After pitching exclusively last year, junior first baseman Jeff McGarry has excelled as a batter in 2014, sporting a .595 slugging percentage going into Wednesday

Credit: Michele Ozer

T here is something different about Penn baseball this year.

In 2013, the Quakers got off to a hot start to the season, winning 16 of their first 23 games, including their first three in Ivy play.

And 2014 has had a similar start, as the Red and Blue have won their first four Ivy contests, overcoming a slow start behind some hot bats — senior outfielder Rick Brebner for example — and some strong pitching, including junior Connor Cuff, the Ancient Eight’s leader in earned run average.

So what is different between the two strong starts? Brebner and Cuff were both parts of last year’s squad and two of the key mashers in last year’s lineup — Ryan Dietrich and Spencer Branigan — graduated.

Ultimately, what makes coach John Yurkow’s version of the Red and Blue different is a full team performance.

Last year’s lineup was heavily reliant on just a few hitters, especially Dietrich, Branigan and then-freshman Michael Vilardo. While Brebner and then-sophomore catcher Austin Bossart were contributors as well, the team seemed to live and die with the performance of just a few hitters.

This year, the key hits are coming from anyone and everyone. Brebner and Bossart have been key while junior Jeff McGarry, who was exclusively a pitcher last season, has excelled in the middle of the lineup, mashing four home runs in 20 games.

And it hasn’t just been McGarry excelling with the long ball. The Quakers have four batters with at least three home runs last year, something only three players did last year in nearly twice as many games played. Penn has already eclipsed last year’s home run total of 16 with 22 homers in just 21 games, and have been able to come up with big hits with runners in scoring position.

“We couldn’t buy a two-run hit early on in the season with men in scoring position and two outs, and now we’re driving guys in with two outs,” Yurkow said. “Just from at-bat to at-bat, we’re doing a better job.”

Overall, Penn’s lineup has been much more circular, being able to pick up outbursts from the top of the lineup to the bottom.

“If you can get production and it is mixed and consistent one through nine, it just makes it tough for opposing teams to pitch to you,” Yurkow said.

Take Wednesday for instance: The Quakers put together a six-run fifth inning behind hits from seven different players, blasting past Lafayette.

And while it wasn’t one of Penn’s normal four starters picking up the victory Wednesday, the Quakers have had a solid rotation one through four. They have used a group of juniors — Dan Gauteiri, Ronnie Glenn and Cuff — alongside freshman Jack Hartman to fuel their current six-game win streak heading into the second set of Ivy doubleheaders.

However, it was around this time last season that the wheels fell off, as the Red and Blue lost 11 of their last 14 games.

Yet these Quakers don’t seem doomed to repeat history.

Whether it has been the major steps forward that Cuff, Brebner and McGarry have taken or the balanced lineup, this team isn’t building up to an eventual collapse like last year.

So no, you shouldn’t be thinking that this Penn squad is the instant Ivy favorite after a 4-0 weekend against Yale and Brown. But with a strong senior class and contributions from each class, this team has the ability to compete with defending champion Columbia for a spot in the Ivy League Championship series.

STEVEN TYDINGS is a Wharton sophomore from Hopewell, N.J., and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at tydings@thedp.com.

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