In the final weekend of the regular season, the Spartans of Michigan State come to town to face off against the Indiana baseball Hoosiers in what has the potential to be a pivotal series for the home squad. The Hoosiers currently sit a game out of first in the Big Ten standings, and they are a mere half game back in the race for that coveted #2 seed. MSU will bring a 22-26 overall record and a 12-9 conference record into this weekend's match-up, which will pit the Big Ten's fourth and fifth ranked teams. This will in no way be an easy series for the Hoosiers, but the team needs to sweep to have any realistic hope of finishing first or second in the conference.
Game 1: Thursday at 3pm EST
Projected Starters: IU - RHP Eric Arnett (11-1, 94 IP, 2.78 ERA, 93K) v. SR RHP Nolan Moody (6-4, 82.1 IP, 4.04 ERA, 49K)
Game 2: Friday at 1pm EST
Projected Starters: IU - LHP Matt Bashore (5-4, 75.2 IP, 4.28 ERA, 82K) v. SO RHP A.J. Achter (3-4, 71.2 IP, 3.39 ERA, 52K)
Game 3: Saturday at 1pm EST
Projected Starters: IU - LHP Blake Monar (4-3, 67.2 IP, 4.79 ERA, 53K) v. FR RHP Tony Bucciferro (4-2, 61.1 IP, 3.08 ERA, 50K)
**Starters subject to change after official release**
As evidenced by the MSU starters' ERAs, they sport a very tough crop of weekend starters. Moody (pictured on right), Thursday's scheduled starter, is holding opponents to a .259 batting average (including a no-hitter vs. Northwestern in early April) but has given up 10 home runs on the season (and 80 total hits), an indication that he is susceptible to the long ball. Achter, who is expected to take the mound on Friday, may be the toughest of the three to hit as he is holding opponents to a .240 batting average on the year. If we are patient at the plate, however, we can find ways to reach base as Achter is prone to walks (49) and HBPs (13). Freshman Bucciferro has given up the most hits (82 in 61.1 innings) of the MSU conference starters, but he sports an impressive 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Michigan State is one of the few teams in the league that has performed much better at the plate in conference play than they did in non-conference action. With a .287 team batting average (.297 in conference play), Michigan State typically relies on sacrifices (38 SHs and 36 SFs) and good base running (69 stolen bases) to put runs on the board. As far as power is concerned, junior outfielder Eli Boike leads the Spartans in homeruns with 7, and senior Eric Roof, who has banged out 4 homeruns (3 in conference play), 2 triples, and 13 doubles on the season, will be another hitter the Hoosier hurlers should pay close attention to this weekend. To read more about the MSU baseball team and the series with the Hoosiers, check out the MSU press release here.
Behind the Plate Prediction: Hoosiers Sweep the Spartans!
Okay, I will admit it. I am a bit of an optimist. I look for Arnett and Bashore to continue throwing the ball well and for Monar to rebound from his control issues in sub-par outings his last two times out. With the postseason on the horizon, I would not be surprised if Tracy Smith decides to put his starters on pitch counts and allow the bullpen to get some work in. The guys down in the pen have been much improved of late, and this will bode well for IU if indeed Coach Smith does decide to limit his trio of starters in preparation for the conference tournament. All things being said, I am confident the Hoosiers can take care of business this weekend and put themselves in position to secure one of the top two seeds for the Big Ten tournament.
As mentioned earlier in this post, this series has huge implications for IU's seeding heading into the conference tournament. It would be great too see big crowds on hand to support the Hoosiers as they try to generate some momentum heading into the postseason. If you can't make it out to Sembower Field this weekend, you can still catch all three games on the radio via Live Audio on IUHoosiers.com. Here's to a sweep of the Spartans! Go Hoosiers!
**Also, check out the Tracy Smith interview with Big Ten Hardball on the NCAA legislation that added a week onto the beginning of the college baseball season starting next year here. There is also a great article on Jerrud Sabourin's journey here and another on both Sabourin and Alex Dickerson finding success at Indiana here. Thanks to everyone who emails me or comments with outside articles! Go Hoosiers!