After a disappointing campaign in the desert, the hardball Hoosiers are inching ever so closer to the motherland with a doubleheader in Louisville ahead of their home opener this week. While there is no place like home, the Hoosiers looked comfortable en route to big victories in both games: an 8-3 whooping of Toledo that was followed up by a 6-2 victory over ninth-ranked Louisville. They did it all without senior Dustin DeMuth, who was sidelined today with a bum hamstring.
Game 1: Toledo - 8-3, W: Coursen-Carr (1-2), L: Palmer (1-2)
Things only got hairy in the 4th as an error extended what would have otherwise been a clean inning for C-C. Instead, three unearned runs came across to narrow Indiana's lead to 1 in what has been a disturbing trend in the early season as defensive failures have lead to piles of unearned runs as the pitching staff is forced to get extra outs. Similar to the games out west, the errors don't usually lead directly to the runs, as they happen early in the innings. In today's case, stand-in third baseman Chad Clark airmailed a routine throw to first to open the frame. C-C then gave up two singles to load the bases but collected two outs on a shallow flyout and a groundout, doing his part to end the inning, but since he needed a "fourth out" to finish the job, a runner scored on the groundout and a two-run single followed. C-C delivered a strikeout to end the inning.
Ultimately, IU would plate eight runs in the game and Toledo would fail to score again but the defensive lapses are, at the very least, eyebrow raising. It was the story of the series out in Arizona and it nearly bit them again here. It's hard enough to get 27 outs as it is and letting teams off the hook by giving them virtual 28th and 29th outs is no way to live, especially against upper-echelon teams.
For C-C, it was his best outing of the season as he cruised through every inning with the exception of the debacle in the 4th. And while the runs were unearned, it was still a reminder of a very simple concept: allowing lots of baserunners tend to lead to runs. After allowing back-to-back hits, getting something as harmless as a groundball can still cost you a run. Regardless, he was extremely efficient today, working through his five innings on only 55 pitches. Christian Morris took over and shut Toledo out for 3 innings before Kyle Hart pitched a perfect 9th to preserve the victory.
Game 2: #9 Louisville - 6-2, W: DeNato (3-0), L: Funkhouser (1-1)
Joey DeNato. Joey DeNoDoubt. Joey TorNato. Joey Baseball.
This dude is good. Even today when he didn't even look that good he kept a great lineup from doing any great damage. His final line: 7 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K on 97 pitches and it leaves him with a .47 ERA for the season. Obviously not surprising that an unearned run came across in an IU game, this time of the direct result of an error, as Schwarber dropped the ball on a fielder's choice, plating a run for the Cardinals during one of the rockier innings of DeNato's season, as two hits and a walk loaded the bases with only one out. Joey would induce a double play ball on the next at-bat, and the twin-kill ended the greatest threat for the Cardinals on the day.
The error by Schwarber would be the only blemish on an otherwise incredible day for the Hoosiers' best player. Tracy Smith put the catcher in the leadoff spot for both games and he rewarded his skipper with a very leadoff-esque performance. He reached base in all five plate appearances, going 2-2 with 2 BB and a HBP. He either scored or batted in 5 of Indiana's six runs and managed to STEAL HOME PLATE in the ninth inning.
At the time of this writing, I cannot confirm, but can reasonably assume, he will spend the evening fighting crime and curing most major diseases.
BRING IT ALL HOME, KICK.
While we were far, far away from hitting any sort of panic button on this season, you can't help but feel really good about what the Hoosiers did today on the other side of the Ohio. The offense produced runs and the pitching staff prevented them, which will lead to a lot of wins in this sport. (It's this kind of cutting-edge analysis that makes me indispensable to the staff here at TCQ.) More in depth, however, while scoring lots of runs will soften the blow of mistakes, the errors and unearned runs are still a bugaboo that the Hoosiers must cut down going forward.
There's a reason every preseason article written about the Hoosiers raised questions about their defensive prowess and the early returns have not been encouraging. Errors are basically the baseball version of a turnover and they're an epidemic across IU's major sports. The good news is, particularly in baseball, these can largely be the product of rust and not necessarily a season-long issue for the Hoosiers.
On a more encouraging note, Toledo fields a lineup that is heavily reliant on right-handed hitting and IU threw six innings of left-handed pitching at them and yielded zero earned runs. It was encouraging to see after discussing the potential issues our southpaws not nicknamed Joey DeNoDoubt would have with lineups loaded with right-handers.
The home opener against Xavier is mere days away (March 5th, 4:05 PM) and I would highly recommend ducking out of work early and getting down to the Bart to welcome home the "Team of the North" as ChronicHoosier affectionately refers to them. The forecast is currently miserable, but is there anything more comfortable than metal bleachers in freezing temperatures?