The beginning of this Indiana baseball season seemed sullied with squandered opportunities. A tough loss to lowly Memphis on the opening weekend, a sweep at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers, and late blown chances against quality opponents in Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, and San Diego.
As it turns out, Tennessee is awfully good—currently ninth in the RPI—and a couple local opponents, Indiana State and Evansville, would provide Indiana with unexpected opportunities to pick up good RPI wins.
Now with just 19 games and a little less than one month remaining in the regular season, the Hoosiers find themselves in second in the Big Ten standings—a game-and-a-half behind Nebraska as the Huskers have played and won three more conference games than Indiana—and in the RPI Top-25 as well.
The missed opportunities could still be lamented. After all, Indiana would probably be a Top-15 RPI team had they finished off Coastal Carolina and Oregon State or avoided some bad midweek losses to Wright State, Kent State, and Cincinnati or blown a high-quality start by ace Pauly Milto at Maryland.
Despite this, a focus on what they have accomplished, and how, demonstrates that the Hoosiers may be on the cusp of a run, not only toward the postseason, but to position themselves for a deep run once they get there.
The Hoosiers may be 0-4 against the RPI Top 25, but they’re 5-5 against the RPI Top 50. How they’ve done it is impressive. Indiana has launched 61 home runs in just 36 games, numbers that are through the roof compared to recent seasons (36, 75, and 68 over full seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively), sends out a starting rotation with an ERA of just 2.58, and has a closer with an ERA of 1.42.
What it adds up to is an Indiana team scoring more than 8.5 run per game while allowing fewer than 5.
The future looks as bright as the past, on paper. Indiana’s next 19 games?
Two games against Ball State (150th in RPI), single games with Kentucky (30th) and Louisville (5th), and Big Ten series with Michigan State (182nd, 0-8 in B1G), Minnesota (77th, 6-5 in B1G), Illinois (21st, 3-5 in B1G), Michigan (65th, 5-3 in B1G), and Rutgers (154th, 5-4 in B1G).
The midweek contests (presumably) offer the Hoosiers a couple easy wins and a couple chances to record the best individual wins on the schedule.
The Big Ten series? A clear path to a regular season title. Sure, Indiana is 1.5 GB Nebraska in the Big Ten standings, but the Huskers (10-2 in B1G) loaded up nine of their wins against Michigan State, Penn State, and Purdue, two Big Ten bottom-feeders and an 11-23 Boilermaker squad.
What Nebraska has left are three tough series with Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan, and a break in between with Northwestern.
The short of it: With sweeps of Michigan State and Rutgers, Indiana could easily catch Nebraska and find itself atop the Big Ten standings at the end of May and head to Omaha with the league’s number-one seed locked up.
Warren Nolan’s college baseball model predicts the Hoosiers will go 13-6 over their last 19 games, suffering a sweep in Ann Arbor, a dropped series to Illinois, and a weekday loss to Kentucky. While the breakdown may not be known, 13-6 seems like a reasonable projection for the Hoosiers, which, according to Warren Nolan’s other projections, would put Indiana 19th in the RPI and 19-5 in the league, one game behind Nebraska.
Sure, there’s still a lot of baseball left to play. But it seems clear that the Hoosiers are trending toward a comfortable 2-seed and, if they can notch just a win or two more than the Warren Nolan model projects, could threaten for a top-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Bloomington regional.