TALKIN' BASEBALL: IOWA VS KANSAS STATE PREVIEW

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Behold! Even more baseball coverage for you to gorge yourselves on.

(ED. NOTE: Huge thanks to Hayden's_Aviators for writing up this excellent preview for this weekend's three-game series between Iowa and Kansas State.  As soon as we get the behind-the-scenes logistics sorted out, his posts will actually appear under his own name, too.  But since this preview was a bit time sensitive -- Game 1 of the series is actually going on right now -- I wanted to get it up ASAP.  More news on coverage of Iowa baseball here at BHGP coming soon!   In the meantime, thanks to Mr. Aviators for the write-up. -- Ross)

Carry on Our Wayward Sons: Iowa (9-1) at Kansas State (4-7)

Game 1: 3:00 PM CT, March 7. 2014

Game 2: 3:00 PM CT, March 8, 2014

Game 3: 1:00 PM CT, March 9, 2014

The Hawkeye baseball team returns to the Midwest on Friday from an extended multi-tournament trip to Florida, invading Manhattan (the Kansas one) to take on defending Big 12 champion Kansas State in a three-game weekend series. The Friday series opener marks the first home game of the season for either team. So goes life for northern collegiate baseball programs. The road life has treated the Hawkeyes much better than the Wildcats. Iowa has won seven straight games, outscoring their opponents in the Florida-based Snowbird Classic and Stetson Invitational by an average of 8.6 to 3.7. K-State, meanwhile, has won three straight after an unholy 1-7 California road trip where it got swept in a three-game roadie at current No. 16 Cal Poly, went 1-3 at the Gael (St. Mary's) Invitational, and dropped a single game at San Francisco in between. Both teams are currently receiving votes in the National College Baseball Writers Association Poll.

The Tale of the Tape

IOWA

KSU

9.0

Runs Scored/Gm

5.1

3.94

Team ERA

4.63

0.838

OPS

0.687

0.968

Fielding %

0.953

In the course of starting 9-1, Iowa has amassed some gaudy numbers. The Hawkeyes’ nine runs per game ties them for 8th nationally. The Hawkeyes have a team on-base percentage (a component of their 0.838 OPS figure seen above) of .407, good for 25th in the nation. Iowa’s six home runs ties for 41st nationally with, among others, the apparently appropriately-named Longwood University. The six dingers have helped Iowa to 34th nationally in slugging percentage (the other component of OPS). None of the Hawkeyes’ major pitching and defensive figures ranks in the top 50 nationally.

Kansas State’s numbers are much more modest, but relative schedule strength may play a factor in the disparity. As mentioned above, three of K-State’s seven losses came to now-No. 16, and 9-2 Cal Poly. The Wildcats were ranked No. 21 in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll (yes, they have one for baseball, too...Roll Tide) coming off a 45-19 season (16-8 in the Big 12). Although K-State's current 3-game win streak is comprised of two wins over Grand Canyon University, a WAC school that has three wins of its four total against Hofstra, and one over Missouri State, Iowa’s season-long opposition appears to have been of a similar caliber. Austin Peay, Iowa's only repeat opponent (and the only team to beat Iowa thus far, taking one of three from the Hawkeyes), is 4-7 on the year with wins over the likes of Eastern Michigan, Dayton, and Bradley, in addition to beating the Hawkeyes.

In sum, given the early stage of the season and the apparent schedule disparity, there may not be a whole lot to take from a comparison of the stats. What can I say? This isn’t The Sporting News.

PITCHING PROBABLES

Game 1: Calvin Mathews (IOWA), 1-0, 2.12 ERA vs. Levi MaVorhis (KSU), 1-1, 3.93 ERA
Game 2: Sasha Kuebel (IOWA), 1-0, 10.32 ERA vs. Jared Moore (KSU), 2-1, 3.63 ERA
Game 3: Tyler Peyton (IOWA), 2-0, 2.70 ERA vs. Landon Busch (KSU), 1-1, 3.18 ERA

Both teams have had quality starting pitching so far. The obvious outlier is Iowa’s Kuebel, who lasted just an inning and a third in his last start, giving up seven hits and five runs (all earned), and taking a classy no-decision in the Hawkeyes' 13-12 win over Maine. Kuebel’s ERA in his other two starts is 7.20, so possibly look for Andrew Hedrick (2-0, 2.87 ERA in 3 appearances, including 1 start) to get the nod for Iowa in place of Kuebel.

If any of the projected starters has outpitched his numbers so far, it’s probably KSU’s MaVorhis. He has a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 0.98, the lowest of any of the series’ projected starters, but his ERA is inflated a bit by allowing three home runs, the most on either team.

The most notable bullpen standout on either side is Iowa’s Nick Hibbing, who has two saves and a 2.45 ERA in 7 1/3 innings, the most by a reliever on either team. Overall, the teams’ pitching staffs have both performed pretty well.

OFFENSIVE STANDOUTS

For Iowa, the middle infield has led the early-season hit parade. Shortstop Jake Yacinich leads the Hawkeyes in hitting at .412, has a solid .522 on-base percentage, and has 7 steals, the most on either team and tied for 17th nationally. Second baseman Jake Mangler completes the Hawks' dynamic middle infield, batting .405 and leading the team with 11 RBI. Mangler also has an impressive .977 fielding percentage, committing only 1 error in 43 chances. Adding some pop for the Hawkeyes is catcher Blake Hickman, who leads the Hawkeyes in slugging at .543, belting a team-leading 3 home runs, and also notching 2 doubles among his eight hits. Hickman is batting only .229, but has a .412 on-base percentage thanks to a team-high 5 walks.

The Wildcats’ top offensive threat also comes from shortstop; Austin Fisher has started all eleven KSU games at short and leads the Wildcats with a .436 batting average, 1 long ball, 3 steals, and has only struck out four times in thirty-nine at bats. Fisher appears to have been a bit of a liability in the field, though, committing 6 errors in 56 total chances. Fisher has gone 6-13, with his home run, 2 RBI, and 6 runs scored during the Wildcats' 3-game win streak. First baseman Shane Conlon has joined Fisher on his hot streak (whoa), going 6-14, with five runs scored during the last three games.

WRAPPING UP/WEATHER

Yeah, that’s right, you get a weather report. There’s a 60% chance of afternoon showers on Friday, with precipitation clearing up after possible AM snow showers on Saturday. Highs near 60 on Friday and Sunday bookend a forecast high of 43 on Saturday. Getting in two of the three games seems likely, with Friday’s game possibly being at risk, depending on what exactly Intellicast.com means by "showers."

In sum, we should learn a lot about Iowa by Sunday. If the Hawkeyes continue to put up a lot of runs and are competitive this weekend against the defending Big 12 champs, then it might be a good spring to try to get an early farmer’s tan at Duane Banks Field.

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