Two days of rain last weekend may have put a damper on the start of the Columbia season, but by the time the clouds rolled away and the sun appeared, it was a beautiful week for baseball. On the agenda for the Light Blue was a defense of its much-deserved 2013 Ivy title, and the pair of doubleheaders against Brown and Yale last Monday and Tuesday revealed much about the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Against Brown, the powerful starting pitching came to the forefront. Senior pitcher David Speer and sophomore righty George Thanopoulos combined to allow no runs to a hapless Bears team. This left the offense with little to do but to kick in a couple of runs, which it did, and the Lions pulled off a two-game sweep to open the Ivy season.
Unfortunately, the doubleheader against Yale on Tuesday revealed problems with the Light Blue’s offensive approach. Over the course of two games against Yale starters Chris Lanham and David Hickey, Columbia was only able to scrape together a single run.
Lanham and Hickey, despite entering the game with high ERAs, threw well, effectively changing speeds and firing deceptive breaking pitches that kept Columbia off balance.
That being said, the Light Blue’s hitters did not bring a fundamentally solid approach to the game. Much as a basketball team needs to take open shots or layups rather than contested twos, or a football team needs to execute its assignments in order to gain yards, a baseball team’s offense must be built around a disciplined approach at the plate. Swing at balls you can hit, be patient, wait for your pitch, and don’t give the pitchers free strikes.
As I write this, for example, I’m also watching an early-season game between my beloved Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs. Things aren’t looking good for the Phils at the moment, as starting pitcher A.J. Burnett is struggling mightily with his command. The Cubs, being at least notionally a professional baseball team, are making him pay—laying off borderline pitches, working walks, and clobbering pitches in the strike zone. It’s 4-0 after just one inning, and I think that might be enough baseball for me today.
On Tuesday, Columbia’s hitters were doing the exact opposite of what the Cubs did. Against Lanham, the team simply could not figure out the motion of his breaking pitches and swung at basically everything. More disturbing, though, was the performance against Hickey, who struggled with his command for much of the afternoon. And yet the Lions consistently bailed out the Yale starter, swinging at bad pitches on 2-0 or 3-1 counts and not making good contact.
The Ivy League baseball race is a sprint, probably more so than in any other sport (except track and field, where sprinting is a fairly large component). The season is only 20 games, and with four games every weekend, it’s just five weeks between the first Ivy pitch and the league championship series. Though the results over the weekend—splitting a series at Dartmouth and piling 20 runs on Harvard in two games—suggest that the offense’s performance in the Yale doubleheader may just be an aberration, it’s still something to watch over the next three weekends.
In a small sample such as this, the Light Blue’s dominant pitching should be enough to win the Gehrig Division. But if the hitters don’t take a smarter, more disciplined approach, it could be a disappointing April up at Robertson Field.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.