It hasn’t been the prettiest season, at times downright ugly, but the Buckeyes enter the final weekend of Big Ten play controlling their own destiny to receive a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. To be played May 23-26 at Huntington Park, the Buckeyes will be in the six team field for the second time in as many seasons with a series win against Indiana in Bloomington that runs Thursday through Saturday.
The Buckeyes experienced a bye from conference action last weekend and played host to Seattle University. The Bucks took two of three from the RedHawks, winning 4-1 and 7-2 while dropping the middle contest 11-1, before closing out the home slate with a 17-8 ledger in defeating Toledo 10-1 on Tuesday.
Last time out in the Big Ten Ohio State swept Northwestern winning 3-1, 7-1, and 4-1. Ohio State heads to the Hoosier State 31-22 on the season, 11-10 in the Big Ten. With three games to go, Ohio State holds a one-game lead over 10-11 Minnesota for sixth place while being two-up on 9-12 Illinois. Thanks to the April 4-6 sweep over the Gophers, the Buckeyes hold the tiebreaker over Minnesota. Illinois, who hold the tiebreaker against Ohio State by way of their April 20-22 series win, hosts Minnesota this weekend in Champaign.
Ohio State (31-22, 11-10; Sixth) @ Indiana (27-26, 13-8; t-Second)
Series history: Ohio State leads 157-101. 2011: Indiana 2-1
By the Numbers
L5: OSU (W, W, L, W, W); IND (L, L, W, W, W)
On the road: OSU 7-12
At home: IND 11-9
RPI: OSU 60; IND 101
SOS: OSU 63; IND 79
AVG: OSU .270; IND .269
OBP: OSU .375; IND .354
SLG: OSU .355; IND .393
R: OSU: 297; IND 292
SB-ATT: OSU 82-103; IND 72-102
ERA: OSU 4.15; IND 4.72
WHIP: OSU 1.410; IND 1.575
SO: OSU 317; IND 350
BB: OSU 175; IND 200
BAA: OSU .270; IND .291
FLD%: OSU .968; IND .952
Game 1: So. RHP Jaron Long (6-2, 1.85 ERA) vs. So. LHP Joey DeNato (7-3, 2.70)
Game 2: Jr. LHP Brian King (4-4, 4.33 ERA) vs. Fr. LHP Kyle Hart (4-4, 3.52)
Game 3: So. RHP John Kuchno (8-3, 4.65 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Chad Martin (2-3, 5.43)
OSU: Jr. Soph. 1B Josh Dezse .319/.434/.445 5 HR, 7 2B, 31 RBI, Jr. 3B Brad Hallberg .306/.414/.421 14 2B 31 RBI Fr. OF Pat Porter .291/.399/.359 4 2B, 2 3B
IND: Fr. C Kyle Schwarber .299/.393/.534 14 2B, 8 HR, 43 RBI Fr. 3B Sam Travis .325/.409/.512 14 2B, 8 HR, 45 RBI So. DH Dillon Dooney .325/.428/.465
The Buckeyes are in a near identical spot to where they were 52 weeks ago. They traveled to Minneapolis with a 11-10 conference record to take on second place Minnesota needing two wins to secure a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State returned to Columbus winners of two of three and prepared to face-off with the Gophers again in the opening game of the conference tournament.
If Ohio State is to travel a similar path, they will look to win the road series in Bloomington in the form of how they defeated the Gophers the last time: with pitching. The Buckeyes yielded just four runs to the Gophers in the three game set. This season the magic number for Ohio State has been four. When the Buckeyes allow four or fewer runs against a conference foe they are 10-1. When the scoreboard shows a five run tally or more for the opposition, Ohio State is 1-9.
There are a few more numbers that are indicators of Buckeye success. The Buckeyes are 26-0 when leading after seven innings, 22-4 when out-hitting the opponent, 18-3 when scoring six or more runs and 23-9 when scoring first.
Where there are indicators of a probably Buckeye victory by team figures and statistics, odds are at their greatest in series openers.
The ace of the Buckeye staff, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jaron Long is making a run at being the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. As Ohio State has produced a winner of the award in three of the previous five seasons, Cory Luebke in 2007 and Alex Wimmers in 2009 and 2010, Long is pitching as well, if not better than the pair of the would be first-round draft picks.
Among starters, Long’s ERA of 1.85 is tops in the Big Ten, second overall. His 92.1 innings pitched is the second-most, trailing by just one out. Long has gone at least 7.0 innings and allowed two earned runs or less in 10 of his 11 starts. The sophomore has allowed six earned runs while striking out 30 over 55.0 innings pitched over his last seven starts (0.98 ERA) and sits ninth in the nation in BB allowed per nine innings at .98 with just 10 free passes on the season.
Where the opposition struggles to score runs off Long, fans can expect runs to be at a premium for both sides on Thursday. Squaring off against Long will be fellow sophomore Joey DeNato. The Hoosier southpaw was a 2011 first-team all-conference selection and has been even better in his second go in the Big Ten. DeNato enters the series tied for third in the Big Ten with 70 strikeouts, fourth in wins with seven and eighth in ERA with at 2.70. Indiana has lost just once in Big Ten play when DeNato has started the game.
Behind DeNato will be a native son to the Buckeyes as Indiana will send out freshman left-handed pitcher Kyle Hart from Cincinnati’s Sycamore High. A lock to be on the B1G All-Freshman team, the first-year player from the Queen City is 4-4 on the year with a 3.52 ERA in 71.2 innings. Hart has struck out 43 batters, walked 22 and yielded just 15 extra-base hits to date.
For Tracy Smith, Hart has not been the only rookie to come up big for Indiana this year. Far from it. Catcher Kyle Schwarber, another Ohio native as he hails from Middletown, is fighting third baseman Sam Travis for the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor. Schwarber has tallied a whopping 27 extra-base hits on the year while the 45 RBI of Travis barely edges the 43 of the backstop. The Bash Brothers have respective OPS of .927 and .921 as Schwarber and Travis anchor the heart of the Hoosier attack.
In fact, led by eight each from Schwarber and Travis, Indiana freshman account for 70% of IU’s home runs, 23 of 33. Freshman have 60% of Indiana’s RBI, 57% of the runs scored, 56% of the doubles and 53% of the hits.
Behind Long in hoping to quiet the bats of the youngsters will be junior left-handed pitcher Brian King and sophomore right-handed pitcher John Kuchno. The last time King toed the rubber against a Big Ten team, against Northwestern he retired the game’s first 21 batters before losing a perfect game to start the eighth inning. King tossed a four hit complete game against the Wildcats. Kuchno enters the weekend tied for the most wins among Big Ten pitchers with eight. The last two outings for Kuchno has seen the lanky righty toss a combined 13.0 innings where he has allowed three runs off 11 hits while striking out 10 against three walks.
The third starter for Indiana will be senior right-handed pitcher Chad Martin. Martin has struggled with control and has bounced back-and-forth between the IU rotation and bullpen. Martin went 8.1 innings on Sunday against Northwestern where he allowed one run off five hits. Martin will be making his eighth start of the year, he has a 5.43 ERA, 1.75 WHIP and the opposition is batting .329 off him.
Looking to stay hot at the plate and strike against Martin and his fellow IU pitchers will be Ohio State junior shortstop Kirby Pellant. Since April 8 Pellant has gone 25-for-65, .384 to raise his average from .208 to .267. Pellant has reached base in each of the 23 games in that span, walked 14 times to four strikeouts while stealing 12 bases.
As a team, Ohio State edges Indiana in batting average, .270 to .269, but succumbs in power with just 18 homers to the Hoosiers 33 and 105 total extra-base hits to 144 for Indiana. The Buckeyes outpace Indiana in on-base percentage with a .21 edge and are more effective on the bases with a 82 swipes and an 80% stolen base success rate to respective marks of 72 and 71%.
Health may be on Indiana’s side as two weekend’s back saw junior second baseman Micah Johnson return to the lineup. A preseason Baseball America Third-team All-America selection, Johnson had elbow surgery in the season’s third week. For Ohio State, junior right-handed pitcher Greg Greve returned to the mound on May 13 with an inning of work, his first outing since April 22 sitting out three weeks with a tight shoulder. Sophomore first baseman, Josh Dezse, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has not played in the field the last two games after leaving early last Saturday against Seattle. The preseason All-American did appear in relief closing out Tuesday’s game against the Rockets.
The weekend will feature high drama and what should be three close games in what will be the last series at Indiana's Sembower Field. In 2013 Indiana will move into a new facility, Kaufman Field, part of a $19.8 million construction project.
Indiana still has a faint hopes oft claiming a share of the conference championship, they will need to sweep the Buckeyes and have Iowa sweep Purdue. More realistically, Indiana is playing for a first round bye in next week’s tournament. Ohio State is fighting for a tournament bid, two wins will do it, a win will almost assuredly do it as long as neither Illinois or Minnesota sweeps the other.
All three games will start at 3:05 with Saturday’s finale to be shown live on the Big Ten Network. Warren Nolan has Ohio State winning two of three.