Taking a look at the IU baseball team’s last five wins, one might conclude that the team knows how to win close games. But a closer look at the scores — 10-7, 18-17, 1-0, 11-9, and 12-11 — shows a disturbing trend of needing to out-muscle the opposition.
A win is a win, and Tracy Smith’s squad will take them any way they can. But with the Hoosiers (25-24,10-11) locked in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big Ten conference heading into the final three regular season games, the team will have to get back to the basics, bringing with them solid pitching and defense if they want to make the cutoff for the Big Ten Tournament.
With the exception of Matt Carr and Chris Squires combining for a four-hit shutout gem to win the rubber match of a three-game series at Northwestern 1-0 on May 9, IU’s thin pitching staff has been hit hard as of late. On the season, IU has a Big Ten-worst 6.61 team ERA, more than a run worse than fourth-place Michigan State, who took two out of three from the Hoosiers last weekend in East Lansing, Mich. The defense hasn’t helped either, committing 11 errors in the last nine games.
Amazingly enough, the team went 5-4 in the stretch, due in large part to a powerful lineup that features arguably the Big Ten’s best 3-4-5 combination of Jerrud Sabourin, Alex Dickerson and Josh Lyon, who have combined to hit .394 with 39 home runs and 145 runs batted in. Dickerson also leads in home runs and RBI as he looks to capture the conference’s triple crown.
In all fairness, the team does deserve credit for pulling out victories in many close games while battling injuries that depleted the pitching staff early on. The pitching staff has been so thin at times this year that the team has used Sabourin, the starting first baseman (5.09 ERA in 17 and 2/3 innings pitch, not bad for a position player) on the mound and called up Alex Zerman, a transfer from Illinois Central College, from the club team. Zerman has posted a 6.14 ERA in 7 and 1/3 innings pitched as he works to adjust to Big Ten hitters.
The season has been a roller coaster. After taking two out of three from Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., the Hoosiers lost the series in East Lansing, which suggests IU will rebound against the Illini. With the potent offense the Hoosiers have, they only needed decent pitching this season to repeat last year’s third place finish (16-7, 32-27) and Big Ten Tournament magic. Now, they’re fighting just to make it.
Once hitters like Dickerson, Sabourrin, Lyon, and second baseman Tyler Rogers graduate or enter the draft, you have to wonder where this team is headed. I, for one, hope Smith starts focusing on recruiting pitching.