After having won three consecutive series in Big Ten play, the Ohio State baseball team found themselves on the short end of the stick over the weekend in Ann Arbor. With just a week remaining in the regular season, the Buckeyes are still searching for their offense and trying to build some sort of momentum for the conference tournament.
Ohio State clinched their fourth straight trip to the Big Ten tournament despite dropping two of three to Michigan. The Buckeyes are now playing for positioning, trying to avoid the conference elite in the first round, but will need some help to do so. The team is a game up on Michigan State and a game and half in front of Iowa.
Against the Wolverines, Greg Beals' squad mustered just three runs and sixteen hits, failing to get anything going against a trio of left-handed starters. This came on the heels of scoring just one run in a midweek loss to Miami (OH). The Buckeyes' batting average has dropped to .267, and run production has dipped below five per game.
One bright spot from the weekend was the performance of Tanner Tully on the mound on Friday. The Buckeye freshman threw the first complete game of his career, blanking Michigan while scattering seven hits and striking out three in a 1-0 victory. The lefty is making a legitimate case for consideration for Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year honors, currently leading the conference with a 1.79 ERA. Tully is 6-2, has gone at least seven innings in each of his seven starts in conference play, and has yielded an astonishingly low six walks in 80.1 innings of work. His walks allowed per nine innings (0.67) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7-to-1) are among the best in the country.
Before Northwestern visits Columbus for the final Big Ten regular season series, Ohio State hosts Cincinnati on Tuesday evening at Bill Davis Stadium. With the conference tournament looming, it is now or never for the Buckeyes to get the bats going and build a little momentum. An I-71 matchup with the Bearcats would be a good place to start.
Here's a preview of Cincinnati.
Tuesday, May 13th 6:35 p.m.
University of Cincinnati
A familiar face will be in the dugout for Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, as longtime Indiana assistant Ty Neal brings his Bearcats to Columbus. In his first season at the helm, Neal has the team making improvements, though headed towards its third straight losing season. Cincinnati comes to town with a 22-27 record, and at 6-15, occupying the cellar in the American Athletic Conference.
The Bearcats have struggled in all three phases of the game this season, ranking in the bottom quarter of the AAC in hitting, pitching, and fielding. Cincinnati is hitting .263 as a team, and averaging 4.73 runs per game, though several players are having very respectable seasons at the plate.
The outfield for Neal has been extremely productive, as the starting trio leads Cincinnati in most offensive categories. Setting the table for Cincinnati is right fielder Matt Williams. The senior is batting .329 and leads the team with 55 hits and four triples, adding 29 runs scored, 10 doubles, 24 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases.
Center fielder Ian Happ has the top batting average (.331), slugging percentage (.519), and stolen base mark (17) for the Bearcats, is tied for the team lead in home runs (5), and ranks second in hits (53), runs scored (31), and RBIs (27), while hitting in the two-hole in the lineup. The sophomore, who was a Freshman All-American a season ago, entered the season as a preseason first team All-America selection by Baseball America, second team All-America selection by Perfect Game, preseason All-AAC selection, and member of the Golden Spikes Award watch list.
Hitting behind Happ in the Bearcat lineup is left fielder and mainstay Justin Glass. The senior, a former All-Big East conference performer and Freshman All-American, is hitting .294, and leads the team in runs scored (36) and runs batted in (31). Glass is tied with Happ for the team lead with five home runs, and has added seven doubles and ten steals.
Providing additional pop for the Bearcats is sophomore Devin Wenzel, starting primarily at designated hitter. The cleanup man has a .258 average, 11 doubles, four home runs, and 26 RBIs.
While the Bearcats have gotten solid production from the top of the lineup and feature one of the premier players in the country in Happ, the pitching staff has had issues with holding down opponents. Cincinnati has a 4.39 team ERA, gives up over five runs per game, and has trouble with letting up walks (over 3.5 per game) and extra-base hits (nearly 3 per game). Neal has had to patch a starting rotation together this season, as eight different hurlers have taken the ball to make starts.
On the bump on Tuesday will be junior Grant Walker. The righty will be making his ninth start of the season, and 15th appearance overall, bringing in a 2-5 record in 58 innings of work. Walker has a 5.28 ERA, a 1.58 WHIP, and has allowed opposing hitters a gaudy .305 batting average. The Buckeyes could not ask for a better opponent to try and jumpstart their bats against.
Ohio State is in dire need of a breakout performance from its anemic offense after scoring just four runs in its past four games. Northwestern will serve as the final opponent before the Big Ten tournament, and the Wildcats have allowed more runs than any other team in the conference. Coupled with a Cincinnati pitching staff that has also struggled to keep the opposition of the board, the Buckeyes have an opportunity to get the offense trending in the right direction before heading to Omaha.