Indiana travels to Columbus, OH this weekend for a 3-game set with the Ohio State Buckeyes, who enter the contest with a record of 17-8 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. Last weekend, the Buckeyes took 2 of 3 at Northwestern, who easily has the conference's worst record to date. While winning a Big Ten series is always a good thing, I would think the Buckeyes may be concerned they didn't sweep a team that had just 6 wins for the year prior to last weekend. In addition to dropping one to the Wildcats, Ohio State also recently fell prey to DII opponent Rollins and NAIA opponent Webber International in back-to-back games to conclude their spring break trip. I am not sure how much one should read into these bad losses, but at the very least I would say its an indication that the Buckeyes are vulnerable and probably not quite the team they were a season ago. Nevertheless, playing on the road is never easy, and Ohio State is a talented team that will present the Hoosiers with a big challenge this weekend.
While I am by no means an expert on Ohio State baseball, here's a quick rundown from my perspective on the Buckeyes and this weekend's series:
Best Hitter - Dan Burkhart
While the Buckeyes sport several talented hitters, the best among the bunch is probably junior catcher Dan Burkhart. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year garnered second-team preseason All-American honors from both Ping! Baseball and the NCBWA, and thus far he hasn't disappointed. Despite the fact that he probably doesn't see a whole lot good to hit in many cases, Burkhart is hitting .378 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, 17 runs batted in and 16 walks against just 9 strikeouts in 2010. Burkhart will be a tough out for IU's pitchers this weekend, and the Hoosier hurlers must be extra careful when he is at the dish.
Best Pitcher - Alex Wimmers
OSU's top hurler is undoubtedly Alex Wimmers. If you've followed Big Ten baseball at all over the last few years, then you've heard his name before. The junior right-hander was a preseason first-team All-American (by both Collegiate Baseball and Ping! Baseball) and is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 46 strikeouts against 13 walks in 41 innings of work on the year coming off a 2009 campaign in which he was named Big Ten co-Pitcher of the Year and received All-American honors. Needless to say, OSU will be tough to beat when Wimmers is on the hill.
Biggest Strength - Plate Discipline
While Ohio State has a number of key strengths, the one thing that jumped out at me right away was their plate discipline. On the year, the Buckeyes have nearly a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio, something that is pretty rare for a team at this level. Ohio State has struck out less than any other Big Ten team (112 times to be exact) while recording 99 walks on the season. A team that is patient at the plate from top to bottom and doesn't beat themselves will always pose a challenge for pitchers, and the Buckeyes will be no exception this weekend. It will be especially crucial for IU's pitchers to throw strikes and get ahead early in counts as a result.
Biggest Weakness - Team Speed
For a team that is 16-8 on the year, I didn't expect many big weaknesses to be readily apparent, but one thing that I did notice was that Ohio State doesn't exactly appear to be swift of foot. Among Big Ten teams, the Buckeyes rank last in both steals (13) and steal attempts (23), and they've hit into more double plays (27) than any other team in the conference as well. I could be wrong, but Ohio State's team speed doesn't seem to be something the Hoosiers need to be weary of this weekend.
Key Match-up - IU's Hitters vs. OSU's Pitchers
Indiana ranks among the conference leaders in most every offensive statistical category, and in particular, they lead the Big Ten in slugging percentage, home runs and total bases and rank second in doubles. Meanwhile, Ohio State's pitching staff is among the best in the Big Ten, statistically speaking. They may well have the best pitcher in the conference in Wimmers, and as a team they sport an impressive 4.56 ERA to go along with the fact that they've allowed the fewest number of doubles, home runs and earned runs in the Big Ten to date. As they say, "something's got to give."
BtP Prediction: IU Takes 2 of 3 from the Buckeyes
I see no way the Hoosiers beat Wimmers, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the Hoosiers will take 2 of 3 from the Buckeyes this weekend in Columbus. IU's effort in the Michigan series was very encouraging, and when you couple that with the fact that the Buckeyes have had several bad losses of late, I like to think Indiana can step forward and win both games Wimmers doesn't pitch. I think IU's bats will get the best of the aforementioned key match-up overall and pave the way for the first Big Ten series victory of the year for the Hoosiers.