Week in Review
Iowa continued its solid play into the B1G slate last weekend, taking two of three games from Nebraska. The series win was Iowa's first to open conference play since 1998. The Hawkeyes won games one and three of the series, 2-1 and 8-4, respectively. The Cornhuskers took the middle game 5-1. Game one may have been the crown jewel, featuring a two-run ninth inning rally for a walk-off win. Can Iowa baseball haz nice things? Maybe.
The Hawkeyes dropped their Wednesday night tilt with Bradley, 7-0. The loss itself shouldn't be great cause for alarm. Bradley improved to 15-5 with the win, and Braves starter Elliot Ashbeck finished the game with a 24-inning scoreless streak intact, while the Hawkeyes used an eight-man committee on the mound. Of larger concern may be the Hawkeyes' average of 2.8 runs per game over their last four, which may suggest that their earlier monster offensive production may not be capable of replication in B1G play. Now, on to Michigan....
Game 1: Iowa at Michigan (2 PM CT)
Game 2: Iowa at Michigan (12 PM CT)
Game 3: Iowa at Michigan (11 AM CT)
The Tale of the Tape
|14-7 (2-1)||Record||10-14-1 (1-2)|
A cursory look at Michigan's schedule reveals that the Wolverines have faced significantly more difficult competition than Iowa to date. In addition to having non-conference dates with major programs including No. 14 UCLA, No. 17 Houston, and No. 18 North Carolina State, the Wolverines opened conference play against defending B1G champion Indiana. Nonetheless, Michigan's relative difficulty scoring runs has permeated the slightly-more-marshmallowy portions of its schedule as well (see, e.g., 4.75 runs/game in a four-game series with Princeton, not terrible, but still pedestrian; see also 3 runs/game at the College of Charleston Invitational two weeks ago).
For all Michigan's difficulty generating runs, though, it has certainly posted respectable pitching numbers, ranking fifth in the B1G in team ERA, in spite of its rough schedule. Iowa's offensive numbers remain impressive overall, ranking 11th nationally in runs per game before the Bradley contest,* as well as 17th in on-base percentage, and 24th in slugging percentage. Iowa's team ERA of 4.62, however, is good for 179th out of 296 Division I teams. I think it's fair to say we have a good, old-fashioned offense vs. defense showdown forthcoming.
*- I'm not cherry-picking here. The official NCAA stat rankings have not been updated since before Wednesday.
|1||Calvin Mathews: 2-1, 1.89 ERA||Ben Ballantine: 2-1, 2.81 ERA|
|2||Sasha Kuebel: 2-1, 6.59 ERA||Evan Hill: 1-3, 4.93 ERA|
|3||Tyler Peyton: 3-0, 4.86 ERA||Trent Szkutnik: 0-3, 3.49 ERA|
Mathews has without question been Iowa's ace thus far, and his numbers speak for themselves. To add another to those above, Mathews' 27 hits and 9 walks allowed in 38 innings leaves him with a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched; a favorite stat of mine) of 0.95. A sub-1.00 WHIP is very good; Iowa as a team is at the national median (see general national stats link above) of 1.42; LSU and Cal State-Fullerton are tied for second nationally in team WHIP at a Mathews-matching 0.95. Considering that, Michigan's Ballantine's WHIP of exactly 1.00 is also impressive. He had a pretty bum outing in the Wolverines' opener at Indiana, though, surrendering three earned runs in just an inning and two thirds. Nonetheless, the matchup of number ones in the opener is pretty stout.
The remaining projected starters on both sides all have pretty pedestrian numbers. Kuebel has an anti-Mathews-ian 1.72 WHIP, so he has generally been unable to keep men of the bases this year, but he tossed two perfect innings against Bradley, so perhaps he's pulling things together in the second spot in Iowa's rotation. Hill and Szkutnik combined for a 7.04 ERA in only a combined seven-and-a-third innings at Indiana, so perhaps they're headed the other direction. We can always hope, but these are by no means long-term trends.
Speaking of short starting pitching outings, though, Michigan has a pretty clear advantage in the bullpen. Wolverine relievers have a combined 3.30 ERA to 4.89 for Iowa's. Iowa had best not trail entering the ninth inning in any game this weekend like they did in game one versus Nebraska. Michigan's Jacob Cronenworth has five saves (and one win) in six appearances with a 0.96 ERA. Trailing the Wolverines after eight pretty much means game over, it seems.
|Dan Potempa, DH: .434 BA, 4 2B, 1 HR, 13 RBI||Jackson Glines, CF: .330 BA, 9 2B, 3 3B, 17 RBI|
|Jake Mangler, 2B: .354 BA, 5 2B, 1 HR, 21 RBI||Travis Maezes, SS: .316 BA, 7 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI|
|Taylor Zeutenhorst, RF: .265 BA, 4 HR, 21 RBI||Jacob Cronenworth, 2B: .225 BA, 3 2B, 6 SB, 10 RBI|
The stats of the teams' offensive leaders unsurprisingly reflect the teams' overall relative offensive numbers. Potempa actually leads the Big Ten in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Designated hitter, indeed. Zeutenhorst and Mangler are tied with Nebraska's Pat Kelly for the league lead in RBI. Zeus's four dingers are also tied for the league lead.
The Wolverines employ some gap power, as Glines's nine two-baggers are also a league-leading figure. Maezes's seven doubles are in a nine-way tie for third. Michigan is tied (with...Iowa!) for the league lead in stolen bases at 36 as a team, so the Wolverines play some decent small-ball. The difference seems to be that Iowa can also go long-ball, leading the Big Ten with 11 team home runs and rapping 58 extra-base hits (to Michigan's 6 and 42, respectively).
*- I had planned to incorporate a hockey-style "three stars" into my recaps, but that didn't fit into the four-game, multi-opponent setting of the Snowbird Classic write-up I did two weeks ago. So I'll put it in my previews instead.
Weather Report/Wrapping Up
(Fans of vintage CHA pep band: click the "Weather Report" link in the heading)
The quasi-infallible Intellicast.com forecasts nothing warmer than 53 degrees for the weekend in Ann Arbor, including highs in the forties on Friday and Saturday, and snow showers on Saturday. Let's hope the chilly conditions don't dampen Iowa's already somewhat cooling bats.
Another series win would be pretty epic for Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven't had a winning Big Ten campaign since 2010, and Sunday's game will already mark the quarter-way point for the 2014 B1G slate. But Michigan's pitching may be tough to put up big numbers on, and Iowa's pitching staff has not regularly been stifling opponents, so it could be an interesting offense vs. defense matchup.