Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Indiana
Friday, May 12, 6:05 p.m. ET
Saturday, May 13, 2:05 p.m. ET
Sunday, May 14, 12:00 p.m. ET
This weekend in the final series of the season at Bart Kaufman Field, the Hoosiers will welcome a bad and reeling Penn State baseball team. The Nittany Lions have lost seven of their last eight games, and 13 of their last 14 Big Ten games. Penn State’s only two conference wins came over Ohio State, another bottom-feeder, and Northwestern. In their last Big Ten series, they allowed 35 runs in three games against Minnesota.
Every number available would suggest that the Hoosiers, who are ranked nearly 200 spots higher in the RPI than Penn State (23 and 221, respectively), should steamroll their way to three wins.
Penn State’s probable starters are a combined 5-18. In total, the Nittany Lion staff allows 6.7 runs per game, while their offense puts only 3.9 runs per game on the board. On the other side, Indiana is scoring 5.7 runs per game and allowing just 4.9.
Penn State has 23 home runs this season. Indiana has 57.
Penn State has one player with at least 100 at-bats hitting .275 or better. Indiana has six. Indiana’s other three player with 100+ at-bats? Ryan Fineman, Logan Sowers, and Craig Dedelow, all of whom have demonstrated that they have a clutch gene and plenty of pop in their bats.
Penn State has committed 75 errors this season. Indiana has committed just 37, less than one per game.
I could go on, but you would quit reading.
Suffice it to say that this is a mismatch of gargantuan proportions. Still, though, the weekend will come down to Indiana’s pitching. Jonathan Stiever has gotten better and better in each start since the debacle at Northwestern immediately after he returned from injury, and it’s starting to feel like it did with Kyle Hart on the bump: Indiana can beat anyone on any Friday night.
Pauly Milto is coming off a nice start, throwing six scoreless innings last weekend against Xavier after struggling in his last two starts against Michigan and Maryland. The question for the Indiana rotation at this point is Cal Krueger, a freshman and a newcomer to the starting role. Krueger made two midweek starts earlier this season before replacing Brian Hobbie last weekend and falling just .1 IP short of picking up a win on Saturday.
It was not immediately clear, last weekend, whether Krueger was getting the start against a lesser Xavier team so that Hobbie could start the midweek contest against Kentucky (Hobbie did start that game, but struggled mightily, as he has all season), or if Krueger was replacing Hobbie for good. This weekend won’t do much to answer that question as the series with measly Penn State is followed by another tough midweek test in Louisville. But it is not outrageous to think that another good start from Krueger would be enough for Lemonis to go with him from this point forward, and use Hobbie only if the short turnaround of postseason baseball demanded a fourth starter.
For Indiana, with three wins seemingly on the horizon, Krueger’s development as a starter will be the most interesting thing to watch this weekend.
What to expect
A sweep. It’s that plain and simple. Indiana is far better than Penn State, who has not yet defeated a Big Ten team with a winning record. And a sweep could do wonders for Indiana, who still has a chance to move into the top half of the Big Ten seeds before hosting the conference tournament in two weeks, as we noted in yesterday’s outlook on the rest of the season and postseason.
Indiana also needs the sweep for reasons beyond the chance to move up in the Big Ten Standings.
Indiana currently has the No. 2 strength of schedule in the country, which is helping prop up their standing in the RPI. And the RPI is why they are currently projected as a 2-seed for the NCAA Tournament in the Lexington Regional. But that will change this weekend. Penn State is bad enough that even three wins might drop the Hoosiers in the RPI. A loss could cause a devastating drop in the RPI and perhaps to a 3-seed or into a national seed’s regional in the NCAA Tournament.