WHO: Northwestern Wildcats (8-19, 0-3 Big Ten, 4-9 home)
Friday -- 3:30 PM CT
Saturday -- 2:00 PM CT
Sunday -- 1:00 PM CT
WHERE: Rocky Miller Park (Evanston, IL)
ONLINE: nusports.com ($) all games
RADIO: Hawkeye All-Access ($)
After a very successful homestand -- Iowa went 8-1 in the friendly confines of Duane Banks Field over the last few weeks -- the Hawkeyes head back out on the road this weekend. The good news is that this is perhaps their softest road trip of the Big Ten schedule. Northwestern is 8-19 overall and tied for last in the Big Ten at 0-3, although Big Ten standings are a little wonky right now with some teams having played six games and others having only played three. Still: Northwestern is not what one would call good. Their RPI of 278 is far and away the worst in the Big Ten and one of the worst in all of college baseball. They average giving up 5.9 runs per game (while scoring just 4.2 themselves), while allow opponents to hit .293 overall with a .443 slugging percentage (including 23 home runs).
That said, they've also won three of their last five games (going 2-1 against Air Force last weekend) and while they got swept by Indiana in their Big Ten opener, two of those losses were only by one run (6-5, 10-9). The Wildcats aren't good, but they're not a complete pushover and Iowa can't expect to just show up and knock them around. And while Iowa's won seven games in a row, they've hardly looked invincible during that streak -- they needed late comebacks to win their last three games and four of their last five wins have been by just one run.
As Jeremy noted earlier today, this is an important series for Iowa. It's important not necessarily because they have a lot to gain from beating Northwestern -- although they can boost their currently lackluster road record, which would be good -- but because losses would be very damaging. It's difficult to expect a team to get a sweep -- especially on the road and especially a team that's a bit flawed like Iowa is -- but any less than two wins from this series would be a pretty big disappointment.
For the first time all year, every regular Iowa batter is above .200! Hooray! Cropley and Boe had strong outings for Iowa last weekend; it was good to see their bats finally get going a bit. That helped offset some slightly down performances from guys like McCoy and Whelan. Neustrom continues to be Iowa's most consistent hitter (and ranks third in the Big Ten), while Adams continues to produce a power season for the ages for the Hawkeyes (his 11 home runs are tied for most in the Big Ten and tied for sixth in the entire NCAA). Hopefully he can get around on a few against some Wildcat pitchers and keep the dingers rolling for Iowa.
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS (all times CT)
|FRIDAY (3:30 PM)||RHP Nick Gallagher||JR||3-1, 2.54 ERA||RHP Tommy Bordignon||JR||0-2, 9.55 ERA|
|SATURDAY (2:00 PM)||LHP Ryan Erickson||SR||0-1, 3.63 ERA||RHP Hank Christie||FR||1-4, 5.79 ERA|
|SUNDAY (1:00 PM)||RHP Cole McDonald||SO||2-2, 4.68 ERA||LHP Matt Gannon||FR||0-2, 4.22 ERA|
Gallagher has been Iowa's best and most consistent pitcher this year and has looked good since returning from an injury scare a few weeks ago. On paper, his matchup with Bordignon looks like a huge mismatch. Bordignon's stats aren't terrible when it comes to giving up hits (17 in 19 innings and an opponent batting average of .243), but control has been a huge issue for him (21 walks versus 17 strikeouts, plus eight wild pitches), which is a big reason why he's given up 21 earned runs in those 19 innings of work. Yikes.
Christie leads Northwestern in innings pitched (32.2) and has made the most starts this year (seven). While he has better control than Bordignon (24 strikeouts versus 11 walks, zero wild pitches), he hasn't had much luck eluding opponents' bats -- the other team is hitting .316 (!) against him and almost half (20 of 43) of his hits given up have been extra base hits (including 12 doubles and six homers). It's honestly a little remarkable that his ERA is only 5.79; he's presumably pitched himself out of a lot of jams this year.
Gannon, Northwestern's Sunday starter, has been one of their better pitchers this year, holding opponents to a .267 batting average and a 4.22 ERA over 21.1 innings in five starts. He's walked nine and struck out 15.
I'll posts updates in the comments below; feel free to join in!