Nation's Most Improved Teams Look To Stay Hot Down The Stretch
Atop the Baseball America Top 25 is Florida, just as it was at the end of last season and the start of this season. But while the Gators’ standing has been consistent, many teams have made big turnarounds this season.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but, so far, Seattle (27-11) leads the nation with an increase in winning percentage of just over 350 points, going from .357 in 2017 to .711 this season.
The Redhawks just edged Bradley (25-9), which has gone from .392 to .735, at the top of the list. The Braves have won eight straight games and their turnaround has them in the heart of the Missouri Valley Conference race at 7-2, trailing first-place Missouri State (25-12) by just one game. Bradley and Missouri State are set for a showdown this weekend that will be critical to both teams’ regular-season title hopes and chances for an at-large bid, as both teams have RPIs in the 60s.
In addition to Bradley, a few other teams that rank in this season’s top-20 turnarounds are facing big weekends as they chase conference titles and NCAA Tournament bids.
No. 23 Minnesota at Ohio State: It’s been a roller coaster over the last three years for Ohio State. The Buckeyes made the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and finished 1.5 games behind Big Ten Conference champion Minnesota. But they plunged last year to 11th in the standings with a 22-34 season. Now, Ohio State (27-11, 8-4) is back in contention in the Big Ten following the fourth-biggest turnaround in the country. The Buckeyes are again fighting with the Golden Gophers (26-11, 9-2) in the title race, though both trail first-place Michigan (24-10, 11-0). Ohio State is coming off an upset last weekend of then-No. 12 Indiana and if it can win another series at Bill Davis Stadium against a ranked opponent, it would likely re-enter the Top 25 for the first time since 2016 and make a push toward first place in the Big Ten.
Nevada-Las Vegas at San Diego State: UNLV hasn’t had a winning season or made the NCAA Tournament since 2014. But the Rebels have put themselves firmly in the mix for both the Mountain West Conference title and a regionals appearance thanks to the fifth-largest turnaround in the country. After last season going 20-36, UNLV is 29-14 and in third place in the MWC at 10-8. This weekend it travels to San Diego State (27-14, 10-7), which is in second place, for a critical showdown. UNLV and San Diego State, as well as first-place Nevada (21-16, 14-6), find themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble as they duke it out for the conference title. A series win this weekend would be a big boost for the Rebels, particularly after they lost a home series to the Aztecs last month.
Houston at No. 7 East Carolina: The Pirates were expected last season to challenge for a College World Series appearance but struggled out of the gate and finished in last place in the American Athletic Conference. The Pirates (30-9, 8-4) have bounced back in a big way this year and thanks to the 14th-biggest turnaround in the country, they now look like true Omaha contenders. This weekend they will host Houston (25-16, 10-5) in a series that pits the top two teams in the American standings against each other. A series win this weekend would put ECU in the driver’s seat for the conference title and help solidify its hosting chances.
Cal State Fullerton at UC Irvine: Irvine won its lone Big West Conference title in 2009, coach Mike Gillespie’s second season with the program. Now, in his last season before retirement, the Anteaters (25-14) are aiming for another championship. They have already surpassed last season’s win total (23) and have the 16th-best turnaround in the nation. Irvine goes into this weekend’s series against Fullerton (19-20, 6-3) in first place in the conference at 8-4. Irvine has already played third-place Hawaii, so this weekend gives it a chance to open a solid lead in the standings going into the second half of conference play. The Anteaters will need to win the conference title to feel safe about their regional chances going into Selection Monday and a series win this weekend would help push them toward their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, when they advanced to the College World Series.
2020 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Stock Watch
In our latest conference stock watch, we take a deep dive into the Sun Belt Conference, a league with aspirations to rise up the mid-major pecking order.
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