(Ed. Note: Please welcome our other new baseball writer at BHGP, Randy Johnson's Mullet. He and Hayden's_Aviators will be helping us increase our coverage of Iowa baseball this year and we're excited to have them aboard. Thanks, guys, and welcome! -- Ross)
Iowa will trade the sunny skies of Florida for the unforgiving wind and cold of the Midwest this weekend as they host Nebraska. As Hayden’s_Aviators so eloquently recapped earlier this week, Iowa wrapped up the majority of the year’s non-conference schedule by going 3-1 in the Snowbird Classic last weekend. So let’s preview this weekend’s series.
Iowa (12-5) vs. Nebraska (12-7)
Game 1: Calvin Mathews (IOWA), 2-1, 2.10 ERA vs. Christian DeLeon (NEB), 2-1, 3.34 ERA
Game 2: Sasha Kuebel (IOWA), 2-0, 7.32 ERA vs. Chance Sinclair (NEB), 3-0, 0.64 ERA
Game 3: Tyler Peyton (IOWA), 3-0, 4.70 ERA vs. Aaron Bummer (NEB), 2-2, 6.27 ERA
As one can see by the ERAs of both Sinclair and DeLeon, Iowa is no longer playing an opponent that lacks quality pitching. Sinclair boasts the Big Ten’s best ERA while opponents are only hitting .216. Likewise, DeLeon has been a rock in Nebraska rotation, accounting for four quality starts, including victories against Oregon State and UC-Irvine. Bummer is probably the most talented of the bunch and has been much better his last two starts.
The last two weekends have exposed the starting pitching of the Hawkeyes and they will certainly be challenged by the Huskers. Mathews and Payton are proven starters thus far, logging forty-one percent of the team’s innings this season. Iowa needs quality left-handed pitching from Kuebel, who has alternated between the bullpen and starting rotation so far in the young season.
Iowa needs fewer crooked numbers from the bullpen if they intend to compete. Nick Hibbing and Tyler Radtke have been the favorite bullpen arms for Coach Heller, but both struggled last weekend in Florida. Nebraska possesses a potent lineup and guys like Andrew Hibbing, Radtke, Blake Hickman, and Brandon Shulista need to step up.
Heading into conference play, the top two hitting teams in the B1G are Nebraska (.321) and Iowa (.309). Additionally, these two teams are responsible for the top four RBI producers in the conference, with senior Taylor Zeutenhorst leading the way for the Hawks and junior Pat Kelly on top for the Huskers. So how do the lineups stack up?
The aforementioned Kelly is Nebraska’s top run-producer (18 RBI) and one of their best hitters (.338), hitting in the four hole for the Huskers. In addition to Kelly, Nebraska possesses arguably the B1G’s most talented freshman, Ryan Boldt. As a high school senior, Boldt was expected to be a first round pick before being sidelined by a knee injury for much of his senior year. Despite being drafted by the Red Sox (22nd Round), he has found his way to the Husker lineup by hitting .333 with eight extra-base hits and thirteen RBI. The ‘Skers possess six other starters hitting over .300 and have proven the ability to wear down pitching and will pose a challenge to the Hawks.
The Hawkeyes proved again last weekend they can swing the sticks with Jake Mangler continuing to lead the way (.364, five doubles, 19 RBI). Zeutenhorst leads the conference in RBI and is one of the main reasons the Hawks have scored 142 runs (8.4/game) this season. Additionally, Zeutenhorst’s (or Zeus, as his lighting shows have suggested) four deep-balls have contributed to the team’s eleven homeruns, which lead the conference
Between this series and the Indiana set in April, this will be the best offensive lineup fans will see at Duane Banks Field this spring. Let’s hope the Hawks can find a way to outhit the Huskers.
Iowa’s road to qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha begins this weekend with Nebraska. The Hawkeyes need to continue to drive the ball around the park and the pitching needs prove the capability to beat top-line hitting.
What this series will come down to is bullpen pitching. Both teams have shown they can hit and chase quality starting pitching out of games. What Iowa has not demonstrated is consistent bullpen pitching; something that is required to make a run in the Big Ten. The road to Omaha begins and ends with pitching.