Big Ten plays starts this weekend and an opportunity for the Buckeyes to get off on the right foot with a date at Rutgers. A mid-term report, if you will, on how they might look a month from now…in today’s Press Pros.
Columbus – It gets more interesting this weekend. The Buckeyes are on the road for their first Big Ten series, playing Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Your guess is as good as mine, by the way. There had to be a thousand different names back then – something better than Pis-cat-away. But I digress…..!
The good news going in is that the Bucks have won six of their last seven, stand 14-11 for the season, and have some very strong positives as they hit the almost-halfway point of the season.
More good news for the short-term. Rutgers DOES NOT. The Scarlet Knights are 5-15 for the season, currently own a four-game losing skid…and lost to ‘Hah-vuhd’ last week before dropping a three-game series to Indiana State. You might say they’ve been offensively challenged. They’re hitting .226 as a team with four home runs for the season, and their top two RBI men each have 7.
Pitching-wise, they’re giving up almost 6 earned runs a game, their best arm might belong to their closer (Brito Serafino), and a sophomore named Harry Rutkowski seems to be the guy with the most innings pitched (36 in five starts), but owns an 0-2 record with a 2.50 ERA for his efforts.
So, this is prognosis time – how do you evaluate a team after 25 games that’s won three more than they’ve lost, yet show all the promise in the world for either catching lightning in a bottle between now and mid-May…or becoming that ultimate spoiler that on a given day can upset the plans of a league favorite like Michigan.
Their conference schedule itself has seldom been more favorable than it is this year. Of the league favorites at this point, only Michigan plays the Buckeyes (in Columbus), while Indiana and Illinois do not. And Minnesota, who sparkled last year, got hit hard by graduation and is off to a poor 8-13 record, giving up a lot of runs.
I like OSU’s propensity to put runs on the board. Brady Cherry is leading the conference in hitting (.378), Dom Canzone and Conner Pohl have heated up (each north of .300), and a couple of their talented freshman position players (Dezenzo, Ernst, and Erwin) are making plays in the field and putting the ball in play at the plate. Dillon Dingler is back from an early hand injury to catch, Brent Todys has been a rock in his absence, and role guys like Matt Carpenter, Ridge Winand, and Nate Romans have delivered when asked. Injury-wise, only one fly in the ointment – they’ve lost starting shortstop Noah West (.284) for the year with a knee.
It’s the pitching that makes you wonder most, because defensively this team’s far better through 24 games than it was a year ago – by almost half the number of errors committed.
So it boils down to how consistent now Garrett Burhenn (4-1, 3.38), Griffan Smith (3-1, 4.83), and Seth Lonsway (3-2, 4.91) can be as starters…can Thomas Waning and Andrew Magno become a reliable closing tandem…and which of the talented freshman arms (Pfennig, Brock, Root, and Milheim) can make their case for reliability? Because, on a given day each of those four have shown ‘lights out’ potential.
And then junior Jake Vance, who’s started five games, but owns the highest ‘earnie’ among the four starters (5.11) and has surrendered almost a hit per inning (33 in 36.1)? He’s the #1 candidate to step in if either Burheen, Smith, or Lonsway falters, and made a statement for himself Wednesday night with six strong innings in a blowout win over Toledo.
So you see, the glass is a little better than half full; and on some days a little less than half empty. But my prognosis for this group is simply this. As Greg Beals counters, they ARE talented, and talent usually seeks its own level. And the way you do that is to play, and now that the games mean more and they’re playing against better and more meaningful opponents you’re prone to believe that talent ‘must’ grow to the moment.
But they need to grow rapidly over this weekend, because Rutgers is struggling, and next week’s opponent (Northwestern at home) is hardly better at 6-13, and the Wildcats have lost eight of their last ten. This is a good time to make hay, to grow up a bit…before Michigan (15-7) and Maryland (12-11).
We’ll see…from Piscataway!