Iowa baseball scuffled to a 7-11 start to the season, mostly on the road and occasionally against top competition (six of Iowa's losses were against Missouri State, who is ranked in the Top 25, and Dallas Baptist, who is just outside the Top 25). Good news! 22 of Iowa's final 36 games are in the friendly confines of Duane Banks Field, where Iowa is 19-3 (including five walk-off wins, most recently over Bradley on Tuesday night) since the beginning of the 2015 season. Most of those remaining 36 games are against Big Ten competition (bar one weekend series against Kansas State and a handful of weekday games against Bradley, Northern Illinois, Milwaukee, Grand View, and the like), too, which is good news from a competitive standpoint since in the college baseball world, the Big Ten is a mid-major league.
Last year's Big Ten had a stunning amount of quality and sent a whopping five teams to the NCAA Tournament. That... probably won't be happening again in 2016. At the moment there are zero Big Ten teams ranked in any of the major rankings and just two, Michigan and Michigan State, on the fringes of the Top 25 right now. (Though Maryland did receive two votes in the most recent USA Today Coaches' Poll.) Hopefully that means Iowa will be able to pick themselves up after a disappointing start to the season and rattle off some wins in conference play. That said, they're going to need to play better than they have been because not all of their 11 losses this season have come against top-notch competition.
The Terps are 10-10 after a wild 10-9 win over Liberty in mid-week and they're riding a three-game winning streak, having also taken the last two games of their road series against Cal State Fullerton (8-4 and 1-0). The Terps are hitting .276 as a team, with four regulars hitting around .300 or better, led by Nick Dunn, who's hitting .359, with a .500 SLG% and a .452 OBP%. He's the team leader in hits (28), runs scored (19), and doubles (6). A lot of Maryland's power comes from Kevin Biondic (.333, .530 SLG%, 3 HR, 4 2B), Nick Cieri (.303, .485 SLG%, 2 HR, 4 2B, 14 RBI), and Marty Costes (.296, .519 SLG%, 3 HR, 3 2B, 15 RBI). One thing the Terps aren't is very aggressive on the basepaths -- they've attempted just 16 steals this year, succeeding in only eight of those attempts. By comparison, Iowa has stolen 18 bases in 29 attempts this year.
PITCHING MATCH-UPS AND INFO
Game One: Iowa 8, Maryland 1
Iowa: RHP C.J. Eldred (SO, 1-2, 2.43 ERA)
Maryland: RHP Mike Shawaryn (JR, 2-1, 2.97 ERA)
Eldred has been Iowa's best pitcher this year and it hasn't been particularly close; he leads the starters in ERA (2.43), innings pitched (29.2), and strikeouts (18). He's also holding opposing batters to a .221 average and just two extra base hits. Iowa is going to need him to maintain that form to maximize their odds at a win in this game. Shawaryn has the worst ERA among Maryland's regular starters (2.97), but that may be a function of bad luck to some extent -- he's held opposing batters to just 17 hits and a .170 average over his 30.1 innings pitched. Then again, he's also walked 13 batters, had four wild pitches, and hit three batters, so control is a bit of an issue for him. Hopefully he's feeling wild against Iowa this afternoon.
Game Two: Iowa 4, Maryland 1
Maryland: RHP Taylor Bloom (SO, 3-2, 2.19 ERA)
Iowa's regular Saturday starter had been Tyler Peyton, but he's battled forearm tightness all year and is not slated to start this weekend. I'd guess that Nick Gallagher, Nick Allgeyer, or Ryan Erickson might replace him in the lineup; they've seen the most action for Iowa this year as middle relievers; Gallagher also started a game for Iowa earlier this season. Bloom has the lowest ERA among Maryland's starters and also leads the staff in innings pitched (37 across five starters, so he's averaging at least 7 innings per outing) and strikeouts (28). He's also walked just three batters this year. On the bright side, he has given up 38 hits this year and opposing batters are hitting .264 against him -- he just does a good job of scattering those hits and not letting opponents capitalize on them.
Game Three: Maryland (10-12) at Iowa (9-11) -- Sunday, 2 PM CT
Iowa: RHP Calvin Mathews (SR, 0-1, 4.82 ERA)
Maryland: RHP Brian Shaffer (SO, 2-1, 2.83 ERA)
Mathews has started every weekend for Iowa this season, but he hasn't been able to last very long in any of those starts -- he hasn't pitched beyond the fourth inning once this year. He's given up 11 runs (10 earned) on 20 hits and eight walks in his 18.2 innings of work so far. Shaffer has given up 10 runs (nine earned) on 23 hits and five walks in his 28.2 innings of work and he's held opposing hitters to a .225 average this year. He pitched a complete game shutout in his last outing against Cal State Fullerton, a 1-0 Maryland win. He pitched 7 innings and give up two runs (one earned) in an 8-6 Maryland win over Bryant in his previous start.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN/FOLLOW ALONG
Even a sweep of the Terps wouldn't get Iowa at (or above) .500, but winning the series would be a solid way to build off Tuesday's dramatic win and get the Big Ten season started on the right note.
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