Had to bump this to the Front Page. I love me some baseball and Uber Commenter FormerlyAnonymous put together this awesome, awesome preview of the first two games of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament. You can get game times and ticket information of the Main MGoBlue website or by clicking here. Again, a massive hat tip to FormerlyAnonymous for his outstanding preview. Looking forward to more! - MnB Dave
As Dave pointed out (and thank you for giving the Baseball some side space), Michigan is hosting the Big10 tourney this week at the Fish. For those of you who haven't seen the renovations yet, its worth the $7 for tickets. Michigan is currently a top 20 team in the country and vying for a Regional Hosting opportunity in the NCAA tournament. This goes a long way with recruiting and national exposure in general. We are a flagship program of northern college baseball. Ticket information can be found here.
As for Wednesday's games, neither feature the Wolverines, but the outcomes of both will affect who we play. The lowest seed to win takes on Michigan at 7pm on Thursday. So since hardly any of you have background on those teams, I've gone and created some updates for you.
In my eyes, we get Indiana. They split with us during the regular season. I'll probably post up a breakdown of how I expect that game to go in the next day or two, plus some alternate scenarios and those match ups.
Preview Game 1:
This match up brings us the epitome of offense versus pitching. Ohio State, like last year, has the best overall depth at pitching in the tournament. It will be interesting to see how they set up their rotation. Jake Hale appears to be their Game 1 starter for the tournament. The top two pitchers outside of Hale down the stretch, J.B. Shuck and Dean Wolosiansky both started on Saturday, meaning Wednesday would be short rest of both. Hale has struggled down the stretch, including a game against current foe Illinois two weeks ago. Against Illinois, he went 5.2 innings giving up 7 runs, 3 earned on 9 hits, 3 walks, and 2 strike outs. Over the whole season, Hale owns a 5-3 record over 70 innings pitched, and a 4.50 ERA. Ohio State’s bullpen is also strong. They have two long relievers available in Armstrong and Edgin. Both have seen several starts over the season, primarily on weeknights. Best is one of the top relievers this year with 8 saves. He has been very consistent over the last few appearances, allowing just one run in his last 9.2 innings pitched.
The Buckeye offense has struggled at time this year. Ohio State ranked 5th in the Big Ten this year in runs scored. First basemen Justin Miller has lead the attack for most of the season. His .405 batting average leads the team, as well as his 61 RBIs. J.B. Shuck has been a force to reckon with not just on the mound this season but also on offense. Shuck is currently batting .371 and has 22 stolen bases. Buckeye coach Bob Todd has kept Shuck out of the lineup on days when he has pitched during the season, which may happen in the tournament as well.
Illinois on the other hand is all about the offense. The Illini hold the top league batting season batting average at .338 as a team. Lead off hitter and centerfielder Kyle Hudson leads the team with a .411 batting average and .511 on base percentage. Hudson is also second in the Big Ten with 39 steals in 48 attempts. Shortstop Brandon Wikoff (.381 BA) is the primary RBI producer on the team with 59 on the season. Daniel Webb (.387 BA) hitting in the fifth position in the line up and playing right field is second on the team with 45 RBIs.
Illinois explosive lineup has carried them much farther than their pitching has this season. During conference play this season, the Illini ranked 8th out of 10 Big Ten team in earned run average (6.46). Kevin Manson heads the rotation up and is expected to start in Game 1. He is 7-2 on the year in 10 starts. In 65.2 innings, Manson has accumulated a 6.17 ERA and a .319 opponent batting average. If he gets in trouble early, watch for relief pitcher Mike Sterk to enter the game. Sterk closed out many of Manson’s starts this season already. Sterk owns a 4.05 ERA, which is the best on the team with at least one full inning pitched. He also has three saves on the season. Sterk is not the primary closer, however, as that job has been delegated to Ben Reeser. Reeser has 5 saves on the season and has the next best ERA on the team after Sterk with 4.24. Both relief pitchers have an appearance against Ohio State this season. Sterk went three innings allowing two runs to close out a Manson victory. Reeser was less fortunate lasting .2 innings allowing 5 runs, 4 earned on 3 hits and 2 walks.
Ohio State may have the depth in the pitching department, but Illinois’s Manson has been better down the stretch. My prediction is Illinois’s offense will be too much for Hale to handle. Illinois jumps out to an early lead and holds off a late Buckeye comeback. Illinois 8, Ohio State 5.
Players to Watch:
Zach Hurley RF– 3/3, 2B, 1 R against Manson this season
Eric Best RP– 2 appearances for 3 innings, 3 hits, 2 BB, 1 K vs. Illinois this season
Justin Miller 1B- .467 BA, 3 R, 9 RBI vs. Illinois this season in 3 games
Kevin Manson SP - 6 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned, 1 K, 0 BB vs. OSUKyle Hudson CF – 2/3 and 2 runs vs. Hale
Craig Lutes OF- .500 BA, 3 runs, and 1 RBI against OSU this season
Preview Game 2:
In the second game of the day, we have Penn State versus Indiana. Penn State swept the four game season series in mid April, but since then Indiana has been one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are winners 12 of their last 16 conference games, including two from 1st place Michigan, three from 2nd place Purdue, and a sweep on the road of Michigan State.
Offense has not been a problem this year for Indiana. The leader on offense this year is probably Big Ten player of the year candidate Josh Phegley. Phegley is the regular season Big Ten batting champion with a .436 average. He also holds the regular season crown 71 RBIs. Phegley ranks in the top 3 in slugging percentage (.733), on base percentage (.514), runs scored (63), hits (88), doubles (17), and home runs (13). Indiana as a team finished second in the Big Ten overall with a .337 batting average.
On the other side of the spectrum is Penn State. Penn State finished second to last in the Big Ten in team batting average, posting a .291 overall. Leading the way for Penn State are the three, four, and five hitters in the line up DH Joe Blackburn (.341 batting average, 41 RBI), C Rob Yodice (.291 batting average, 49 RBI), and CF Brian Ernst (.356 batting average). Blackburn, Ernst, and LF Ryan Boonie are the only hitters in the starting lineup currently batting over three hundred.
This is good news for the Hoosier pitching staff that has come out red hot in the second half of the season. Opening the tournament for Indiana is Matt Bashore. Bashore (7-3) currently holds the third highest ERA at 3.16 and the lead in strikeouts with 86 (25 looking). His last loss came at the hands of the Nittany Lions just over one month ago. Bashore pitched 5.1 innings allowing 6 runs, 3 earned, on 7 hits, 4 walks, and 3 strikeouts in the loss. Since that game, Bashore has pitched four straight complete-game victories.
Going up against Bashore for Penn State will be Mike Wanamaker. Wanamaker is fourth in the Big Ten in ERA with a 3.69 mark and holds a 5-5 record overall. Wanamaker’s low winning percentage has been more a case of bad luck than it has poor pitching. Wanamaker has lost two games this season when giving up only one earned run. He also ran into a hot Miami (FL) team, ranked #5 at the time, early in the season. He has really only pitched poorly in two games this season, including his most recent outing at Minnesota. Wanamaker has already faced Indiana once this season, pitching a complete game (7 innings), giving up 1 run on 7 hits. Wanamaker is also one of the few pitchers to dominate Phegley this season holding him hitless with two strikeouts. Behind Wanamaker, the Nittany Lions feature two quality relievers in Paul Hawkins (3-3) and Dan O’Neil (0-1, 11 S). Both relievers have 25 appearances each; nearly double the next closest reliever on the Nittany Lion roster. O’Neil is up for all conference honors this season as he has tied the Penn State record for saves in a season. His 0.71 ERA leads all Big Ten Pitchers with at least 5 innings of work.
Penn State coming in as the higher seed may actually be the underdog in this game. Indiana has the definite edge in the offensive department, and appears to have a slight advantage in the starting pitching. Penn State does have the upper hand in the relief-pitching department.
My prediction is a low scoring affair, which benefits Penn State, but not enough. Indiana 4, Penn State 2.
Players to Watch:
Brian Ernst CF – 2/3, R vs Bashore
Dan O’Neil RP – 11 Saves, 0.71ERA, .174 OBA in 25 appearances this season
Wes Borden 3B - .296 BA, 42 R, 17 RBI, .407 OB%, 13 SB this season
Josh Phegley C - 0/3, 2K vs Wanamaker
Jerrud Sabourin 1B – 3/3, 2B, R vs Wanamaker
Andrew Means CF - .365 BA, 65 R, 29 RBI, .421 OB%, 30 SB this season