8-7 nailbiter, comes as a surprise, but Princeton does have a few guys in its lineup—including Jon Broscious, who’s kind of like Adam Dunn without the on-base percentage—who can knock the ball out of the park and keep things interesting.

Penn has been killed by inconsistency and seen its formidable lineup negated by its lackluster pitching. The Quaker hitters can mash, but without effective arms Penn is just a very entertaining non-contender.

Prediction (for Saturday’s games): Penn sweeps the final two.

HARVARD (13-21, 6-6 Ivy) AT YALE (16-18, 3-9 Ivy)

With Ivy gutter-dweller Yale on its agenda, Harvard would seem to be in prime position to win out this weekend and make things interesting atop the Rolfe Division. But the Bulldogs have been hit time and time again by bad luck in their Ivy slate, and their lowly standing among the Ancient Eight obscures what has otherwise been a solid season for Yale.

Like many middle-of-the-road Ivy teams, the Bulldogs can hit the cover off the ball, but have a hard time throwing it. Yale can hurt you from anywhere in the lineup, and neutralizing the Bulldogs’ batters will be no easy task for the Crimson.

Does Harvard have the horses to hold Yale down? Yes...maybe. The Crimson pitching staff is full of hurlers capable of throwing a gem on any given day, but Harvard has yet to conjure the perfect storm necessary for sweeping a weekend series.  I’d like to think that this weekend is the one where it all comes together, but in four years of covering the Crimson, inconsistency has been the only consistent narrative.

Prediction: Split.