The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Houston Texans on Sunday, bringing their record to 6-2 — good for sole possession of first place in the NFC East. They also moved up two slots in our NFL Elo rankings; at the moment, their 1584 Elo rating ranks eighth among all NFL teams.But it wasn’t all good news for the Eagles on Sunday. The team’s starting quarterback, Nick Foles, suffered a “cracked” collarbone on the final play of the first quarter, necessitating an appearance by backup Mark Sanchez. While Sanchez played reasonably well in the victory, tossing a pair of touchdowns and posting a Total QBR of 53.4 (the NFL average for QBR is 50), there’s no small degree of trepidation among Eagles fans about the prospect of moving forward with Sanchez as the team’s starting QB for the next six to eight weeks.Anytime a team loses its starting quarterback, there’s a clear drop-off in performance. To quantify that decline, I went back and gathered data from every NFL game since 1978 in which a team was missing its regular starter at quarterback (defined as a QB who started at least 10 of 16 games for the team during the season). According to the Elo ratings going into those 1,585 games, which ostensibly assume the regular starter is playing, the starter-less teams should have expected to win 46 percent of the time. In actuality, they only won at a 37 percent clip.Essentially, a group of teams with an average pre-game Elo rating of 1478 played like they collectively deserved a 1419 rating. If the Eagles followed the same formula, we might surmise their “true” Elo rating without Foles would drop similarly to 1525, effectively making them the 18th-best team in football instead of the eighth-best.Making matters worse for Philadelphia, the numbers say that Foles is better than the typical starting quarterback — and that Sanchez is far worse. Since his NFL debut in 2012, Foles has been the sixth-most efficient passer in the league, according to adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A). Meanwhile, over the years in which Sanchez was the New York Jets’ starting quarterback (2009 to 2012), he posted the worst ANY/A in the NFL among QBs with 800 or more attempts.But when we look at the aforementioned dataset of backup-quarterback games since 1978, the post-game shift to a team’s Elo rating doesn’t bear any relationship to the disparity between the career ANY/A rates of the starter and the backup. In other words, the Eagles’ Elo rating is likely to decline with each successive game in which they are forced to start Sanchez instead of Foles, but it’s hard to say how much the difference between Foles’ career resume and Sanchez’s resume matters.Besides, there’s also evidence that Foles’s passing isn’t even the reason the Eagles have been winning this season. The team’s defense and special teams have been among the best in the NFL, while the team’s offense has underwhelmed. Although Foles’s numbers were otherworldly in 2013, his passing efficiency has been average at best in 2014 thus far, in no small part because the incredibly low interception rate he posted in 2013 has (predictably) regressed to the mean.There’s no question that the Eagles are worse off because of the injury to Foles, and it makes a material difference to their playoff odds going forward. But things may not be quite as dire for Philadelphia as they seem.
Archives: September 2019
LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers might be trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals. The Cavs might, as their Vegas odds suggest, have a mere 12 percent chance of winning the NBA championship. But according to just about every statistical measurement available, the self-proclaimed “best player in the world” is having a series for the ages.Build a bare-bones performance metric that simply adds a player’s points, rebounds and assists and then divides by the number of games the team played,1Using team games penalizes players who missed games — you can’t add value if you don’t play. and James’s 2015 finals ranks as the best of the past 30 years.Get more complex — using, say, a points above replacement (PAR) estimator based on the single-game version of Daniel Myers’s Box Plus/Minus2Which takes into account the location and strength of opponent for each game. — and James ranks sixth among all NBA Finals participants since 1985.3Despite not ranking in the top 25 in our bare-bones metric (and so not making the chart above), Magic Johnson’s 1988 finals performance places second in PAR per team game.So at either pole of the complexity spectrum, James has been the top player of these finals. (Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post and ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton came to similar conclusions using a few more metrics of varying intricacy.) And from a historical perspective, output of this level usually leads to winning the NBA Finals and the NBA Finals MVP: Every player near James’s combined total of points, rebounds and assists ended up garnering MVP honors.In a vacuum, then, James’s performance has been so historically strong that it would be a shame for him not to win the award.But on the other hand, if the Warriors win the series and the MVP goes to James, it will be the first time that a member of the losing team has received the honor since 1969, when Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers won in spite of the Boston Celtics’ championship. And, as Pelton notes, the culture of denying MVP honors to a nonchampion has grown in the intervening years, across all sports.In the NBA alone, nine players since 1985 have been the best player in their series by PAR through five games yet failed to win the MVP after their teams lost. (To a certain extent, this also speaks to what can happen between Games 5 and 7 of a series between closely matched teams.) In 2011, Dwyane Wade — then James’s teammate on the Miami Heat — outplayed Dirk Nowitzki to a greater extent than James has outplayed presumptive Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry4Andre Iguodala actually leads Golden State in PAR during the series. thus far yet still lost the award to the Dallas Mavericks star. So as great as James has been, it might not be enough to justify the award if Cleveland loses the series.There’s one more angle to think about, though, when it comes to James’s 2015 finals performance. It may be that all our stats and metrics simply break down when forced to consider the unparalleled burden that James has been forced to carry on this undermanned, undertalented Cavaliers squad. James’s 41.1 percent usage rate in this series is the largest of any finalist since 1985, breaking Michael Jordan’s mark of 39.6 percent for the Chicago Bulls against the Phoenix Suns in 1993. James is also logging an incredible 45.6 minutes per game, the eighth-most of any qualified5Minimum 140 minutes played in the series. finalist since 1985.As Tom Haberstroh wrote over the weekend, James’s physical workload during these finals has been termed “unfathomable” (among other things) by sports science experts. At the limits of human endurance and on-court influence — through his shooting and passing, James was involved in 70 of Cleveland’s 91 points in Game 5 — there may be no numbers that can do justice to how irreplaceable James has been for the Cavaliers in this series.They don’t necessarily give out awards for being completely and utterly essential to your team, of course. And, as always, “value” is in the eye of the beholder. But whether the Cavs win or lose, it’s not hard to imagine this series going down as a testament to James’s singular talent, stamina and durability. And if that doesn’t constitute “value,” I’m not sure what does.
Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Nov. 1 , 2016), we take a look at the World Series and wonder if the role of the closer has changed forever after the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians started deploying their closers as long relievers. Then, we chat about Russell Westbrook’s amazing start to the NBA season and ask if teams led by point guards can win championships. Finally, we talk about Tom Brady’s return from suspension, and Neil Paine explains why there’s a 50/50 chance Brady would have won a Super Bowl on every team in the NFL. Plus, a significant digit about the Oakland Raiders’ penalties.Links to what we discussed:Neil Paine says the Cubs’ comeback only gets harder from here.Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs says Cubs manager Joe Maddon Terry Francona’d Aroldis Chapman in Game 5 of the World Series.Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer writes that Russell Westbrook’s liberation tour is everything we wanted it to be.Neil Paine breaks down why Chris Paul has never gone far in the postseason.Neil also explains how Tom Brady’s return has made the Patriots that much better.Significant Digit: 23. That’s the number of times the Oakland Raiders were dinged for a penalty in their 30-24 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. That was the most penalties for one team in a single game since at least 1940 and the third-most penalty yards that any one team has racked up in a single game in that same span.Also, remember to check the Hot Takedown feed on Thursday for the fourth installment of our documentary series Ahead Of Their Time. The series looks at coaches and players who did something radical for their era and were later proven right by analytics. The new episode is about the two women who invented the double-handed backhand. You can find the previous three episodes here. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code FiveThirtyEight
Minimum 300 at-bats and 50 innings pitched in a single season.Source: Baseball-Reference.com DecadeMinorsMLB 1970s10 1960s70 1910s632 Two-way players in the minors and Major League Baseball, by decade Had it not been for an oblique injury last year, McKay likely would have been the first minor leaguer since Farmer to reach both 50 innings pitched and 300 at-bats. McKay pitched 78⅓ innings (2.41 ERA) and logged 192 at-bats (.727 OPS) last season combined in Rookie League, Single-A and High A. He dominated Double-A hitters this year, striking out 62 in 41⅔ innings with a 1.30 ERA, before being promoted to Triple-A, where he posted a 1.08 ERA in his first 25 innings.McKay actually improved his hitting at Triple-A as well, belting four homers in his first 49 at-bats to go along with a .951 OPS before being called up.A challenge in developing a two-way player is that one skill is often further ahead in development. McKay and Dodson are more advanced as pitchers, and some observers were already calling for the Rays to limit McKay to pitching this spring. The game has become more specialized over time, and few clubs have bothered to dig deeper into what is possible for hitting and pitching.Injury concerns have also contributed to the near-extinction of the two-way player. If you have a star bat like Ohtani’s, you might not want to risk losing at-bats to injury on the mound.As Angels manager Brad Ausmus said this spring, the key to two-way experiments may be “workload balance and getting enough preparation on each side of the baseball.” Rays officials also noted the challenge of finding enough reps in the day for maintaining hitting and pitching skills.But when you’re the front office of the Rays, competing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, you have to question everything. One question is this: just how effective and efficient is baseball training? Maybe there is enough time in the day to develop two-way players.In a study commissioned by the Chicago Cubs in 1938, sports psychologist Coleman Griffith concluded, only 48 minutes per day were spent on “effective” baseball practice while the other two hours and 47 minutes were wasted. (In the major leagues, players generally arrive at the ballpark four hours before first pitch.) While some practices have changed over the years, many have also remained the same, like coach-pitched, on-field batting practice that is far removed from game velocity and breaking balls. There could be an advantage found in rethinking how the baseball day is structured.Is there time for a player to practice both hitting and pitching skills in the same day? “There’s plenty of time,” McKay said.Technology advances are also perhaps helping players get better feedback in practice, allowing for smarter and fewer reps to reduce wear and tear. McKay said the Rays have monitored his heart rate during bullpens to see how his body was responding, as well as how his diet, hydration and workload should be altered. One adjustment the Rays made with McKay this season is that he does not play a position when he is in the lineup as a hitter — he has played some first base in the past — and he slots in at a DH instead.“One of the biggest challenges that comes with this is not just managing in-game workload but structuring practice sufficiently,” Bloom said. “Giving the player enough of a chance to get better at everything he needs to improve at and keep him healthy: That’s something we spent a lot of time thinking about, and we’re learning as we go. We’ve already learned a lot.”In college, Dodson would often play seven innings in center field before he was summoned to close out the game pitching the eighth and ninth innings. Last summer, in his first stint as a pro, he never pitched or hit in the same game. The Rays mapped out a schedule each week for him. “It was, honestly, a lot easier” than the college setup, Dodson said.6Dodson has landed on the injured list three times this season.Dodson’s potential path as a reliever/position player — he is also a switch-hitter — could become a route to a more common two-way player: the ultimate utility man.“Ohtani laid some groundwork, McKay laid some groundwork. I think I’m laying a little different ground work as a reliever,” Dodson said. “I think everything started as something nobody did.”Check out our latest MLB predictions. After the Tampa Bay Rays made Brendan McKay the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, they brought him to Port Charlotte, Florida, site of their minor league and spring training operations, for a debriefing. McKay had received first-round grades as a hitter and pitcher at the University of Louisville, where he was the program’s first Golden Spikes Award winner. There was outside discussion about whether McKay should pitch or hit as a professional. But several Rays player-development officials had a different question for McKay: Did he think he could he do both?There have been similar debates over what to do with dual-talent, amateur players before, but those mostly centered on which path a player should choose. In 2001, Kent State star John Van Benschoten led Division I baseball in home runs with 31 and posted a 1.532 on-base plus slugging, yet the Pittsburgh Pirates had him focus on pitching after selecting him with the eighth overall pick in the draft.1Van Benschoten tore his labrum in 2005, which derailed his career. Selected just two picks before McKay in 2017, dual-talent Hunter Greene has already put away his bat at the request of the Cincinnati Reds.2Greene had Tommy John surgery this spring.What did McKay tell the Rays?“I don’t see why I couldn’t do it at the next level,” McKay told FiveThirtyEight. “I think they were just as interested as I was.”McKay made his major league pitching debut on Saturday with six shutout innings before taking the first big league at-bats of his career as a designated hitter on Monday. And he isn’t the only player in the Rays organization to be asked that question. Even before Shohei Ohtani arrived last season in Anaheim and became the first player to log 300 at-bats and pitch 50 innings in a season since Babe Ruth in 1918 and 1919,3Ohtani returned to the field as a DH-only player in May. the Rays had already embraced their own domestic two-way player experiment.A month before the 2018 draft, a Rays scout asked Tanner Dodson, then an outfielder and pitcher for the University of California, if he was open to continuing as a two-way player if they selected him. He answered with an enthusiastic yes. The Rays are now experimenting with another two-way player this season in Triple-A: shortstop-pitcher Jake Cronenworth, who pitched in college for Michigan. He’s batting .333 in 276 at-bats and has hit 96 mph in 6⅓ scoreless innings, often working as an opener.McKay, Cronenworth and Dodson are the faces of the club’s latest unconventional approach: taking advantage of the two-way player in an era when it’s never been more needed. Pitching staffs have expanded and bullpens have taken on a record number of innings, so, getting two players for the price of one roster spot should have more appeal. Other clubs have also followed the Ohtani experiment to a degree,4The Pirates are experimenting with J.B. Shuck as a two-way player in Triple-A, Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen has accrued 10 plate appearances this season, and the Angels have other two-way players in their organization. but it’s the team that championed defensive shifts and the opener that is again at the forefront of asking what is possible.“A lot of our thought process was having some humility that we don’t necessarily know enough to shove [them] into a box one way or the other,” said Chaim Bloom, vice president of baseball operations for the Rays. “Baseball is such a hard game that I think the number of players that are going to be able to have sufficient skill to do this is still going to be small. But we’ve seen over time in this business that sometimes it takes someone going out and doing it to expand people’s definitions of what might be possible. So we may see that happen here.”It’s not just at the major league level where the two-way player had gone extinct. Before Ohtani, Mike Farmer was the last player in affiliated baseball to reach 50 innings and record 300 at-bats. That was in 1992 for the Phillies’ High-A club in Clearwater, Florida.5Farmer posted a 1.87 ERA in 53 innings and a .586 OPS in 303 at-bats. But two-way players were once common. Since 1900, there have been 682 minor-league seasons of at least 300 at-bats and 50 innings pitched, including 199 such seasons in the 1940s and 182 in the 1950s, according to data from Baseball-Reference.com. But the two-way player had largely vanished from the minors and all of professional baseball by the 1970s, aside from short-lived experiments like that of Brooks Kieschnick with the Milwaukee Brewers. 1930s830 1950s1820 1920s1110 2010s01 1990s10 2000s00 1980s10 1940s1990 1900s335
Adam Moore201026.340.2260.2 Jose Bautista201030.325.42199.9 Andruw Jones200831.350.2380.0 Tony Pena200827.299.1750.0 Alexi Casilla200723.354.2400.2 Carlos Ruiz201233.327.39698.4 Tyler Colvin201126.343.2130.0 Brandon Wood201025.300.1670.0 Travis Hafner200831.387.2700.0 Rob Brantly201324.347.2370.3 Jason Bartlett200930.325.39498.5 Josh Bard200628.311.39899.1 Chone Figgins201133.329.2320.1 PlayerYearAgeProj. wOBAActual wOBAPercentile Aaron Hill201230.309.38098.8 Tommy Manzella201027.339.2360.4 Garrett Atkins200627.339.41198.2 Mark Kotsay200732.333.2530.5 Luke Scott200628.316.43799.9 Brian Giles200938.346.2470.1 Brandon Moss201229.296.40299.8 Reid Brignac201125.320.2030.1 Clint Barmes200627.340.2510.6 Justin Morneau201130.367.2740.2 Carlos Quentin200826.334.41999.1 Ian Desmond201227.308.37598.2 Justin Morneau201029.358.43699.5 Jason Bay201234.331.2470.4 Jermaine Dye200632.338.42599.7 Nick Hundley201229.326.2090.0 Jim Thome201040.359.43098.8 Brent Lillibridge201128.297.37598.1 Mike Trout201221.330.42799.3 Magglio Ordonez200733.354.43599.4 Dioner Navarro201329.289.37298.8 Martin Maldonado201327.327.2280.4 Justin Ruggiano201230.311.40999.3 Chris Davis201327.337.41198.7 Mike Lamb200833.336.2530.6 Ryan Raburn201231.334.2190.0 Wily Mo Pena200826.350.2310.0 Scott Spiezio200634.301.37298.2 Pete Kozma201325.350.2390.2 Josh Hamilton201029.360.44199.4 Which baseball players have had the most surprisingly bad and surprisingly good seasons in recent years? I wondered about this while researching an article on whether spring training performance foreshadows regular-season production.I calculated the uncertainty in the Marcel forecasting system projection for batting wOBA — a measure of a hitter’s overall offensive production per plate appearance — based on the reliability of the forecast. This gives us a range of expected results and allows us to look at which players’ regular-season performances were the least likely going into the year. It’s a nice way of quantifying unexpectedly good and bad campaigns.First, the most surprising strong seasons in the dataset I used in my article, which extends back to 2006 (minimum 200 plate appearances): Adam Dunn201132.364.2690.1 Jose Bautista201131.359.43098.8 Mike Napoli201130.346.44499.9 Jacoby Ellsbury201128.337.41399.1 Adam Kennedy200731.335.2530.5 Jerry Hairston200832.290.38499.7 Ruben Tejada201324.321.2380.5 Ben Zobrist200928.311.41399.8 Ryan Raburn201332.305.38799.3 B.J. Upton201329.341.2600.4 Andy LaRoche200825.335.2320.5 Milton Bradley201032.372.2900.6 Melky Cabrera201228.326.39598.7 Carlos Gonzalez201025.342.41898.6 Jeff Francoeur201329.320.2350.3 Hanley Ramirez201330.346.44499.9 PlayerYearAgeProj. wOBAActual wOBAPercentile J.D. Drew201136.355.2750.6 Before the 2013 season, we would have expected there to be a 50 percent chance that Hanley Ramirez’s wOBA would be above .346. If you’d asked us what the odds were that Ramirez’s wOBA would reach or beat .444, we would have said practically zero — 0.1 percent, to be exact.The fact that Ramirez’s wOBA was .444 was an outcome in the 99.9th percentile of his preseason wOBA distribution.Flipping things around, here are the most disappointing seasons of the past eight years: Travis Hafner, if you’ll recall, had been one of the best hitters in baseball in the four years leading up to 2008, which was one of the big reasons why another statistical system for forecasting player performance, FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver’s PECOTA, called for the Cleveland Indians to win 91 games that year. Instead, the Indians went 81-81 as Hafner’s wOBA sunk to .270 — an outcome that seemed almost impossible (hence, the 0.0 percentile score).Keep in mind that this method is based on the Marcel reliability score, which essentially measures how much of a given projection is made up of the league mean and how much belongs to the player’s statistical record. It employs a generic age adjustment, but it does not look at similar players at similar ages, as Silver did with PECOTA.Hafner, Andruw Jones, Chone Figgins, Adam Dunn and others on the second list hit their early 30s and, rather than declining gradually, completely fell apart. Marcel has no way to determine whether players with certain tendencies or body types are more likely to completely crater, which would affect our confidence intervals. Cleaning up projections on the margins like that is one of the ways a system such as PECOTA is superior to Marcel, even though the returns diminish sharply with extra complexity.
On Tuesday, The New York Times put out a wanted ad in search of a better basketball team for its Knicks beat writer, Scott Cacciola, to follow. (The Knicks, after a dreadful 5-32 start to the 2014-15 season, have begun selling off assets.)Well, I’m here to help. Certainly just about every other NBA team is more entertaining than the Knicks, and some have suggested Cacciola could even find better basketball overseas. But if he wants to stay close to home, there are also plenty of NBA teams with backup units superior to the Knicks.Using a minute-weighted average of ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus (RPM) for each player in games they didn’t start, here are the teams whose benches have added more wins above replacement (WAR) than New York’s entire team thus far in 2014-15 (these stats are from before the Knicks traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert):
OSU coach Urban Meyer embraces redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) following the Buckeyes 30-23 overtime win over the Wisconsin Badgers on Oct. 15. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorWith the final week of the regular season now on the minds of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Scarlet and Gray will enter the last game of the year still ranked at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff poll. Michigan, OSU’s opponent this Saturday, retained its No. 3 ranking as well.There was little shakeup in the top of the poll, as Alabama remained in the top spot for the fourth straight week. At No. 4, Clemson also held onto the final playoff spot available. Louisville, ranked at No. 5 last week, fell to No. 11 following a loss to Houston.At No. 5 and No. 6, the first two teams out of the playoffs, Washington and Wisconsin will both be looking to make a case in the conclusions of its respective seasons. Washington currently leads the Pac-12, and will need to beat Washington State for a title shot. A conference title could help solidify the Huskies as a playoff contender. Penn State, the current East Division leader in the Big Ten, moved to the No. 7 spot, and will be facing Michigan State in its final game. If OSU defeats Michigan this Saturday, and Penn State picks up a win, the Nittany Lions will be headed to Indianapolis for a chance at the Big Ten title.In the West Division, Wisconsin simply needs to beat Minnesota this weekend to reach the Big Ten title game. However, a loss to OSU earlier this season could spoil any playoff aspirations for the Badgers, regardless of a conference crown.The decision by the committee in regards to the fate of the potential Big Ten champion in the playoffs over potential one-loss teams such as OSU and Michigan will be made exactly a week from Tuesday. The Buckeyes will need a win over the Wolverines, and a little love from the playoff committee for a chance at another national title.
Led by the ground attack and saved by one timely miracle, Ohio State virtually controls its own destiny in the Leaders division after an upset-victory over No. 12 Wisconsin. With two losses in the Big Ten, and a game against Penn State down the road, OSU just completed its biggest obstacle on the road to a conference title. If the Buckeyes win out, and Penn State loses another game in addition to its meeting with OSU, the Scarlet and Gray will represent the Leaders division in the first Big Ten championship game. The electric atmosphere with sub-40 degree weather brought much needed life to Ohio Stadium to lift the Buckeyes over Wisconsin on homecoming night. In his second game back this season after a six-game suspension for various infractions, senior running back Daniel “Boom” Herron proves his value to the largely one-sided Buckeye offense. Herron was suffering from a tweaked ankle through the entire game, but was able to pick up 160 yards on the ground. Along with junior running back Jordan Hall and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes were able to pick up 268 yards on the ground. Which is nearly all the offense OSU had in the game. Miller threw for just 89 yards through the air. Forty yards coming on the game saving connection from Miller to freshman wide receiver Devin Smith. Wisconsin was not fooled by the run-oriented gameplan the Buckeyes came in with, but was not able to stop it. In OSU’s three previous Big Ten games this season, Miller only attempted 22 passes. Against Wisconsin on Saturday, Miller only attempted 12 passes, completing seven. Special teams were a roller coaster ride Saturday, highlighted by a blocked punt. In the third quarter, freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier broke through the Wisconsin line and was able to block Wisconsin’s Brad Nortman’s punt. Freshman linebacker Curtis Grant then jumped on the blocked punt on the 1-yard line that led to a touchdown from Hall. Hall proved to be an adventure returning punts for the Buckeyes. Hall fumbled twice returning punts, and lost a fumble once that led to a touchdown to keep the Badgers in the game. Later with a comeback from Wisconsin nearly completed, Hall returned the kickoff to the 48-yard line to set up the game winning touchdown pass. Hall finished the night with 9-yards on the ground and a touchdown. Miller finished the night with 99-yards on the ground and had two touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. The Buckeyes offense will be no surprise for upcoming opponents, as they will continue to run with their strengths behind the Scarlet and Gray offensive line. OSU will look for help from either Wisconsin or Nebraska to beat Penn State, and at that point, OSU controls its own destiny. OSU needs to worry about its schedule, and the blocks will fall into place for a Dec. 3 appearance in Indianapolis.
Ohio State men’s soccer’s first win of the 2012 season was doubly important – it also clinched its second consecutive Wolstein Classic championship.OSU (1-2-1) captured its first win against Davidson, 3-2, on Sunday in an overtime victory in the Bert and Iris Wolstein Classic at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes drew with Coastal Carolina, 1-1, Friday to stay in the running for their second consecutive tournament title. The Buckeyes, also tournament hosts, rallied from 2-0 deficit to capture the tournament.“It’s awesome. It’s such a relief for us because we have been so close for so long,” said senior midfielder Austin McAnena. “I mean every single game we have been pretty unlucky at the end of games, and that last goal we got lucky and I think that can really turn our season around.”OSU coach John Bluem wasn’t too happy with how his team started in the beginning of the game, but was proud of the way his team finished.“It feels great. I thought we would already have won one by now,” Bluem said. “We lost some games we thought we could have won. Today was a game we thought we could win, and then we put ourselves in a really deep hole. Really proud of our players that they hung in there and got the win today.”With the Buckeyes down, 2-0, in the second half, things went from bad to worse, as sophomore midfielder Yianni Sarris was hit with a red card early in the period, and forced the Buckeyes to play with only 10 players on the field. Instead of the man-down scenario setting OSU back even more, it spurred the Buckeyes to a revival.“We all kind of looked at each other,” sophomore forward Kenny Cunningham said. “Let’s get it together; this is a turning point of our season. If we get this together, the whole season turns around.”Shortly after the red card, senior midfielder Sebastian Rivas scored the first goal for the Buckeye. Then freshman defender Alex Bujenovic tied the game up 2-2 with a free kick that forced overtime.In the 97th minute, Cunningham put Davidson away for good with a powerful, game winning shot.If the game had two different stories of the intensity level for the Buckeyes, McAnena said the penalty on Sarris ignited the team and brought them together.“I think it was just the intensity,” McAnena said. “We were a man down, and we really needed to pick it up. It was kind of our last stand, and when we were down 2-0, with Sarris on the bench, we just had to start attacking.”After the game, Bluem pointed out the issues with his team early in the season, but said he felt the team came together at the right time on Sunday.“I think one of the issues with the team through the first four games have been a little bit of selfishness,” Bluem said. “They got to start looking for each other rather than thinking about themselves, and I think they did that when we were a man down. They collectively came together and played harder for each other, so that is a good step.”As the team prepares for San Diego on Friday, there are other areas Bluem wants to correct within the team.“I think we need to be better defensively,” Bluem said. “We have allowed too many goals. Our goalkeeper has made some mistakes, as well as our back four, in allowing goals.”With the win, Cunningham said OSU no longer faces the pressure of taking its first victory.“It’s hard to explain, once you lose a couple of games in a row, it seems like impossible to win,” said Cunningham. “So getting out of this hole was really important for us, and for us to win our first game, it was really important.”
Ohio State baseball is hoping it can lean on the leadership of an experienced squad featuring 15 upperclassmen in the 2013 season. After an up-and-down 2012 season where it went 33-27, OSU coach Greg Beals said the key to the team’s success will lie with the familiarity the players and coaches have with one another. “We believe we’ve developed a good understanding of each other and confidence in each other,” said Beals, who is 59-55 in his two-plus years at the helm in Columbus, said. “We know what to expect from each other and we really feel like that’s going to serve us well as we work our way through this season.” The Buckeyes will be without junior pitcher and first baseman Josh Dezse for at least the first two months of the season after he suffered a stress reaction in his lower back in early February. A key contributor last year, Dezse compiled a 2.86 ERA with seven saves as a pitcher, as well as hitting .306 with five home runs, 33 RBI and 31 runs scored at the plate. And as if losing Dezse was not enough, OSU opened the season by dropping two of its first three games over the weekend in Sarasota, Fla. Before earning its first win of the season against St. John’s 3-1 Sunday, OSU was blown out by Notre Dame, 13-3, Saturday and fell to Mercer University, 6-5 Friday. Redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Brad Goldberg, who earned the Buckeyes’ lone victory, was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Monday after his strong outing against the Red Storm. Goldberg allowed only two hits and struck out seven over seven shutout innings. The last Buckeye to win a Big Ten weekly award was then-freshman outfielder Pat Porter with Freshman of the Week on April 9 last season. He has gotten his sophomore season off to a hot start as well, leading the team in batting average (.400), runs scored (4), total bases (7), slugging percentage (.700) and on-base percentage (.500). Porter is also tied for the team lead in hits with four. Although early in the season, OSU might need more production as a team if it wants to contend for a Big Ten title. In their first three games, the Buckeyes are only hitting .232 and have been outscored 20-11. Their pitchers have an ERA over five and they have committed six errors in the field. Beals said in order to get better as a team, the Buckeyes will need to improve in a couple of areas. “We need to improve our mental toughness in tight games. Sometimes we worry about losing a game instead of worrying about how we’re going to win the game,” he said. “That’s the one thing, and I just think we need to improve our consistency. We play very, very good at times and we struggle at times. Great teams are consistent.” OSU will travel to Port Charlotte, Fla., for the Snowbird Baseball Classic to play a pair of two-game series against South Dakota State Friday and Saturday and Mount Saint Mary Saturday and Sunday. OSU is scheduled to play the Jackrabbits Friday at 4 p.m.