They’d like to be better than 6-5, but things could be worse. The Buckeyes come home this weekend to play Iowa and Maryland, needing reps and some home cooking to move them up in the Big Ten standings.
Columbus, OH – Take it from a reliable source, Ohio State coach Greg Beals is not wringing his hands over the Buckeyes pedestrian 6-5 record through the team’s first eleven games.
Yes, they’d like to be 9-2, and winners of six of their last seven, like league-leading Indiana.
And they’d like to be hitting .276 as a team, and pitching to a 2.49 earned run average like the Hoosiers, too.
But they’re not. Not yet, anyway.
Because even in a season shortened by a 25% schedule reduction baseball is still about the journey. There are 33 games yet to be played, beginning with a four-game series with visiting Iowa and Maryland this weekend at Bill Davis Stadium, the Buckeyes’ first home series this season.
That reliable source, by the way, is Greg Beals, himself, who admitted on Tuesday that losing two out of three to 7-4 Rutgers over the weekend wasnt what they expected, but not to be wholly unexpected, either.
“They pitched pretty well,” said Beals. “They had a couple of guys who did just enough to beat us.”
But the Buckeyes pitched, too. On successive days starters Garrett Burhenn, Seth Lonsway, and Jack Neely more than gave them a chance to win. The issue? You can’t win if you don’t hit.
And the Buckeyes haven’t hit…yet! Through eleven games they own a cumulative batting average of .228. And on a more onerous note, only freshman outfielder Kade Kern (Archbold, Oh) is hitting above .300. The former Blue Streak and Ohio amateur player of the year is hitting .390 in 11 games and 41 at bats, with 9 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .610. The so-called ‘meat of the order’ – Dezenzo, Pohl, Todys, Erwin, and Nick Karaffa – none of them is hitting above Dezenzo’s .233 mark. And the slugging percentage (extra base hits) as a team is just .361, meager compared to the college baseball standard.
“I’m not concerned about whether we’re going to hit,” says Beals. “The sample size has been pretty small.”
Meaning, baseball is not a game where you just roll out of bed and start spraying line drives to the gaps, regardless of what Indiana’s doing. There’s a reason why major league teams play 30 spring exhibition games, and the Reds’ record through their first ’20’ games is just 6-14.
“We need to play, and we’ll be having some 6-inning inra-squad games this week,” said Beals. “And I expect those games to be very competitive.”
Meaning, people are playing for more significant playing time come the weekend, when Iowa and Maryland hit town.
To wit…there’s opportunity for Ohio State to climb in the standings against the Hawkeyes, 5-6, and Maryland, 5-6, because each, like the Buckeyes, is hitting less than they’d expected. The Hawkeyes come to Bill Davis hitting just .224 as a team, while hard-hitting Maryland has hit at a .265 clip, but has been unable to pitch. The Terps team ERA is a robust 5.44. Beals is hoping that his pitching comes back with a reprise of last weekend’s starting numbers… plus, with the efficiency shown in Monday’s series finale win over Rutgers from relievers Pat Murphy, TJ Brock, and Bayden Root.
“Our starters were fine,” said Beals of the Rutgers series. “But right now we have more arms than we have innings for them to pitch. Will Pfennig pitched well in his last start two weeks ago, and this past weekend he didn’t pitch at all. That has nothing to do with Will. We just think he can do more than start.”
Having proved himself over two seasons, Beals likes to have something like the multi-functional Pfennig in reserve if he needs him.
“Wyatt Loncar pitched well in South Carolina and hasn’t been on the mound since,” added Beals. “The absence of mid-week games has really hurts us because we lose those developmental opportunities for pitchers, and at bats for hitters trying to get started.”
The good news?
Sophomore outfielder Mitch Okuley is hitting just .250, but has made some consistent hard contact. The Olentangy Liberty product owns three of the Buckeyes ten home runs so far.
Second baseman Colton Bauer has made enough contact to hit .250, with a home run and five RBIs.
And utility man Marcus Ernst has started in six of the eleven games and is hitting at a .250 clip.
Meaning…that along with the ‘meat’ of the order they have bats that with normal baseball protocol are on the verge of breaking loose. For instance, first baseman Conner Pohl is hitting just .214, but three of his nine hits so far have gone out of the ballpark.
So while Beals is not wringing his hands – yet – there is a tone of of concern in his voice. This is a big weekend – home for the first time against teams struggling in the standings, and struggling to get opposing hitters out.
They play Iowa Friday at 5:05, then again on Saturday at 1:05 as part of a doubleheader. Maryland and Iowa play in the second game.
Sunday the Buckeyes play Maryland at 4:05 pm. And on Monday they conclude the weekend series with a single game with Maryland starting at 3:05 pm.
Indiana comes to town – to Bill Davis – next weekend!