They expected to be better and should be. Their six losses were negatively affected by errors and that goes against every baseball bone in coach Greg Beals’ body. He stands for the principle that while pitching and hitting may come and go, you can always play good defense and always run the bases with savvy and intelligence.
COLUMBUS—In truth, it takes time for a baseball team—good, bad or mediocre—to take shape, to evolve into the organism it eventually becomes.
At the major league level, there is plenty of time, 162 games. Managers, general managers and players will say “it’s early” right up to the doorstep of mathematical elimination.
In the collegiate ranks, time is short. Fifty-five or 60 games is gone faster than a 12-pack at a frat party.
Ideally, a team is set and good to go with the first pitch of the season. Realistically, a couple of weeks – maybe 10 games or so – is more like it. By that time, pitchers should be in a groove. Hitters should be picking up the ball pretty well, and fielding should be second nature. That’s should be.
Right now, after 14 games, Ohio State is running behind. Their hitting is up and down, their fielding goes from solid to shoddy, and ironically, pitching, the one area that was viewed as a shortcoming going into the season, has been the strongest and most reliable part of their game.
With one more game to play in Las Vegas (as of this writing) and the first home stand of the season coming up this weekend, the Buckeyes are 7-6-1. They expected to be better and should be.
Of their six losses, three have been by one run and four were negatively affected by errors and that goes against every baseball bone in coach Greg Beals’ body. If he stands for anything, he stands for the principle that while pitching and hitting may come and go, you can always play good defense and you can always run the bases with savvy and intelligence.
In the four losses in question: 3-2 to Coastal Carolina, 5-4 to Illinois State, 5-2 to UNLV and 8-7 to the Rebels, the Buckeyes committed 12 errors. The opposition had six. So, any talk of a turf-team playing on grass and dirt can be dispelled.
“Yeah, they are playing on the same fields and under the same conditions as we are,” Beals said, recently. “Sure, we did most of our conditioning on turf, but at this point that has nothing to do with it.”
Fielding has been a problem all season long. In their 14 games, OSU has 29 errors, while opponents have 20. Beyond that, Buckeye catchers have nine passed balls. Passed balls are a matter of good hands and fast feet, and all of this—the poor fielding and the passed balls—makes the job the pitching staff has done stand out all the more.
“Our pitching has been good,” Beals said, “but we don’t really have a bunch of shutdown guys. That makes it all the more important that we support them offensively and defensively, and we haven’t been doing that.”
Yet, the pitching is standing up pretty well, better than well. The very fact that Ohio State’s team ERA is 3.89 as opposed to the opponent’s 5.51 is remarkable, remarkable.
Beyond all this, which should strike a chord of concern among Buckeye fans, there is the overall inconsistency of the club. They are here and gone, on the beam one day and off the next, and it’s a tendency that has been glaring on the current road trip.
Here’s a brief rundown of the first three games, a veritable rollercoaster.
Game 1, March 11th: Ohio State 2, UNLV 5
The Buckeyes lose their third straight, fourth in the last five games, and are—on this occasion—done in by their offense. The Buckeyes were held to two runs, while gathering more hits than UNLV (8-to-6), and leaving 12 men on base.
OSU left the bases loaded in the second, sixth and seventh innings, twice with less than two outs. A strikeout ended the second; a double play the sixth. Two pop-ups closed the seventh. That pretty much tells the story, but the picture requires a little more detail.
In the four losses, dating back to a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach, OSU scored 12 runs, while allowing 28.
Clearly, the problem is timely hitting, and with Jacob Bosiokovic still shelved with a torn hamstring, and go-to hitters Troy Montgomery and Ronnie Dawson still scuffling, OSU drifted closer to .500 baseball (6-5-1 after this loss).
Through 12 games, Montgomery was hitting .235, while Dawson was at .250. Just last week, Beals made it clear. Ohio State needs Montgomery and Dawson to step it up in order for the offense to find itself and get rolling.
To this point, the starting pitching has been sufficient while the bullpen has been solid, more, in fact, than Beals and his staff had anticipated. In this game, for instance Tanner Tully worked seven innings allowing six hits and five runs, four earned. He struck out seven and walked two. Michael Horejsei threw a spotless eighth with one strikeout.
The fact of the matter is that beyond Bosiokovic (.325, 5, 13) and senior co-captain Nick Sergakis, the offense has been too spotty to create consistent results. That’s led to a shifting line-up that may be contributing to the faulty defense.
Sergakis is rolling. He was 2-for-5 in Friday’s opener with an RBI, pushing his average to .380. Playing second, short and third so far this year, he had 19 hits, five doubles and a home run. In 50 at-bats, he had 27 total bases and an on-base percentage of .418.
Through 12 games, OSU’s most telling statistic: team batting average, .245. Opponents were hitting .281.
Game 2, March 12th: OSU 20, Las Vegas 3
It’s said no one gets well overnight. On Saturday, Ohio State made every attempt to do so.
- 20 runs on 21 hits
- 20 runs was more than OSU scored in the previous five games.
- Of the 21 hits, 10 were for extra bases (nine 2Bs, one 3B).
- Seven players had two or more hits.
- Five drove in two or more runs.
Troy Montgomery led the way. He was 4-for-6 with four runs scored, an RBI and two doubles.
Freshman Brad Cherry continued to show his mettle. He was 3-for-5 with two runs scored, four RBI and a triple, and Tre’ Gantt went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, and two RBI.
Once more, the pitching was money. Starter Adam Niemeyer gave OSU six innings, allowing two runs on four hits and the bullpen—lefties Joe Stoll and Connor Curlis, and Shea Murray combined for three innings of one run ball. They issued one walk and had five strikeouts.
So what happened? Why the sudden offensive outburst?
“I challenged the guys,” Beals said, Saturday, “and they showed up today. This offense is very talented and capable. Hopefully, this was a bust-out game for us and we are able to keep it moving forward…We need to stay with the competitive mentality we showed today.”
Game 3, March 13th: OSU 7, UNLV 8
They scored enough runs to win on Sunday. Ronnie Dawson led the way with two home runs, a double and five RBI, but the Buckeyes were, once again, undone by bad fielding.
Five errors led to four unearned runs, and in spite of a 10-hit attack and five extra base hits, they left eight men on base.
And that’s the very definition of “up-and-down” and “up-and-down” won’t get it done in the conference. The Big 10 is too good for hit-and-miss baseball.
After a series finale tonight in Las Vegas, Ohio State comes home to Bill Davis Stadium for the first time this season. They open a three-game set against Hofstra on Friday. Xavier is in for a Tuesday night game March 22nd.
The Buckeyes open the conference schedule March 25th against Northwestern. That night, the walk-up music should be “The Heat is On.”