On March 27, the IU baseball team sat atop the Big Ten standings at 11-2 behind its starting pitching, dependable fielding and clutch hitting.
But baseball is a game of averages. As IU’s pitching began regressing to the mean, the hitters have not risen to the occasion, and it has cost the Hoosiers. Now, at 11-7, IU is fourth in the standings, two games back from co-leaders Michigan and Nebraska.
In five consecutive losses, IU scored eight total runs. The Hoosiers have struggled to get base runners for long stretches this season, and that continued this weekend against Ohio State. Third baseman Cole Barr hit two home runs on the weekend, but both happened with no base runners and outs already in the inning, making it difficult to start a rally like the Hoosiers did at home in consecutive series against Penn State and Purdue.
The lack of consistency from the hitters is surprising, considering that IU was third in the Big Ten in batting average coming into this weekend. Despite its struggles, IU remained aggressive at the plate, to a fault. This was put on full display Saturday, when junior pitcher Seth Lonsway struck out 17 Hoosiers in a seven-inning complete game. Lonsway is ranked as the number 84 prospect in the MLB Pipeline, and he took advantage of a young and struggling lineup for IU, which only recorded two hits all game.
The batting did improve in the final two games, but IU left plenty of scoring opportunities at the table. In the first inning of Saturday’s second game, IU led off with two singles from outfielders Drew Ashley and Grant Richardson, IU’s second and third best batters by average. However, Barr, Paul Toetz and Jordan Fucci struck out back-to-back-to-back to end the inning and stranded both runners.
In the bottom of the first, Ohio State did the opposite. Its first two batters struck out, but after a home run, a couple of walks and a single, the Buckeyes shifted the entire momentum of the game by scoring two runs right after IU left two on the base pads.
Along with the poor batting, IU’s usually staunch fielding has been suspect during its losing streak, with 10 fielding errors over the past five games. With those errors, the Hoosiers’ opponents have scored seven unearned runs, compared to the eight total runs they scored themselves in the same time.
For a team that relies on its pitching and defense as much as IU has, limiting the errors is important, especially given the Hoosiers lost by one run twice against the Buckeyes.
With 26 games remaining in the regular season, IU has time to recover from the drubbing it received from Ohio State. To do so, IU will have to shore up its batting and fielding to match the production of its pitching, which still leads the Big Ten in ERA and opposing batting average.
IU’s next opponent, Illinois, leads the conference in batting average while also giving up the most hits and second most runs in the Big Ten, providing the perfect opportunity for IU’s batters to find their groove. In the friendly confines of Bart Kaufman Field, the Hoosiers will look to snap their longest losing streak in the Jeff Mercer era.