Nate Devine is in unfamiliar territory.
Midway through the Merced College baseball season, the Blue Devils (9-9, 5-4 Central Valley Conference) are a .500 team and sitting in third place in the conference standings.
The first-year head coach doesn't need to do much analyzing to pinpoint where things have gone wrong.
His veteran pitching staff has lived up to its billing, surrendering a respectable 3.4 runs per game.
Any other year, MC would expect to win just about every time out with those kind of numbers. But the young Blue Devil offense has struggled, only producing 4 runs per game.
That leaves little margin for error as shown by the team's six losses of three runs or less.
"It's been a struggle with injuries, but in truth it's been a struggle with everything," Devine said. "We've got upwards of eight freshmen in the lineup any given day and there's some growing pains that comes with that.
"I think the last two weeks we've been much better. We've had better at-bats where we've worked the count and squared some balls up.
"We believe if we go up and have productive at-bats, the rest of the stuff will work itself out."
Now would be a good time for that.
For the first time since Devine's been on campus, West Hills comes to Merced with the Blue Devils looking up at the Falcons in the standings.
West Hills (10-8, 7-2 CVC) is currently in second place, trailing only Fresno City (15-6, 10-2 CVC). With MC coming off of a big win over SoCal No. 2 Bakersfield last week, the team feels like it's the perfect opportunity to string together some wins."
"This is definitely a big series," shortstop Ricky McColloch said. "It used to be a great week was getting three wins, but the way everyone is beating up on everyone else in the conference, if you can take two out of three it's huge.
"They're a good team, so we're going to need to put up some runs. The offense has shown some signs of life, we just have to stick with our approaches until it pays off."
Devine has done his best to jump-start things, tinkering with the lineup time and again. Unfortunately, it's yielded little results.
The Blue Devils are hitting just .227 as a team, with second baseman Ryan Emerald the only everyday player batting over .300.
"I think part of it is that there's a lot of freshmen in the lineup and we're still adjusting to the college game," third baseman Ryan Cumberland said. "But I think the offense is always battling to start the year. The more at-bats we see, the better we've done.
"Before, if we got production, it was pretty much one through three in the order. Now we're starting to see it one through nine."
MC's three-game series with West Hills begins today at Blue Devil Field. The first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.