It's been well documented on this site thus far, but for those of you that may have missed it, the Indiana baseball Hoosiers will open up their 2010 campaign with a 4-game series against the Toreros of the University of San Diego. This will undoubtedly be a tough test for the young Hoosiers as the Toreros are ranked in six different national top-25 polls and sit as high as number 14 in the Ping Baseball poll. San Diego returns a preseason All-American in junior right-hander Kyle Blair in addition to five all-conference performers from a season ago, including reigning WCC Player of the Year James Meador (SR, OF). Coming off a season in which Toreros finished just fifth in the WCC and did not make the postseason, expect Coach Rich Hill's squad, who were tabbed as the WCC favorites heading into the season, to come out firing on all cylinders. Here is a breakdown of this weekend's match-up:
Game 1 (Friday, 5pm ET) - Blake Monar (SO, LHP) v. AJ Griffin (SR RHP)
Griffin (8-3, 3.33 ERA, 85 K, 32 BB in 81 IP last season) was an All-WCC performer a season ago and brings considerable experience to the table for the season opener. The right-hander entered the 2009 campaign as San Diego's all-time leader in saves, but injuries on the USD staff forced a move to starter, and he will continue in that role this season. Monar (5-3, 4.64 ERA, 59 K, 39 BB in 77.2 IP last season), who earned All-Big Ten Freshman recognition in 2009, returns as the staff ace in 2010. After a great summer pitching for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod league, I think Monar is poised for a breakout campaign. With quality arms on the mound for both sides, Game 1 has the makings of a good old pitcher's duel.
Game 2 (Saturday, 1pm ET) - Matt Igel (SO, LHP) v. Sammy Solis (RS SO, LHP)
Coming off a medical redshirt in 2009, Solis (1-1, 4.50 ERA, 16 K, 0 BB in 12.0 IP last season) will be looking to reestablish himself in the Toreros rotation after a freshman campaign (3-1, 3.83 ERA) that resulted in All-WCC Freshman team honors in 2008. The fact that Solis, who was drafted in the 18th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school, struck out over a batter per inning on average and did not issue a single free pass a season ago is impressive, even if it was in limited action. This match-up will undoubtedly be a big challenge for Igel (2-1, 6.46 ERA, 18 K, 17 BB in 23.2 IP last season). The big left-hander came on strong late in 2009, and we can only hope he will continue to build upon that success in 2010. For the Hoosiers to have any hopes of being successful this season, it is imperative for Igel to turn in strong performances week in and week out. The Toreros sport several potent bats offensively, but hopefully Igel will pitch more like he did against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament and less like he did early on last season. Surprisingly enough, this will only be Igel's second career start. Hopefully he brings his A-game because I certainly think he will need it against USD.
Game 3 (Saturday, 5pm ET) - Kyle Blair (JR, RHP) v. TBA
The fact that Blair (3-2, 3.13 ERA, 62 K, 18 BB in 54.2 IP last season) was named a preseason third team All-American by Baseball America yet will be USD's #3 starter this weekend is an indication of just how strong San Diego's pitching really is. I look for IU to go with a pitcher-by-committee approach in which several guys get an opportunity to throw in this one. Given the youth of the IU pitching staff overall, there will likely be a lot of inexperience on the mound in Game 3, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a rather lopsided final in this one, especially when you consider who will be on the mound for the opposition.
Game 4 (Sunday, 1pm ET) - TBA v. Walker Stadler (FR, RHP)
While it remains to be determined who exactly will get the nod for the Toreros in Game 4, you can bet it will be a quality arm. As a freshman, this will be Stadler's (1.90 ERA, 80 K in 50 IP as a high school senior) first career start, and unfortunately for him that start has to come against one of the most talented teams on IU's schedule this season. I don't like IU's chances in this one, but hopefully Stadler proves me wrong and shuts down the potent Torero bats.
BtP Prediction: IU wins Game 1 and drops Games 2-4.
Facing arguably the toughest team on IU's schedule (outside of maybe Louisville) this season, I think IU will fly back to Bloomington with a 1-3 record to open the season. I am predicting that Monar will silence USD's offensive attack and turn in a solid effort and pick up the victory to start the season off on the right foot in Game 1. Beyond Monar I am concerned by the staff's relative lack of experience heading into a match-up against a team that hit .319 collectively in 2009 (against a very strong schedule) and returns eight starting position players, including four who garnered all-conference honors last season. I look for Igel to at least keep things close in Game 2, but I am afraid that the Toreros might be too much to handle in Games 3 and 4. Offensively, the Hoosiers do sport several guys that are more than capable of striking fear in the hearts of the Toreros (Dickerson, Sabourin, Lyon, etc.), but at the end of the day I think San Diego will get the better of IU and take the series 3-1. I hope they prove me wrong, though.
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