Coming into their three-game set this past weekend, Memphis and Tennessee find themselves predicted to be in similar positions within their respective leagues.
Both have relatively modest expectations attached to them. Memphis is largely predicted to be in a battle with the likes of Cincinnati and Connecticut for a spot in the second tier of the American, and after a couple years of falling short of lofty preseason expectations, Tennessee comes into the 2017 season with little fanfare.
Coming out of the series, in which Tennessee took two games out of three, both have something to hang their hats on and reasons for optimism that they might have some upward mobility within the league standings.
For Memphis, as we wrote after Saturday’s game, led by the performance of starter Drew Crosby and fireballing closer Jonathan Bowlan, a 4-1 win shows that they’re going to be able to go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the American when they play clean baseball.
Tennessee, meanwhile, has to be heartened by the performance of their offense in the first and third games of the series and the emergence of several freshman who look ready to play big roles right away.
Below are some various notes and thoughts from the Vols’ series win at FedExPark.
- All weekend, you could feel just how huge this series was for Memphis as a program, as it’s not always easy to get an SEC foe to give up what would probably have been a home weekend to come play at your place. The two hadn’t played a series in Memphis’ home park since 1981, and the fans responded in a big way, with 4,793 fans, including a FedExPark record 2,188 on Sunday, coming out over the course of the three games. Many of those, of course, were clad in Tennessee orange, which made for a fun, raucous atmosphere.
- It was a mixed bag for the Tennessee starting rotation on the weekend. The raw numbers for Hunter Martin (5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER) don’t look great, but he largely pitched pretty well. He only walked one, he struck out six, and two of those three runs allowed came in his last inning of work, when the Volunteers had already built up a pretty comfortable lead. On Saturday, Zach Warren just wasn’t himself. He battled his command all game long, and just never appeared all that sharp. Far and away the best start was Will Neely’s on Sunday afternoon. The righty threw six shutout innings and didn’t allow so much as a hit until the fifth inning. Given that Martin and Warren weren’t dominant in the first two games of the series, that performance was just what the doctor ordered.
- The Vols appear to have a special one on their hands in Zach Linginfelter. The freshman righty came on in relief of Warren on Saturday and was very good, tossing four innings, giving up three hits and two runs with no walks and three strikeouts. The two runs can even be somewhat excused. Anytime you have power stuff, hitters are going to run into one from time to time, and that’s what happened in the eighth when Trent Turner connected for a mammoth two-run homer. And power stuff is precisely what Linginfelter features. He flashed a fastball that sat in the low-90s and a sharp breaking ball to put away hitters.
- We covered Memphis freshman Alec Trela in the piece from Saturday’s game, but over the course of the weekend, you saw both the good and the bad of leaning heavily on a freshman. He came through with a big hit in the second game of the series, and then in the final game of the set, he showed promise defensively when he handled a low bouncer that took a nasty last-second hop on him. On the other side of the coin, he was just 1-for-11 overall for the series, and on the play immediately following that tough-hop bouncer, he had a grounder bounce off of his glove for an error.
- If Tennessee makes noise in the SEC this season, it’s likely because some of their freshman hitters stepped into huge roles right away. After one weekend, it’s so far, so good on that front. Freshman Andre Lipcius went 6-for-12 in the series, including becoming the first Tennessee player since 2010 to hit three doubles in one game in Sunday afternoon’s game. Justin Ammons went 3-for-11 with two walks. Dom Thornton started his first game of the season on Sunday and went 2-for-4 with two RBI. Pete Derkay hit just .182 over the three games, but he also drew two walks and Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano made a point in the postgame to mention that Derkay did an outstanding job catching Will Neely’s gem in the final game of the series and that that type of performance often gets overlooked in the midst of a 10-0 game.
- Brodie Leftridge had a tough weekend at the plate, going 1-for-12, but there’s little reason for concern. Not only does his track record of success suggest that his struggles will be short-lived, but he hit the ball hard for much of the weekend, with several hard-hit balls going right at Memphis defenders.
- Trent Turner did a good job of showing that he can be a much-needed power bat for the Tigers in support of top returning power hitter Chris Carrier. He went 2-for-4 with a double on Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, he tattooed a ball over the FedEx sign behind the left-center field fence for a two-run homer that took his team’s lead from 2-1 to 4-1. Then, on Sunday, he laced a ball into the gap for yet another double, one of only two Memphis hits in the game. If the Tigers are going to make a move in the American, they need to find some additional pop in the lineup, and after one series, Turner certainly looks the part.