Needing to win and win now to maintain confidence and a relevant hope for post-season play, the Buckeyes’ losses to Iowa over the weekend magnified the reality that the future is now…while defining another important long-term objective.
Columbus – It’s a subject about which Greg Beals cringes when I mention it – if you ask the question pertaining to ‘must’ win scenarios over the next three weekends, starting with this weekend and the Buckeyes losing two of three to the Iowa Hawkeyes at home.
On a brighter note, they salvaged the series finale Sunday with a 5-1 win behind sophomore starter Griffan Smith to move their record to 24-20 overall, and 7-8 in Big Ten play.
But whether Beals agrees or not – whether he likes the questions or not – those losses to Iowa were damaging as the Buckeyes struggle in the standings for one of those eight qualifying spots for the Big Ten Tournament. Wins are suddenly their very life blood if they hope to play baseball beyond the regular season finale at Purdue on May 18.
And while it’s true that there’s three weekends of baseball yet to play, it’s also true that they may need help from others while doing no worse than winning the next three series against Minnesota, Penn State, and Purdue…or even sweep one!
“You never know,” said Beals after Sunday’s finale. “The way the league is going this year…we take the series from Michigan two weeks ago and actually went down in the standings. This weekend we lose two of three and we climb in the standings. The league is pretty packed in the middle, because everyone’s beating up on each other. That’s just an indication of how tough our conference is.
To a man, all these Buckeyes are saying is, “All you can do is go out and win the next ballgame.”
Well, winning the next game begins with Minnesota, a tough play to win even in the best of times. Ironically, the Gophers stand 8-7 (in league) after a rough weekend at Indiana. The Buckeyes are 7-8. Confidence? State of mind?
Beals and company make a big issue out of their byword phrase, ‘the process’…of taking one game at a time, and if you score enough small ‘wins’ the bigger ‘wins’ will come. And no argument. It’s just that it was easier when there were 30 games remaining, not twelve (counting three mid-week games with Miami, Wright State, and Youngstown).
And baseball being baseball, there are no guarantees, even against the likes of Penn State, whom they play in two weeks (2-15 in Big Ten play).
“They’ve got tough arms (pitchers),” says Buckeye assistant coach Matt Angle of Penn State. “Even with two wins, look at their record and see how many one-run games they’ve lost, 4-3, 5-4. They’ve been close in a lot of those games.”
But the reality of Ohio State’s situation cannot be circumvented. Time is running out, games are running low. And it makes for an interesting paradox – of philosophy versus fact. Sophomore catcher Brent Todys believes in the philosophy.
“I don’t feel like we’re running out of the time,” he said after Sunday’s win over Iowa. “Because, we have nine league games left, and if we win all nine…now we’re in pretty good shape. Anything can happen.”
This is a young team, but at this point of the season no one wants to hear the tired excuse of youth, because, in reality, they’ve got 44 games under their belt. No one’s really young anymore. It’s a point which Beals himself concedes. But again, the fact. They ARE young, and that’s manifested itself into some areas of concern…for instance, the bullpen. To illustrate, consider that in their six home Big Ten losses prior to Sunday the youthful bullpen had allowed 30 runs in 16.2 innings, and has pitched to 16.2 earned run average.
But there’s also talent in that ‘pen, and at other positions. And regardless of how many they win over the next three weeks – whether they play post-season baseball or not – it’s easy to make the case for there being MUCH to play for. These are formative games in terms of ‘process’ going forward, because with a few notable exceptions (there’s only seven seniors on this team), they’ll all be back to compete for Big Ten honors again next year!
So yeah, it’s never over ’til it’s over, as Yogi Berra was famous to say, but the statistical reality is this. Whether anyone’s saying it or not, these remaining nine games are games that have to be won.
“I’ll say this,” Beals concluded Saturday. “Tomorrow’s game (Sunday) is a ‘must’ game for us. We need to get at least a win out of this weekend to get rid of the feeling from Friday and Saturday.”
For the sake of confidence, and some good feeling, they got it. Entering Minnesota week they now sit in that coveted eighth spot in the standings, just behind…Minnesota!
The ‘process’ worked. Philosophy became fact…at least for one day. Now, anything CAN happen.