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Postseason Hopes Continue to Dwindle, Hoosiers Drop 2 of 3

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Having started Big Ten play 1-5, Indiana baseball needed, at minimum, to take 2 of 3 from Michigan at Bart Kaufman Field this weekend. But for the first time ever, the Hoosiers failed to do that and dropped a series at the new facility. Now, at 2-6 in conference play, the postseason picture looks drastically different than it did just two weeks ago.

Dumpster Fire
Dumpster Fire

I don't want to provide an in-depth recap of this weekend. It was terrible. So, here's this snapshot: Baragar was really bad and Game 1 was over about 5 minutes into the 2nd inning. Hobbie and Morris (go figure) almost blew a 13-4 lead, but they held on to win Game 2, 13-11. Scott Effross was OK on Sunday, but lost because you can't win if you can't score.

Suffice it to say that Indiana cannot put it all together. The Hoosiers have now trailed in nine of their last 10 games and in none of the nine have they played well in each phase. In fact, you could argue that they didn't play well in each phase even in the other one of the last 10, a 3-0 win over Louisville where the only offense was two Pasteur home runs.

When the pitching is on, the bats are dead. When they're scoring, they can't get anybody out. When they hit and pitch well, they commit more errors than the Bad News Bears (before they get good).

Even the wins have been ugly. Take the lone win this weekend, for example. After giving up an early inning lead for what seemed like the 73rd time this season, the Hoosiers put up a bunch of crooked numbers and scored 13 runs in the first six innings. They took a 13-4 lead into the 8th behind a decent outing by Jake Kelzer.

And then, Brian Hobbie and Christian Morris combined to allow seven runs in 0.2 IP. Somehow, Ryan Halstead stopped the bleeding and got the save. That's right, the Indiana closer had to pitch in a game that they led 13-4. But it was OK. He was well rested and they didn't waste him because IU hasn't had a late lead in a close game in about a month.

This is all to explain how the season has been slipping away over the last 10 games. They're on the verge of falling out of the Top-50 in RPI (47th) and they won't even sniff the Top-25 of the polls this week, or for the foreseeable future.

As of April 3, BaseballAmerica.com had IU projected as a 3-seed in the Central Florida regional, with UCF receiving a national seed. What a fall from grace that was from where we all thought they were heading in to Big Ten play. But that seems like a pipe dream compared to where they'll be this week, which will probably be on the 4-line in a regional hosted by a non-national seed.

So where does that leave them as they begin the second half of the season?

For starters, you can forget about a 3rd straight Bloomington regional. Instead, it's time to worry about qualifying for the field of 64 at all.

Looking ahead, and given the way they've played the last three weeks, it is hard to imagine a scenario, short of winning series against Illinois and Maryland, where Indiana improves their tournament position. And one more series loss against an inferior opponent may be the end of all hope. But even if they take those series against the remaining inferior opponents, Rutgers and Michigan State, their tournament prospects will probably depend upon the final series of the season, against Ohio State. Why?

From BaseballAmerica.com: "Ohio State would be in the field if the season ended today. The Buckeyes are 23rd in the RPI, 9-5 in road/neutral games and 8-6 against the top 100. However, their Big Ten slate is very backloaded, with four of their final five series coming against Nebraska (road), Illinois (home), Maryland (home) and Indiana (road)..."

So, imagine if you would, a scenario where Indiana goes 3-3 against Illinois and Maryland. (Boy, that would seem like a Godsend at this point.) Now, let's assume that they don't completely forget to play baseball and take at least two of three from Rutgers and Michigan State and maybe sweep one of them. That would make Indiana 9-11 or 10-10 in the Big Ten headed into the Ohio State series.

Now, let's imagine that Ohio State goes 3-6 in their games against Louisville, Illinois, and Maryland, take 2 of 3 from Northwestern. That would make Ohio State 11-10 or 12-9 (depending on whether they finish the sweep of Penn State today) in the Big Ten headed into the final series.

I know that's a lot of imagining, and numbers may not break that way, but it's not difficult for foresee a scenario where the winner of that series gets into the dance and the loser doesn't.

Let's be honest, the Big Ten isn't getting six teams into the field of 64. Maryland, Illinois, and Nebraska are locks. Iowa is 6-0 and in first place in the Big Ten, and have an RPI (27) high enough that it's tough to see them falling far enough to not make it. That leaves Indiana and Ohio State to fight it out.

Of course, if the season ended today, the Hoosiers wouldn't even qualify for the Big Ten Tournament (Top 8 teams). So, all of this is getting ahead of ourselves. But, again, it serves to illustrate how the season is slipping away.

What did we learn?

1. Everything they were the first 18 games is gone. Timely hits? Gone. Clutch pitching? Gone. Smart baserunning? Gone. It was clear to anyone at Bart Kaufman this weekend that nothing is the same about who this team is. Instead of being confident when the top of the lineup rolls around down one run, you wonder how many blunders they will make on the bases and how many pitches they'll chase in the dirt. When the opponent scores in the 1st or 2nd inning, you don't think that the starter will limit the damage, get the game to the bullpen, and it will be smooth sailing. Rather, you wait for a complete implosion and Evan Bell to be forced into relief in the 3rd inning. It's slowly turning into Indiana football, where you just wait to the nightmare scenario to come to life.

2. There's a lot of pissing and moaning going on. A couple weeks ago, at the beginning of this slide, Chris Lemonis could be heard by anyone at the ballpark ripping into the home plate umpire about balls and strikes. It must have been contagious because everyone else seems to be taking the same approach. Brad Hartong should have been ejected on Saturday after arguing balls and strikes while walking from the plate to the dugout, turning around multiple times to spout off at the umpire. Pitching coach Kyle Bunn was thrown out on Sunday when the crew finally had had enough. And it seems that every Hoosier strikeout ends with a glare and choice words sent the umpire's way. Fun? Gone.

3. ON, WISCONSIN

Frank the Tank Frank the Tank