Series Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-10, 4-1 Big Ten)

By Ben Harris

Any and all conversations regarding Minnesota baseball begin with Matt Fiedler. The junior ranks second in the Big Ten in both wins (five) and batting average (.422). Just for good measure, he’s also perfect defensively in 24 chances in the outfield.

While his 2.86 ERA last season came from the bullpen (one start in 15 appearances), the junior has converted to a starter role in 2016. In eight starts (47.2 innings), he’s tied for first in the conference for fewest doubles and home runs allowed, while leading all Golden Gopher pitchers with 10-plus innings in ERA (3.40).

In addition to holding conference’s second-highest batting average, his stats read like a laundry list of All-Big Ten accolades: tied for fourth in hits (49), fifth in slugging percentage (.569), eighth in on-base percentage (.460), tied for ninth in runs scored (28), tenth in total bases (66). From the mound, he’s tied for second most wins, and eleventh in both innings pitched and batters struck out looking.

As a team, Minnesota presents explosive offensive firepower. They lead the conference in batting average and slugging, ranking in the top five in nearly every other offensive stat category save for triples, walks, hit by pitches and stolen bases.minnesota-series-graphic.png

The Golden Gophers hit a full 72 points higher than Maryland (.329 compared to .257), and produce a full run-and-a-half more per game than the Terps. Five everyday starters hit above .308. Austin Athmann, in addition to Fiedler, hits above .400. Athmann leads the club in both RBIs (22) and homers (six).

Despite their road heavy start to their season – Minnesota began 2016 with 17 road or neutral site games in a row – they’ve come away with 2-1 series wins over Campbell, Georgia State, Missouri State, and Iowa. On the year, they’re 6-1 at home. Their 4-1 Big Ten record is second-highest, and 19-10 overall record is good for fourth-best in the conference.

Maryland travels to Minneapolis on a season-best four-game winning streak. In those four games, the Terps have allowed just seven runs (1.70 ERA). John Szefc’s club has won eight of their last 11 and is looking for their second consecutive conference win after last weekend’s sweep of Ohio State. Pitching has catalyzed their recent winning ways, as the bats continue to prove inconsistent. Offense has been tough to come by for the Terps, averaging just 3.66 runs over their last six games.

Freshman Hunter Parsons won Big Ten Freshman of the Week for his seven innings of work last Wednesday, allowing one run and striking out four. In their doubleheader sweep Friday, Maryland starters Taylor Bloom and Brian Shaffer combined to allow just eight hits and one run in 16 innings.

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

FRI AT 7:30 PM ET

1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo  1Bloom vs. Matt  Fiedler  MinnesotaGoldenGophers.png

So. RHP Taylor Bloom (5-2, 1.99 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Matt Fiedler (5-2, 3.40 ERA)

In Taylor Bloom’s first career Friday start, he held the Buckeyes to three hits and no runs in a complete game effort, needing just 90 pitches to do so. The sophomore’s 1.99 ERA is fifth lowest in the conference, but his 58.2 innings pitched are 4.1 more than any other starter. The aforementioned Fiedler has allowed just two runs and nine hits over 13 innings in his last two starts.

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

SAT AT 2:00 PM ET

1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo  1Shaffer vs. Dalton  Sawyer  MinnesotaGoldenGophers.png

So. RHP Brian Shaffer (3-2, 2.55 ERA) vs. Sr. LHP Dalton Sawyer (4-3, 3.98 ERA)

Left-hander Dalton Sawyer occupies the Golden Gopher’s Saturday slot. Sawyer tossed back-to-back 5.2 inning, nine strikeout games against Utah Valley and No. 23 ranked Missouri State at the end of March. His most recent start – six innings, two hits and 10 strikeouts in a 5-3 win over Michigan last Friday – netted the senior Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors. He hasn’t gone more than one out into the seventh all season. Opposing Sawyer is Terps sophomore Brian Shaffer, who in his last five starts has walked just one batter and struck out 26 with a 1.56 ERA. He’s lasted at least seven innings in each of those five starts, including back-to-back complete games against Cal State Fullerton and Iowa.

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

SUN AT 1:00 PM ET 

1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo  1Shawaryn vs. Toby  Anderson  MinnesotaGoldenGophers.png

Jr. RHP Mike Shawaryn (2-3, 4.37 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Toby Anderson (4-0, 4.40 ERA)

In four starts and four relief appearances this season, Toby Anderson holds a 4.40 ERA and .243 opposing batting average. Minnesota’s junior righty will be opposed by Maryland’s own right-handed junior, Mike Shawaryn. Moved from the Friday slot down to Sunday for the first time since his freshman season, Shawaryn struck out 10 in 6.1 innings, allowing just four hits to Ohio State in a 5-4 Terps win.

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