While most undergraduate students in Bloomington this weekend are getting drunk, sleeping, getting drunk, watching the races, and getting drunk, Indiana's baseball players will be a few blocks away at Bart Kaufman Field doing everything in their power to begin the process of salvaging what once looked like a promising season.
It seems like an eternity ago that the Hoosiers were 15-4 and riding a 12-game winning streak. But, in reality, it's only been 33 days. But those were 33 long, hard days that saw only seven wins and 11 losses.
With 15 games left, Indiana (22-15, 5-8) has to be in desperation mode because of those 33 days. As this weekend's huge series with Michigan State begins, (insert cliche about it being do or die, win or go home, etc.). They started the home stretch the right way with a 3-run 9th inning in a comeback win over Notre Dame on Tuesday night at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The win was IU's sixth over teams projected to be in the field of 64 by D1baseball.com.
But where exactly do the Hoosiers stand? To put it simply, there are four ways I could see the season playing out from this point:
1. Indiana plays average baseball over the final 15 games and goes 10-5 or 9-6. They find their way into the Big Ten Tournament where they continue to play average baseball and win a game or two before bowing out gracefully.
This scenario seems most likely. Why? It gives Indiana fans the thing that torments us most: hope. Likelihood: 50%
2. Indiana gets red hot, wins 12 or 13 of their last 15 and is competitive in the Big Ten Tournament. They don't win the Big Ten Tournament, because that would be too easy. And then we all spend the day or two leading up to the tournament selection trying to find a way to justify them getting in the field, only to be disappointed when they aren't selected because the committee isn't going to let six Big Ten teams into the field.
This scenario isn't very likely purely because it requires them getting red hot. The disappointment that results from it, however, increases the chance that it happens. The sports gods like to put a knife in your heart. Likelihood: 10%
3. Indiana continues to stink. They drop two this weekend, get swept at Maryland and at home by Long Beach State, and then they win the series against Ohio State just to pour salt in the wound and remind us of what they could have been. Even if they sneak into the conference tournament (long shot, considering this would make their Big Ten record 8-14), they stink there too. Then, the dreadful reality of this season sets in: Indiana's athletics programs are average or bad. All of them.
This scenario has a decent chance of happening. There's no reason to think that they won't stink the rest of the way like they have since they left Happy Valley at the end of March. Likelihood: 25%
4. Indiana plays average baseball and sneaks into the Big Ten Tournament. Then, because they have more experience, deeper pitching, and some leftover magic from the last two seasons, they win the Big Ten Tournament and get into the big dance where they return to their current state of horridness and get eliminated by some cupcake directional school that gets in as an AQ.
Playing average baseball is easy to see. So is getting embarrassed by a cupcake. Winning the Big Ten Tournament? Maybe it would take a miracle. But this is still more likely than them getting hot. Likelihood: 15%
What to expect this weekend:
1. Focus and Effort. It's been awhile since we've seen anything that looked like give-a-damn from this team. But, with only a few weeks left and being on cut line for the conference tournament, you have to think the Hoosiers will come out fired up tonight.
2. A Sunday doubleheader. It's not scheduled that way, but check the weather forecast. It's pretty unlikely that any baseball will be played on Saturday afternoon.
3. Kyle Hart's return. Sure, he's pitched a few times this season. But for the first time since Tommy John surgery, he makes a meaningful weekend start. He'll replace Christian Morris in the rotation and will get the bump on Friday night. Jake Kelzer and Caleb Baragar will start games two and three, respectively.
4. A long line of undergrads on the town square on Sunday morning. They'll be wrapped around the corner to pay their fines and receive their community service assignments after they get their underage drinking citations and public intoxication arrests. Take a lawn chair, a blanket, and a cup of coffee to see the spectacle that is a daddy's little princess wearing clothes she put on Friday night, guzzling Starbucks, and bitching and moaning about how the excise police are bullshit to anyone who will listen.