Ohio State baseball's sweep of Michigan over the weekend wasn't just significant because it was Michigan and it knocked the Wolverines out of contention for the regular season Big Ten title. The three game sweep also just might revitalize something that could have justifiably been written off for dead several weeks ago: Ohio State's postseason hopes.
The last few seasons have been marked by inopportune late season and late inning collapses, but this year, Ohio State baseball just might be hitting its stride at the right time. The Buckeyes have won 10 of their last 12 games, including a 10-2 trashing of a ranked Florida Atlantic squad, not to mention the sweep of Michigan, a squad that had also picked up recognition in some baseball polls. Now, Ohio State, (35-16-1), sits in sole possession of 3rd place in the Big Ten standings, and has an outside chance at a regular season title.
Others are stating to take notice. Baseball America wrote this morning that Ohio State has now played themselves right on the tournament bubble.
Bubble might actually be a bit kind, despite Ohio State's gaudy win-loss record and comfortable place in the Big Ten standings. The Big Ten isn't the powerhouse in college baseball that it is for football or basketball, and only three or four teams could secure bids. Ohio State's RPI, while improving, is still far below the typical standard for an at-large team. Right now, Ohio State has an RPI of 76. Last year, the Buckeyes posted an RPI of 46, and still missed the field. Last year, most of the at-large teams had RPIs in the 30s and 40s.
Why is it so low? The Big Ten schedule didn't do Ohio State's computer profile many favors, as the Buckeyes missed many of the top teams in the conference, like Nebraska, Indiana and Michigan State. In fact, Ohio State has only played three games total against the top seven squads in the Big Ten standings, and those were the Michigan games over the weekend.
Ohio State has a few nice out of conference wins (they've beaten a ranked Coastal Carolina team as well as FAU), but most of the non-Big Tens schedule was pretty soft. When you add in a few losses to struggling teams, like Illinois State and Northwestern, and two blown late-inning leads in a series sweep by Maryland, and you can see why the Buckeyes aren't held in higher esteem by the computers.
The good news is, there is time to fix it.
The Buckeyes have just four regular season games left. They have a home game against Eastern Michigan, which is an absolute must-win, and then travel to face the Big Ten leading Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Big Ten season finale. EMU won't give the Buckeyes any brownie points (they're 20-30 and have an RPI of 185), but Minnesota has an RPI of 41. Getting some quality road wins would dramatically improve Ohio State's profile.
They'd also improve Ohio State's Big Ten Tournament seeding situation. The top eight teams in the conference get bids to the conference tournament. Ohio State will almost certainly be there, but things could get complicated if the Buckeyes get swept by the Gophers. A series win would keep them out of the basement, and make things easier on themselves as they try to set up an extended run.
The most direct way for Ohio State to make the tournament would just be to win the Big Ten Tournament and get the auto-bid. Given their middling computer profile, it will be difficult for Ohio State to earn a bid any other way, but it isn't impossible. If the Buckeyes can grab a series win against Minnesota -- or better yet, a sweep -- and pick up a few more RPI top 50 victories in the tournament, they can rehabilitate that profile enough to give the committee something to really think about.
If the Buckeyes struggle against the Gophers, then it's tournament championship or bust.
The road may be narrow, but Ohio State is playing some of their best baseball of the season right about now, and that's a welcome change from previous seasons. Now, they've given themselves at least a chance.