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IOWA VS MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE: PREVIEW AND GAME THREAD

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The Hawkeyes bring a so-far dominant pitching staff into their first true road series against a 7-2 MTSU Blue Raider squad.

@UIBaseball

Last Weekend: Iowa swept a reeling Cincinnati team in a three-game neutral-site series, outscoring the Bearcats by a total of 16-3. In the middle game, Blake Hickman carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of a 5-1 victory. In the finale, five Iowa pitchers combined for a 13-inning shutout, and JUCO outfielder Joel Booker triggered a two-out explosion in the top of the 13th, homering to give Iowa the first of its runs in a 5-0 victory.

Iowa Notables So Far: First, the entire pitching staff, which has the fifth-best team ERA in the nation, at 1.30. Heading into the season I was most excited about Calvin Mathews returning, and although he was placed in the third slot in the rotation, Mathews has indeed returned with some early gusto, posting a 0.75 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Opponents are batting just .214 against him, and slugging only .286. Tyler Peyton took over Mathews' spot at the top of Iowa's rotation, and all he has done is average a strikeout per inning pitched, post a 1.20 ERA, and hold opponents to an even lower .212 batting average and .269 slugging percentage. I suppose we'll have to settle for Hickman's 2.03 ERA in the middle spot in the rotation. Life is hard.

The bullpen has been 1990-Cincinnati-Reds-lights-out so far. The only standout (but not in the sense you would think) is Connor Grant, who has surrendered 4 ER in 8.0 IP (4.50 ERA). This stands out because all of Iowa's other relievers have combined for a 0.33 ERA thus far (1 ER in 27.2 IP). This is not in any way a knock on Grant. He has a 1.00 WHIP so far, which is eminently respectable, and that includes 6 BB in his 8.0 IP. His stat sheet reveals obvious control problems (those six walks, a hit batsman, and four wild pitches), but he has only allowed two singles in 25 opponents' at-bats, good for a .080 opponents' batting average. So if Grant finds his control, he seems to have the stuff to give Iowa yet another solid arm in the bullpen.

An interesting quasi-footnote here: The only other earned run allowed by Iowa's relief corps was surrendered by Ryan Erickson, who has given up just one single in 7.0 IP. The two Iowa relievers who have ERAs above 0.00, are therefore allowing a combined .064 batting average/slugging percentage. Now these numbers will no doubt revert to the mean once B1G play starts, or perhaps before then (the Hawkeyes face Kansas in a couple weeks, and see below regarding their opponent this weekend), but for now they are mind-boggling, and hopefully a sign of at least strong, upper-division pitching in the B1G.

Offensively, Booker and second baseman Jake Mangler are your RBI leaders with 5 apiece, although Mangler has scuffled a bit with a .233 batting average. Peyton--in addition to topping the pitching rotation, has been raking at a .381 clip with 4 RBI. Canadian freshman Austin Guzzo has started five games either behind the plate or at first base when Peyton pitches. Guzzo is batting .316 with two doubles and 3 RBI, and has combined with Jimmy Frankos to gun down half of would-be opposing base-stealers.

This Weekend: The Hawkeyes travel to Murfreesboro, TN, to take on the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. A glance at the Blue Raider's schedule suggests that this may be a decent test to see what Iowa's pitching staff really has. MTSU is 7-2, and has posted some eye-popping run totals in a few of its wins (16-14 and 19-2 over Western Illinois; 15-2 at New Orleans). Easily the most frightening player on MTSU's stat sheet is senior catcher Michael Adkins (.385 AVG, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 1.070 OPS). Other Blue Raiders that have dominated their schedule so far in different ways are sophomore outfielder Brad Jarreau (.469 AVG, 6 RBI, 1.075 OPS), senior infielder Dustin Delgado (.412 AVG, 7 RBI, 1.004 OPS), and junior outfielder Ronnie Jebavy (0.746 OPS, 7 RBI, 8/9 SB/ATT).

Game 1: Saturday 1 PM CT. Pitching probables are Peyton vs. lefty Jonathan Frebis (2-0, 4.15 ERA).

Game 2: Saturday nightcap, whenever Game 1 ends. Pitching probables are Hickman vs. righty Nate Hoffman (0-0, 5.06 ERA).

Game 3: Sunday 1 PM CT. Pitching probables are Mathews vs. the dreaded TBA, who has not allowed a run this year. Seriously, I would guess that MTSU would trot out Kooper Kessler (1-0, 1.86 ERA in two starts), but it appears by number of starts that their actual third starter is Heath Slatton (1-2, 15.75 ERA), but woof dat ERA tho.

Media for all games is the so-far-usual Gametracker from HawkeyeSports.com, and radio via Hawkeye All-Access. Couldn't agree more with commenter stargate124565 from last week's thread that it will be very nice to see these fellas on BTN soon (hopefully).