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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Weekly Rundown Episode 42: Baseball blues

On this week’s episode of “The Weekly Rundown,” our staff discuss the rough season Gopher Baseball has been having, with a focus on an 0-6 loss to Division I newcomers St. Thomas earlier this month.

INTRO MUSIC PLAYS 

ANNA LANDIS: Hello and welcome back to the Weekly Rundown from the Minnesota Daily. I am your host Anna Landis, our sports editor here with episode number 42 with AJ Condon, the other half of our baseball reporting duo. Hi, AJ.

AJ CONDON: Hi Anna, how are you doing?

LANDIS: I’m good. How are you?

CONDON: Doing good. I just finished my last class of college actually this morning, so. 

LANDIS: Wow.

CONDON: It doesn’t feel real yet because I still have some assignments left but I’m kind of done with in person. So it’s feels good, bittersweet though.

LANDIS: Yeah, congrats. 

CONDON: Thank you. 

LANDIS: That’s a big accomplishment. Well, we are here today to talk about the baseball team who have been having a pretty rough year, especially in-conference. Obviously, they have played a lot of games this year, they have a pretty packed schedule, but could you just give us a brief recap of their season and sort of where they are right now?

CONDON: Yeah. So I’ll start with their just out-of-conference play which they started down in Florida. Didn’t really have the best start there. Picked up a win in their opening game of the season, and then went on a little rough patch. That mostly came from the pitching a lot of the relievers were struggling, giving up a lot of multi-inning- er, multi-run innings, which obviously is not helpful. And then when they finally moved back home, they were playing at U.S. Bank  stadium, obviously, when the weather wasn’t the best. 

And they had two pretty good games, which kind of gave hope as a little turnaround to the season they’ve faced two top 25 teams in West Virginia and Notre Dame and played them both very well. The first game against West Virginia, they actually had a lead most of the game. Sam Ireland had a great start. That was just the beginning to a great start from Ireland. And they lost that game by one and another reliever came in and just those late-inning runs added up and they lost that by one 4-5. Two days later they faced number 12, er, then number 12 Notre Dame, and lost that game 1-3 and that was kind of, Aidan Maldonado got the, not start because there was an opener in that game, but he pitched six really good innings. And again, it was just the offense couldn’t put enough runs up and they lost that game 3-1. So those two games, though they lost, kind of showed some hope into what was potentially the turning point in the season. 

However, that didn’t fully pan out and they struggled for the rest of the non conference schedule. Then they finally moved into their Big 10 conference play. Like you said they haven’t had the best start to that they are one and eight in conference play. And it’s kind of just been a struggle all around offensively and defensively, pitching so that has been kind of like the recap of the season. Their one win did come against Maryland but overall, it has not been Coach Anderson’s best season.

LANDIS: So what exactly like, is there any one issue to point to that sort of started off their struggles, like did they lose any important players or like are they struggling to replace people now? With COVID and stuff? Or has that changed college baseball at all? Or are they just kind of having some bad luck?

CONDON: Yeah, so I covered the team last year and one of the biggest issues that they ran into was their pitching. And over the offseason, they brought in five transfers, Aidan Maldonado being one of those transfers, so they tried to address that pitching staff and make things better, and they haven’t done it the best. But Maldonado is the one I do want to touch on because he has kind of taken that next step. He had a rough start to the season. But he’s really been performing well as a number three starter. 

He got off to an iffy start, but he’s really only had two bad starts this season: six earned runs and seven earned runs. Every other start, he’s not letting up more than two earned runs. And he’s been really impressive down the stretch against Western Illinois, he went five IP and zero earned runs against Maryland in our one conference win, he went six innings and allowed one and a run and then in his last start against Iowa he went 5.1 and zero earned runs so he has really improved a lot over the season. And that just boils down to him finding his place, he’s from, he’s from Minnesota, a transfer from Illinois, and his stats would be better in that win loss column but it goes back to this offense who has really been struggling a lot throughout the whole season. 

Chase Stanke, the catcher had a really great start to the season, he was leading the, at least the Big 10, if not the NCAA, for a little bit in home runs. And he had a very rough patch in the past 20 games. I think he has two home runs. He recently just hit one but not having that power in the lineup has really hurt the Gophers and then Easton Bertrand got off to a really hot start. He was one of our top hitters, and he got injured and hasn’t played in now 20 games I think, so the offense looking just down the lineup, they only have one batter who was above 300 that’s been from Jack Kelly, who has been the most consistent player on this Gopher team. 

LANDIS: Yeah.

CONDON: He’s been very impressive and he has been trying to jumpstart this offense, but for some reason they just, they aren’t scoring runs and that’s really been hurting their pitching staff that has improved down the stretch. I would say they still have their games where they’re letting up nine, 10, 11 runs but in these games when the Gopher pitching staff is able to hold their opponent to under six runs those are games that Minnesota offense needs to step up in, because those are games that are winnable and when the offense isn’t showing up, it really makes it tough on the pitching staff.

LANDIS: Yeah, for sure. Like you look throughout the season, it’s either you know they have these wins or losses that are really close like 5-4, 4-5 but then there’s other instances where they lose like by more than double of runs like they lost 6-15 against Air Force about a month ago, 7-14 against Creighton, 2-11 against Rutgers and then 3-9 against Iowa this weekend. So yeah, it does seem that they’re, they are sort of struggling offensively and and you know, with injuries and stuff. Is there anyone maybe like a freshman or someone who’s like, who could potentially get them out of that or or what is that looking like in terms of fixing that?

CONDON: Yeah, it seems like Minnesota has kind of kept the same lineup throughout the whole season. And I think it’s just because that they have these experienced guys who have shown potential in the past and even at the beginning of the season. And I think it’s just that they have had a tough conference schedule so far. They faced Rutgers and Maryland, who are two of the top three teams in the Big Ten.  

LANDIS: Yeah.

CONDON: And Rutgers were actually just on one of the hottest streaks in college baseball so they have had some tough opponents and even looking at the Hawkeyes are number four. So they have played three of the four hardest teams in the Big 10 and I think that does kind of show in the scores and in these double digit losses they’ve had. So it’s going to take time and it’s going to take maybe playing a lesser opponent to be able to kind of get back into the groove and have the offense start clicking again. Because they were able to put balls in play and get on base back in the, back when they were playing the U.S. Bank Stadium. And it’s funny because I remember talking to Sam Ireland and they were so ready to get out of the stadium. 

LANDIS: Yeah.

CONDON: It’s such a cool place to play no doubt, but over time, the luxury and the, how fun it is to play in that stadium. They want to get back to their like home ground and actually play outside. 

LANDIS: Yeah, that’s a big difference.

CONDON: Yeah. So I think that once the weather starts getting nicer, and it’s never easy to play outside in 40 degree weather. So I think something they’re really gonna benefit for is days like today that we have when it’s 54 degrees.

LANDIS: Yeah, 

CONDON: Sunny, I think once the weather starts heating up, might be a little easier for these guys to kind of loosen up and be able to put more balls in play and find their way on base.

LANDIS: Yeah, and you know, you mentioned playing a lesser opponent to get their groove back and we are going to talk about their most recent loss to St. Thomas because St. Thomas honestly is probably someone that they should be beating every single time, St. Thomas just very recently transitioned from division three to division one, baseball and athletics overall. In March, March 1, they beat them 12-0, which you know, is probably a very good offensive win and you know, they get this new rival in from just down the road and they beat them and you know, you start to build this rivalry, but then on April 12, we beat them by just 2-1 and then fast forward to Tuesday, they lost 0-6. Let’s kind of discuss that and like what happened in particular in Tuesday’s game, because that is a game that they should probably be winning, especially in between playing Iowa and Penn State to lose that game probably does not feel super great.

CONDON: Yeah, like you said, this is a team that Minnesota should be, I mean, we’re kind of like their bigger brother this is a team that Minnesota should be able to in these midweek games kind of come back from a series sweep, and they did that in that 12-0 win and that was a big win. And they come back and a 2-1 win, and still had a really good game. There was a pitcher’s duel and those are going to happen.

This past game on Tuesday, their starter Gartner, went nine innings and allowed three hits. And that just is kind of the whole story of this Gopher team it’s that offense is struggling and in those games, like I said that their pitchers are allowed five, six runs, they have to be able to put up those same amount,  

LANDIS: Yeah.

CONDON: Of runs and be able to give themselves a chance but when you’re getting three hits, and over the last five innings, you’re sending 16 people to the plate, which is one more than 1, 2, 3 every inning would be, it’s just unacceptable and it’s not going to set your team up for success in the long run. And that’s a hard thing to do after getting swept by a conference rival. Iowa won, what was it, 9-3, 2 to 1, 9-3 And you come back, have a Tuesday game before another conference weekend. And you get shut out to a team that, like you said, they should be beating. It honestly was kind of tough to watch. It was a fun game to watch, in the sense that I like seeing good pitching. 

LANDIS: Yeah.

CONDON: Usually when it’s from the Gophers, but it just, they got off to an early lead. They got two runs in the second, third and fourth. And then Minnesota was finally, their pitchers were finally able to settle in but at that point it was too late. And Gartner had just found his groove and Minnesota wasn’t able to put guys in scoring position they didn’t have a guy in scoring position past the fifth inning and without that you need a long ball to be able to score runs,

LANDIS: Yeah.

CONDON: Which Minnesota hasn’t been getting the most of recently. So that was a tough game between two conference weekends.

LANDIS: Obviously offensively a struggle but, does it seem to be like that there’s like defensive issues among the team, maybe just in terms of like, communication between outfielders or like missing outs or just not communicating well on the field outside of pitching or, like what does that look like? 

CONDON: Yeah, so something that I think that Minnesota struggled with a lot last year was making plays in the field and I feel like they had a lot more errors at this point into the season, but it seems like Minnesota doesn’t hurt themselves too much in the field. And when they do, it obviously shows and those are the games that teams are putting up double digit runs. So I don’t think it’s entirely the fielding, especially in this game against St. Thomas. But when it is the problem, that is when you see these bigger scoring games, so I think Minnesota has cut down and has done a pretty good job in the field and being, and helping their pitchers out, the most that they can. So I don’t think that’s the biggest issue. Whether, I mean, turning errors regardless is always a bad thing. Looking at stats they’ve turned 44 as a team, compared to the opponents who have only turned 35, or committed 35 I should say, so they aren’t committing too many errors, but any error is too many.

LANDIS: Right. Looking ahead to this weekend, we are recording this on a Thursday. So there is a game tomorrow but what are you expecting just from this three game series against Penn State overall? In terms of like a scouting report and what are you expecting from the Gophers or what do they need to do to be successful this weekend? 

CONDON: Yeah so, Penn State is going to be the easiest in-conference opponent that the Gophers have seen so far. They have a five and seven record coming into the series in conference play in Minnesota still looking for that second conference win they’re wanting to come in at home like I mentioned earlier, so they have that going for them. What I was talking about with that nicer weather, we are going to see a warmer weekend hopefully the rain can hold off because Minnesota has fallen into some of those postponements and then go into doubleheaders, which is never easy, but I’m really looking forward to the three starting pitchers for Minnesota being able to put their foot down and be dominant and give the Gopher offense a chance to stay in the game. 

Something that Minnesota has done all too often is giving up those early runs, which I think is going to be key to be able to get off on the right foot and giving these pitchers the lead is very important. And when they do that, the pitchers need to use that to their advantage and be aggressive and not give these Penn State hitters any walks. Sam Ireland needs to be back to what he was at the beginning of the season. He has struggled a lot recently and looking at the stats in the first four starts of his season, he went 2 and 0, it could have been 4 and 0, he put his team in a winning position each time. He gave up four earned runs in those four starts. Since then he’s given up 18 in his past five. 

So he’s the ace of this Gopher team and he’s going to be a guy that needs to set the tone on Friday in the series opener, and I think he just needs it for his confidence. I think he needs to see a good outing again and be able to get on there on the right page. Looking at Massey and Maldonado. Those two have been very dominant as of late and if all three of them are going to be able to be consistent throughout the season, it’ll be very helpful for this Minnesota team. To be able to have a one, two, three rotation and guys to be able to step up and make plays on offense then. So I think it’s gonna be really important in this next series for the starting pitching to be able to go deep into games and not rely on the bullpen early in the series because if you’re relying on them Friday and Saturday, come Sunday, you’re not gonna have the most arms and you’re gonna have to go to the lower guys in the bullpen. That’s where we see games get out of hand.

LANDIS: Hi this is Anna just checking in just to give an update on these games. Since our initial recording of this podcast Minnesota has faced Penn State, losing the weekend overall after a hot start on Friday with a 7-3 win. Saturday and Sunday the Gophers struggled in later innings, losing 1-5 on Saturday and 5-6 on Sunday. They also played South Dakota State on Tuesday April 26th, losing that game 6-12. Check out our full coverage of all of these games on mndaily.com

LANDIS: Alright, well, and to keep up with all of your reporting, like I’ve said in past episodes, following all of our sports reporters on Twitter is going to be the best way to keep up with their reporting. They do a lot of live tweeting directly through our Twitter pages. You get a lot of the deets. So AJ, what is your Twitter handle?

CONDON: Yeah, my Twitter handle is pretty simple. Just @ajcondon_. Condon is c o n d o n then underscore following that and my profile picture is hard to miss. It’s our favorite Antoine Winfield giving the peace sign to Tyreek Hill.

LANDIS: Very nice and I would especially with baseball, they will be continuing their regular season past our spring publishing date. We are done publishing for the spring semester here at the Daily on May 2, Monday, May 2, but the baseball team will continue to play through that. So definitely follow AJ to keep up with the latest on baseball. Alright well, AJ, thank you for being here. And I look forward to seeing the rest of your coverage. 

CONDON: Yeah. Thanks for having me Anna. 

LANDIS: And that has been our 42nd episode of the Weekly Rundown from the Minnesota Daily, I am your host Anna Landis. Thank you for listening and stay tuned. 

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