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Five Reedy River Rivalry Thoughts

We’re a couple of days removed from it now, but it’s still incredibly relevant. Here are a few thoughts from the Clemson-South Carolina baseball series this weekend…

Monte Lee’s “last nine outs” emphasis worked like a charm.

Lee has preached that games are won and lost in the final three innings since he came to Clemson from the College of Charleston last season. The Tigers have adopted that element as part of their collective DNA, and the difference showed against the Gamecocks.

In the three-game set, Clemson outscored South Carolina 10-3 after the sixth inning. In contrast, the Gamecocks beat the Tigers 9-3 in the first six innings of the three contests. The Tigers put together quality at-bat after quality at-bat late in games, and the Gamecocks’ bullpen could not hold up against an onslaught of baserunners.

On the other end, the Tigers were outstanding in the bullpen. Two of the Gamecocks’ three late-game runs were unearned after the error in right field on Friday night. South Carolina was 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position from the seventh inning onward, while Clemson was 4-for-15 and added a pair of solo homers.

Chase Pinder is owning the cleanup spot.

Pinder is the best leadoff option for Clemson at the moment, but I like him hitting behind Seth Beer right now. He provides protection for Beer and makes opposing teams consider all options before simply issuing Beer a free pass to first base.

For the series, Pinder was only 3-for-13 from the plate. However, he walked three times, stole two bases, and drove in four runs. His plate discipline and ability to hit for both contact and power allows Beer to see more hittable pitches. If he continues to get on base, it also allows Beer to score more runs rather than being wasted as a stranded baserunner.

Let me “defend” Chad Holbrook for a minute.

The aforementioned discussion on Pinder informs this discussion on the decision by Holbrook to pitch to Beer in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game. Here’s my thought process.

Beer represented the tying run, not the winning one, so I understand Holbrook’s logic there. However, his team wasn’t exactly ripping the cover off of the baseball, so the longer the game went on, the better Clemson’s odds of winning were—at least, in theory. Plus, given what we just said about Pinder’s effectiveness, it’s not as if giving Beer a free pass has a much better probability of success. This is especially true if K.J. Bryant comes in as a pinch runner (which he did later) and steals second base, putting Pinder in an RBI spot against a team that has yet to throw out a base-stealer all season.

Now, to the fun part: I would have pitched Beer carefully without intentionally walking him. My approach is to give a batter the chance to get himself out by swinging at a pitch outside the strike zone. It looked like the Gamecocks were prepared to do just that, as Josh Reagan missed three times with breaking balls.

At that point, I would have intentionally walked him, but Holbrook elected to keep trying to throw him strikes. That’s dangerous because Beer knows he’s either going to have three shots to get a good pitch to crush, or he’s walking to first base. It gives him all the power.

When the count reached 3-2, Holbrook had to try to get him out. There was no other option. I would have elevated a fastball on the inner half of the plate. A simple scouting report on Beer should show that as a weak point for him. Instead, Reagan threw him a sixth consecutive breaking ball, and the game was tied.

In summary, Holbrook isn’t an idiot to pitch to Beer. The issue I have is the way he did it, as well as his inability to cede the at-bat when Beer took Reagan’s first three pitches.

Clemson’s pitching staff proved it’s not overmatched.

The Tigers faced off against perhaps the nation’s best weekend rotation, flanked by one of the nation’s best and deepest bullpens, and absolutely held their own. In fact, one might argue that Clemson won two of the three matchups of starting pitchers on Friday and Sunday.

South Carolina’s strikeout-to-walk ratio for the weekend was 28-to-23. That’s not very elite, and frankly, a little bit surprising for a staff of that caliber. Much of that damage can be credited to Clarke Schmidt, who walked seven batters in his Friday night start. On the other hand, Clemson’s ratio was 22-to-13. That’s not great, but it’s not terrible considering the Tigers’ pitch-to-contact nature as a staff.

The Tigers can’t keep playing defense like this.

Clemson won a game on Saturday in which it committed five errors. That might not happen again in the history of the program, especially when the opponent plays an error-free game like the Gamecocks did. On Friday, the only two runs scored came on a single error.

For the season, the Tigers’ team fielding percentage sits at .968. A season ago, they fielded the ball at a .960 clip, so there has already been some improvement. As young players like Logan Davidson settle in, that number could rise. Still, the only consistent issue for Clemson on the field is throwing and catching the ball right now. Shore that up, and this might not be the only impressive series win the Tigers earn this season.

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