Big Ten Baseball is back, folks, as your Iowa Hawkeyes open conference play by hosting the conference’s best of the best: the Indiana Hoosiers.
After losing five in a row, the longest losing streak for the program since 2012, the Hawks went on a tear this past week, winning four of their five games to get some momentum heading into one of the, if not THE, most important weekends of the season (side note: apologies for the lack of baseball coverage this past week. I’ll be better moving forward).
It’s probably a bit of an overreaction to call the first series of the Big Ten campaign the most important, but with the way Iowa’s played so far this season, how they perform in a series against the best team in the conference will show whether Iowa can be a contender or if they were just a pretender heading into 2018. Can you guess how many games Iowa’s won this season against teams with a winning record? Hold on, go ahead and think about it for a second.
The answer, of course, is one. Iowa has won a single game against an opponent with a winning record, and that team is Loras. Yes, Division III Loras College. Iowa’s had the opportunity to beat up on some really weak teams so far this season, and when they’ve faced moderately successful competition (read: teams that are .500 or above as of this posting), they’ve failed to live up to the preseason hype. St. Louis, UNLV, Missouri State, and Ball State are all Iowa’s opponents (not named Loras) who are .500 or better this season, and those teams are 6-0 against the Hawks. Iowa’s seventh loss, of course, came at the hands of 9-10 UAB.
So when facing good competition, Iowa’s been incredibly underwhelming. That’s why this weekend series against Indiana is so important.
There’s a doubleheader again this weekend! This time, Saturday’s game will be moved to Friday, so they’ll play two, have a day off, and finish the series on Sunday, provided the weather holds up. There’s rain in the forecast on Friday and snow in the forecast on Saturday, so things don’t look great.
Friday (Game 1): 12:05 p.m. CT
Probables: LHP Nick Allgeyer (2-1, 1.76 ERA) vs. RHP Jonathan Stiever (2-1, 3.86 ERA)
Friday (Game 2): 4:05 p.m. CT
Probables: RHP Brady Schanuel (3-2, 3.27 ERA) vs. RHP Pauly Milto (3-1, 1.95 ERA)
Sunday: 1:05 p.m. CT
Probables: RHP Cole McDonald (1-1, 3.70 ERA) vs. LHP Cam Beauchamp (2-0, 0.63 ERA)
The Hoosiers were the heavy favorite in the Big Ten coming into the season, and they’ve done nothing but confirm that they are the cream of the crop in the conference this season. Head Coach Chris Lemonis has Indiana firing on all cylinders in his fourth year at the helm of the program, as the Hoosiers are 15-4 against a tough schedule: they took three of four against then #13 San Diego, and also defeated #17 South Alabama. Those teams have since fallen off a bit, but the Hoosiers have faced some pretty solid teams thus far in 2018.
What’s really anchored the Hoosiers is one hell of a pitching staff. It all starts in the rotation, where Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto have been rock solid on Fridays and Saturdays for Indiana. Milto has been particularly dominant in 2018: in five starts, he has a 1.95 ERA and batters are hitting a measly .202 against him. Against Boston College, he threw a complete game shutout, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out eight. He also gave up 12 hits and six runs in less than five innings against San Diego, but that was an anomaly - his starts are all much, much closer to his complete game, and that’s wild to say.
Backing up that rotation is a strong bullpen - nine of the guys who won’t start this weekend for the Hoosiers, but will be available in relief, boast ERAs under 3.38, and eight of them are at a 2.45 ERA or below. Cal Krueger has been the centerpiece of the bullpen, making nine appearances this season to the tune of a very, very nice 0.69 ERA. There are a few guys in the ‘pen who have struggled this season, but for the most part, Iowa will have a hard time getting things going against a ridiculous pitching staff.
Things won’t get much easier for Iowa on the mound, either. The Hoosiers are also incredibly solid at the plate, as they hit .286 as a team with 19 bombs and a .380 on-base percentage. Let’s take a look at their top performers:
Matt Gorski hits a team best .375.
Yeah, but he has no home runs.
Fine. Three different Hoosiers have three home runs apiece and are paced by Luke Miller, who has seven.
His OBP is only .321 though.
Oh, you want OBP. Three Hoosiers have an OBP over .400, and Logan Kaletha’s is an absurd .495.
He only has five doubles.
Uh, yeah. Five Hoosiers have exactly five doubles. One, Matt Lloyd, has nine. They hit a lot of them, actually.
Wow don’t they have anyone who doesn’t do something really well?
Jeremy Houston hits under the Mendoza Line! He’s started all 19 games for Indiana and only has 13 total bases.
That doesn’t sound so bad!
His OBP is also pretty solid for a .196 hitter at .303, and he’s 4-for-4 in stolen bases.
The Hawks will need to bring their ‘A’ game this weekend if they want to have a chance at taking this series from Indiana. Iowa had their most complete weekend of pitching this past weekend, and a repeat performance would be most reassuring for a staff that’s failed to stay consistent this season. If Iowa could sweep, or even win two of three games? That’d be excellent. If they can at least keep things close in each game and take one, it wouldn’t be the most ideal situation, but I’m a realist. Indiana is easily the best team in the conference and just competing with them could go a long way towards finishing the season off strong.
A sweep, on the other hand, could be devastating. It would show that maybe, Iowa is the team it’s been all season - one that can beat up on cupcakes but wilts against good-to-great competition.
It’s conference season, and that means it’s time to find out who Iowa really is.