Resist the urge to freak out about Clemson baseball dropping a weekend series in Tallahassee. After all, isn’t that simply a return to normal elite status?
The simple fact is that the Tigers have been beyond elite for quite some time. What they have done in a major conference with a top-30 strength of schedule is darn impressive. Calling it “elite” doesn’t scratch the surface, because plenty of elite teams haven’t done what Clemson has done.
They have swept four series, three against ACC foes. They reached the 30-win mark before Tax Day and can play .500 baseball from here on out and still get to the heralded 40-win plateau. They are unbeaten in midweek contests.
Clemson currently has an eight-game home winning streak. Monte Lee’s squad won its first seven one-run contests of the season, with its first loss coming at Florida State on Monday. Its run differential for the season is 2.8 runs per game.
All of this suggests a level of performance that goes beyond reasonable expectations for top-level programs. Fans accustomed to an up-and-down roller coaster ride every season have been treated to a more stable perch near the top of the college baseball theme park.
It only takes a short time for a perspective to radically change. Back in February, a 30-5 start followed by a pair of road losses to Florida State would be cause for celebration. In the moment, however, it seems disappointing because the bar has been set so high. Anything normal seems out of place.
Clemson could easily have won this series. It didn’t play anywhere close to its best baseball, which Lee pointed out following Monday’s loss. In that game, the Tigers committed a pair of errors, had two passed balls, walked seven batters, left nine runners on base, hit a batter, committed a balk, and still found itself in a one-run game with a chance to win it in the ninth inning.
Florida State is a talented team with capable players all over the place now that a rash of injuries has subsided. It is good enough to make a run in the postseason. The Noles made winning plays throughout the weekend series, flanked with moments of struggle.
The Tigers went on the road, played a team with those characteristics, executed with the flaws described above, and still had a chance to win the series. That’s the margin for error with which this team is operating.
Little things got in the way of victory on Monday night. Chris Williams couldn’t find home plate on a simple force play. Reed Rohlman was thrown out as the potential go-ahead run late in the ballgame. In a one-run contest, simply executing those two plays would have resulted in a Clemson win.
It’s true that the toughest stretch of schedule remains for the Tigers. Series loom with Wake Forest, North Carolina, Louisville, and NC State—and all of them are losable. A pessimist within the fan base might trend the Tigers toward that 40-win mark, a theoretical ceiling that represents a realistic floor because of the consistency with which they have achieved so far in 2017.
Clemson won’t play as poorly as it did on Monday night many more times this season. Appearances suggest the opposition won’t have any mercy, either. All of this is good news for Tiger fans with fewer than 20 games remaining in the regular season.