Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Indiana
Friday, April 13, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, April 13, 6:05 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday, April 14/15, TBD p.m.
Not since 2013 has Northwestern found its way to victory against Indiana. That year, the Wildcats surprisingly waxed the best team Indiana has ever had, 12-1. But since then, the Hoosiers have won seven straight in the series.
In an effort to avoid another sweep this weekend, the Wildcats will rely on three youngsters taking the bump, sophomore Hank Christie, who will get the ball on Saturday, and freshmen Quinn Lavelle and Jack Pagliarini, who will bookend the series. Between them, the three have made 20 starts, going 6-8 with a 3.63 ERA. While not stellar numbers, those starts should have been good enough to propell Northwestern to a better start than 9-17. However, the rest of the club’s pitching has been nothing short of horrid. Pitchers not named Lavelle, Christie, or Pagliarini have an ERA of 6.54,
Northwestern’s pitching woes can be summed up, though, by another number: 1.54. That’s the WHIP for the 2018 version of the Big Ten’s doormat, with the club having actually given up more hits than it has played innings, 233 hits to 228.2 IP.
On the other side, Indiana will throw experience, with Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto starting the weekend off, per usual. Stiever and Milto are a combined 8-3 with a 2.56 ERA. That’s allowed the Hoosiers to go 11-5 in the 16 games in which the duo has gone back-to-back.
The Indiana battery will provide a tough test for a Northwestern offense that may be even worse than its pitching. Three regular starters are hitting under the Mendoza line and in starting the Big Ten season at 1-8, the Wildcats are scoring fewer than three runs per game, even having been caught up in three extra innings affairs through the nine games.
Despite the rough go of it, Northwestern is not lacking confidence. Senior catcher Jack Claeys, who’s hitting .266 with five home runs and 17 RBI, told The Daily Northwestern that “this year’s team is one of the most talented he’s played on in his four years,” and sophomore Leo Kaplan thinks what Northwestern has done will somehow lead to success, adding to Claeys’ statements, saying, “We’re just going to continue to do what we’re doing, not change anything.” He added, “Obviously, I don’t think our record shows how well we’ve played this year.”
What to Expect
A sweep. And it’s one that the Hoosiers desperately need insofar as it relates to the Big Ten title hunt. Six teams are ahead of Indiana in the Big Ten standings right now, despite the Hoosiers having the best overall record in the league. One of those clubs is Purdue, who Indiana owns a tiebreaker over thanks to last weekend’s dramatic, extra innings walk-off win. Another is Rutger, who probably won’t hang around the top, given their favorable schedule the first two weekends and impending tough stretches.
But one club in great shape ahead of Indiana is Michigan. The Wolverines are 6-0 in league play and won’t play Indiana or Minnesota. That means the Hoosiers will have to make up 2.5 games just to tie Michigan in the standings.
That half game comes from the snow on opening weekend that forced Indiana and Iowa to bang their finale and play just two games. Another such situation could cause real problems for Indiana in trying to catch a Wolverine team with an easy path ahead of them. And with thunderstorms in the forecast on Saturday and more rain on Sunday, there is a real possibility that Indiana and Northwestern don’t play all three ballgames this weekend, which, in a series where Indiana should notch three wins, is just another half game that would have to be made up elsewhere.
Indiana has done its part to get the whole series in, announcing a doubleheader on Friday. As of the time of writing this, it had not been announced which weekend game is banged.
But regardless of whether Mother Nature cooperates this weekend, expect Indiana to hang a zero in the loss column and stay right in the thick of the national seed discussion.