First off, we welcome Maryland to Nebraska, after the Huskers have only ever played Maryland at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium in 2015. Maryland swept Nebraska that year, in which the Huskers fell apart and Maryland made it to the Super Regionals, losing to 2015 NCAA National Champion Virginia. Some things have changed since that series, but one thing that has not is that Maryland is expected to win the Big Ten among all preseason media predictions.
We talked with Greg Goldstein from Testudo Times to get more information on the Maryland Terrapins before they come to Lincoln.
Maryland sits 19-8 (5-1) on the season, and has series wins against Michigan and Rutgers in conference. So far, how have the Terrapins performed compared to their preseason expectations?
Greg: All in all, the Terps have won the games they were expected to win and have lost games against primarily better teams. The team did start the season 1-5, which included a loss to the likes of Louisville and LSU, which were expected. Although, it was a disappointing to see that the club didn’t even really compete with this upper-tier college baseball powers.
However, the Terps have been playing their best ball recently by beating up on teams that are far less talented. Their best effort had to be their series win against Michigan, who was ranked in the Top 25 at that time. Overall, I still think that the Terps are in a good position to meet their preseason expectations, especially with the improvements that have been made over the past month or so.
Maryland has played one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the league this season, with only Purdue and Northwestern playing weaker schedules. When you combine the fact that Maryland does not have a non-conference RPI top 50 win, and the expectation of temperatures in the 70's expected for Saturday and Sunday, Haymarket Park will be an intimidating place to play this weekend. How will this team perform in front of being an adverse situations?
Greg: While I agree that Maryland’s schedule has been rather soft, the team still has shown a high level of resiliency. In particular, there have been plenty of midweek contests where the club got down early thanks to a lack of midweek starting pitching, and slowly climbed back to win because of there explosive offense and improvement in the bullpen. The players and manager John Szefc have frequently stated that they do not feel much pressure when they get down because they are extremely confident in their ability to put up runs in a short period of time. In fact, Maryland just overcame a six run deficit to win a game against Richmond on Tuesday. So I don’t really think that the Terps are will be affected by any real difficult environment.
Do we know the status of Kevin Smith? The Preseason All-American appeared to suffer a shoulder injury last weekend, and did not play the final two games of the series against Rutgers. Will he play, and if he does not play what will the effect be on the Terrapins?
Greg: Smith did suffer an injury in New Jersey last weekend and did miss the team’s most recent contest on Tuesday. However, that looks like more of a precautionary move as I’ve heard from people close to the team that he’s day-to-day. So there is a reasonable chance that he rturns this weekend. If this is the case, it would be a huge addition for the Terps. Senior Patrick Hisle has filled in admirably for Smith in the intermediate, but there is a reason Kevin Smith got the hype he did preseason. He did get off to a bit of a poor start, but has turned things around over the past two weeks. He’s hit six home runs in 24 games and he’s excellent in the field. Maryland’s lineup would become much more dangerous if they can get their Junior shortstop back this weekend.
While much of the fanfare of the Maryland team has been about Smith, Marty Costes appears to be having a solid season at the plate. Costes and Brandon Gum are the only two regulars batting over .300 with Will Watson hitting a solid .293. As a team, Maryland only bats .263, so how do the Terrapins score? Do they string together a lot of hits, or are they more likely to use to longball, as they have 24 home runs on the season. If the Terrapins like the longball, Nebraska has held opponents to nine all season, does that concern Maryland?
Greg: Marty Costes has been the best hitter on the team without question this season. He was outstanding as a freshman and has carried this level of play over in his sophomore campaign. The batting order does have a good amount of power throughout the lineup. There are seven players that have hit two home runs or more in 2017, but there is a good amount of speed in the lineup to compliment that power. Zach Jancarski and Nick Dunn can get on-base at a high clip and provide speed to set up the middle of the order. In terms of how they score, the Terps have plenty of ways that they can get runs across. The team can go the small-ball route or go for the big inning as well. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason for why a team that bats .263 on the season, except that recently they seem to be getting the big hit when they need it.
Two years ago when these teams met, Maryland got stellar starting pitching and it appears that the trio of Brian Shaffer, Tyler Blohm, and Taylor Bloom appear to be another above average rotation. What can you tell us about Shaffer, Blohm and Bloom besides Shaffer is a strikeout machine? If Nebraska is to have a chance, how do these pitchers get in trouble, and what is the recipe for success against them?
Greg: Brian Shaffer has been outstanding this season and has really carried the Terps pitching staff so far. Freshman Tyler Blohm has probably been he second best starter this season. After being drafted in the 17th round by the Orioles last June, the left hander has continued to improve as he gets more experience at the college level. Taylor Bloom has struggled at times, which was a bit surprising considering his strong 2016 campaign. Shaffer has shown outstanding command of his pitches this year and he makes it tough on hitters to get a good piece of the ball. The Nebraska hitters will have to capitalize on the very few mistakes he makes during his outings. In terms of Blohm and Bloom, both have struggled with their command at times. I would say that patience is probably the key against these too and it’s important that hey don’t get themselves out. Bloom in particular does not get many swings and misses, so the Cornhuskers will have their chances to do some damage on Saturday when they face him.
Earlier this season, Maryland appeared to have some trouble holding leads in tight games. Lately, it seems that the bullpen has shored up with Andrew Miller and Ryan Selmer shutting down opponents. What has changed since earlier this season, and how have Miller and Selmer changed the trajectory of this Terrapins team?
Greg: The roles in the bullpen are becoming a lot more defined as the season has progressed. A lot of the times bullpens struggle early because pitchers are still trying to see where they fit. Miller, Selmer, Jared Price and Ryan Hill have had the most success this season. I’m much more confident in the bullpen than I was after the week or so of the season. However, I still think that teams can still take advantage of Maryland’s relief pitching late in the game. The key is probably knocking the starter out early so that John Szefc has to send in more pitchers outside of the four I had previously mentioned. That’s why it’s been so crucial that Brian Shaffer has pitched as many innings as he’s had in his seven starts this season.
Finally, what are your predictions for this series?
Greg: Maryland is playing it’s best ball at this point, but the Terps haven’t played on the road against a tougher Big Ten opponent yet, so it will be interesting to see how the team reacts if they get down early in the game. Nebraska will need a good pitching performance from I’m assuming starter Jake Hohensee on Friday night because Brian Shaffer will be a great challenge to the Cornhuskers lineup. Tyler Blohm did pitch well in his first road game, but he’s been more comfortable when pitching at home, so there will be an opportunity on Sunday. To me this series could easily go either way. Both teams have been playing at a high level recently with Nebraska winning six of its last seven (along with a tie) and Maryland going 18-3 since starting the year 1-5. I’m going to say that the Terps take two in Lincoln with Shaffer leading the Terps to victory in game one, along the Maryland offense using their ability to hit the long ball to guide Maryland to another victory on Saturday or Sunday.