For the second straight year, Columbia baseball was eliminated from division title contention before reaching its final weekend of the season. While one could make the case that the Lions have just not measured up talent-wise these last two years, it is more likely that the fluky nature of the Ivy baseball season has been a greater factor.
Simply put, 20 games in baseball often will not determine who the best team is. Yet that is how many Ivy baseball games there are each year, and unless the league decides to cut into nonconference play, 20 games is as many games as the teams can play, logistically speaking. With only four of those games left, both Cornell and Dartmouth will clinch division titles if they win one of their four games this weekend.
Meanwhile, most Major League Baseball teams have played 16 games, just like the Ivy squads. If the MLB were starting its playoffs, the Nationals, Dodgers, Blue Jays, and White Sox would be among the unlikely candidates to make the postseason. The Orioles would only be half a game out, while the Angels and Phillies—both perpetual contenders—are currently in last place. When you check the final standings come October, chances are the better teams will rise to the top over the course of 162 games.
A lot of this is attributed to the streaks that every team encounters over the course of a long season. If the Angels ride a hot streak, their 6-10 start to the season will long be forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Ivy baseball.
In fact, it is almost necessary to get off to a good start in order to claim a spot in the Ivy League Championship season. Assuming the Big Red and Big Green hold on to win their divisions this weekend, in the last five years, eight of the last 10 division winners will have held the best record in their division after the first two weeks of Ivy League play—interdivisional play.
“Those first two weekends, the crossover games, are very important, as far as who gets the advantage there, because when you go head-to-head, it’s pretty rare that somebody gets swept,” head coach Brett Boretti said. “A lot of times when you go head-to-head, it’s going to be even as far as the splits, you might take three out of four and win a game here, but those first two weekends are big.”
Cornell took advantage of its first two weekends by going 7-1 against the Red Rolfe Division this season. In the three seasons prior to last season, the Lions had held the best record in the Lou Gehrig Division after the initial eight games, and they won the division in two of those seasons.
Indeed, divisional play can be tough, since the teams become familiar with each other after four games in one weekend. Furthermore, they seem to be evenly matched as they are constituted. Even the defending champions revealed great flaws this weekend in losing three out of four games at Robertson Field. Princeton pitching allowed over 50 base runners during the weekend series.
The luck of the schedule also plays a role, and it has not helped the Lions in each of the last two years. Last year, the Light Blue had to play on the road to face the Tigers on their run to the Ivy title, and this season it had to do the same at Cornell. Columbia lost three of four in each series, while they won three of four against each of the two teams at Satow Stadium in each of the last two seasons. The Lions are clearly a better home team, where they have won eight of their last 10 games.
If Columbia had split the series with Cornell—maybe if it had held on to its lead in the final inning of the series opener—then with a sweep of Penn this weekend, the Lions would still be able to tie the Big Red for the division title. For baseball, a game where every pitcher has a rough outing at one point, there is a lot of weight put on single games in Ivy play.
Despite all the variables, Cornell’s season certainly warrants a Gehrig Division title.
The Big Red leads the league in ERA, on-base-percentage, runs, hits, extra-base-hits, and stolen bases, and is tied for the league lead in home runs.
“I think they’ve been the best baseball team in the league,” Boretti said. “They’ve done a great job pitching and they play with a lot of energy. They got out of the gate pretty good and they’ve been playing very well, give them a lot of credit. Their starting pitchers have done a great job, they’ve got some guys who really work the count well, and [outfielder Brian] Billigen and [utility playerr Chris] Cruz have done a really great job in the lineup.”
The Big Red played an easier nonconference schedule than most of its Ivy counterparts, and the fast start seemed to build confidence for all of its young players.
As a young team, the Big Red will surely be a force for the Lions to deal with next year, but with just a 20-game season, anything will be possible once again.
Columbia finishes off its nonconference slate when Fordham visits Robertson Field at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.