The University of Memphis baseball team (9-20, 1-5 AAC) will travel to Cincinnati this weekend for a three-game set against American Athletic Conference foe Cincinnati Bearcats (12-14, 3-3 AAC).
The Tigers enter the series after losing seven of their last eight games. During that stretch, the Tigers’ offense has struggled, putting up a paltry 2.8 runs per game, including being shut out three times.
Areas of improvement
Coming into the season, Tiger head coach Daron Schoenrock thought his team could muster enough offense to aid a relatively young pitching staff. Unfortunately, that has not come to fruition, as the Tigers have hit a combined .239 for the season and .197 during their first six conference games.
The bats must awaken if the Tigers plan on turning their season around with a late-season run in the highly competitive AAC. Only three players possess a batting average above .275: senior outfielder Tyler Webb (.336), junior first baseman Kyle Ouellette (.303) and junior infielder Cale Hennemann (.277).
A look at Cincinnati
After taking two of three games against the 2017 AAC defending champion Houston Cougars, the Bearcats suffered a mid-week letdown against Wright State in a 5-1 loss.
While Memphis is last in the AAC in batting average, Cincinnati has not fared much better, entering the series second to last at .245.
On the pitching side, Cincinnati’s team ERA of 3.42 places them firmly in the middle of the AAC, but in their last five games the Bearcats have only given up 2.4 runs per game.
The Bearcats went 3-4 against the Tigers in 2017, including a season-ending 15-14 loss during the AAC Tournament at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida.
Players to watch
Memphis infielder Alec Trela
After an impressive freshman season where Trela tied for second on the team with eight home runs, the infielder was looked upon as a pivotal part of the Tiger offense going into his sophomore year.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to plan. The powerful right-handed slugger was supposed to provide protection for Webb in the middle of the lineup, but he has scuffled with a disappointing .214 batting average and .665 OPS. His 20 walks lead the team, so opposing pitchers have not given him much to hit, as they prefer to deal with the struggling hitters behind him in the lineup.
For the Tigers’ offense to come alive, Trela must find a way to attack mistake pitches and show the extra base potential he flashed as a freshman.
Cincinnati left-handed starting pitcher J.T. Perez
The Bearcats ace and will take the hill in game one. The lefty enters the game with a 2-3 record, and his 2.51 ERA is good enough for ninth in the AAC.
Against Houston, Perez was let down by his defense, going seven innings while giving up three unearned runs in a tough 4-2 loss. Earlier in the season against Tennessee, Perez pitched a season-high eight innings, giving up only one earned run while striking out five Volunteers in a 3-2 loss.
Cincinnati has scored only 3.4 runs per game for Perez in his seven starts this season.
Despite his 6-foot-5 frame, Perez is not overpowering, averaging only 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The Tigers right-handed hitters will need to be patient and capitalize on any pitches Perez leaves high in the strike zone.
Riley Cabral throws a strike against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The Oklahoma native posted a 1.72 era his senior season at Carl Albert High School.
Alec Trela follows through on his swing. The Illinois native leads the teams in runs.