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Dispatches From Blogfrica: The Crimson Quarry Talks Iowa-Indiana Baseball

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Iowa opens Big Ten play against the reigning champs.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: We ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Alex from The Crimson Quarry, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Indiana.

1) So with Joey DeNato gone, IU is missing 13 wins from 2014 at the top of its rotation, but they appear to have reloaded by moving Scott Effross to the rotation and adding Caleb Baragar, who has some pretty eye-popping numbers. I assume Christian Morris was not IU fans' biggest question mark in the rotation heading into the season, but he's got by far the highest ERA of the three. Who is the new ace in DeNato's absence, and are all three of these guys capable of flirting with a shutout in any given start, like last year's IU staff?

ALEX: There is no ace right now. Effross has been injured and has missed three consecutive weekends (but has made two weekday starts and thrown a total of five innings) with precautionary rest due to "general soreness." Caleb Baragar has been the closest thing. He’s been fantastic with an ERA of 0.57 and is averaging 11.25 K/9 IP. Christian Morris and Jake Kelzer, who were great at the outset, have really struggled as of late. Morris was not the biggest question mark, but has been bad enough that Lemonis has left his name off of the weekend’s probable starters, leaving Sunday’s starter TBA. I’d be shocked to see him on Sunday over Effross or Freshman Brian Hobbie.

Can the entire bullpen be an ace? Every Hoosier starter has the ability to throw a shutout in any start because all they have to do is get the game to the 5th inning or so. Indiana has 3 shutouts on the season. In none of those three games did the starter last longer than 4.0 IP, and the bullpen combined for 18 scoreless innings in those contests. Thomas Belcher has an 0.79 ERA, Evan Bell and Luke Harrison can eat innings in the middle and late innings, respectively, and Closer Ryan Halstead is starting to hit his stride after early struggles after missing all of last season due to injury.

I think this team feels that if they have the lead after the 5th, the game is over because the bullpen has been that good.

2) Are Hoosier fans happy with the early returns of the Chris Lemonis era, notably series wins against Stanford and Cal-State Fullerton? Has Lemonis tried or pledged to do anything other than continue Tracy Smith's work?

ALEX: It’s hard to not be happy with the early returns. But I’m not sure that his in-season work is what IU fans are concerned with right now. These are still Tracy Smith’s players, and there is a winning culture around this program that I don’t think anyone could have destroyed this season. Before the jury returns a verdict, we need to see what kind of players he brings in. He was in charge of recruiting at Louisville before he came to Bloomington, and while he was there, the Cardinals made three College World Series appearances. That’s what is most encouraging. A guy who can recruit high caliber players to northern baseball is who has to be at the helm. We think we got that kind of guy, but only time will tell.

But until then, we’ll take 16 wins out of every 21 played. And it’s hard to not be encouraged by taking two of three from Stanford and sweeping Fullerton. After beating shutting out Louisville on Tuesday, the Hoosiers are 6-1 against ranked opponents this season.

3) Who brings the pop to Indiana's lineup now that Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis are gone?

ALEX: Indiana only has 14 home runs through 21 games, which is a drastic change from the power we’ve seen in the past two seasons. Austin Cangelosi and Craig Dedelow have been the two most consistent and productive hitters, but they aren’t replacing Kyle Schwarber, so they definitely aren’t replacing Schwarber and Sam Travis.

The offense has really depended on timely hitting, capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes, and the bullpen. A lot of the home runs that they have hit have been in close games and they’ve done an unbelievable job at turning an opponent’s errors into runs. (See, the Fullerton series.)

Two guys to watch, though, are Casey Rodrigue and Logan Sowers. Rodriguez is the leadoff man, and when he gets on base, Dedelow, Brad Hartong, and Scott Donley get him home more often than not. Sowers is a freshman who has started every game. He was Mr. Baseball in Indiana last year and has the kind of raw talent that makes you think he’ll be to this team what Travis was, if not what Schwarber was. But he’s got the discipline of Carlos Delgado (without the bat control). But if guys are getting on in front of him and protecting him, he’s outstanding.

If both of those guys are on at the same time, Indiana is incredibly difficult to beat.

4) Prediction time. Who ya got?

ALEX: Indiana wins on Friday behind Baragar’s brilliance.

I think Jake Kelzer is ready to bounce back on Saturday, and even if he doesn’t, the bullpen is so good that I’ll take the Hoosiers on Saturday, too. My thought on Sunday depends on who starts.

I’m so down on Morris that if he starts, I say Iowa takes the finale. If Effross starts, the Hoosiers will need their brooms. If Hobbie starts, I fall somewhere in between those two positions, but probably fall back onto my thinking that every guy in the bullpen is like Mel Clark in Angels in the Outfield and the heavens won’t let them falter. Given that it’s not a championship, which has to be won on its own, if it’s Hobbie, I’ll say it’s a sweep.

So, Hawkeye fans should hope to see Morris on Sunday.

Thanks for being a good sport, Alex, but I still hope your team gets swept away this weekend. You can check out The Crimson Quarry crew at The Crimson Quarry. You can also follow SSF on Twitter at @crimsonquarry. The Iowa-Indiana series features one afternoon game each from March 27 to 29; the Saturday and Sunday games will be aired on BTN Plus on BTN2Go.