[UPDATE: This post was updated Saturday morning as Michigan State announced their Saturday starter, Andrew Gonzalez.]
By Chris Rogers
It’s do-or-die this weekend for the Terps. After losing two of three at home to Rutgers, Maryland (26-24, 11-10 Big Ten), is tied with Penn State for seventh in the Big Ten. Maryland is listed above them, as they took two of three from the Nittany Lions in late April. If the season ended today, Maryland and Penn State would be the last two teams to make the Big Ten Tournament.
This weekend, the Nittany Lions will face off against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who, at 10-11, is currently in ninth place, on the outside looking in. A series win by either of these teams could place them above the Terps in the Big Ten standings.
This makes this upcoming series between the Terps and Michigan State all that more important, as the Spartans (33-16, 12-9 Big Ten) sit just above the Terrapins at sixth in the conference. They have been one of the better teams in the Big Ten for much of the season, but Maryland is catching them at the right time, as they have lost three in a row – one to Central Michigan on Tuesday and two over the weekend to Iowa.
To be successful against the Spartans, the Terps will need to take advantage of offensive opportunities, something they failed to do several times throughout the series with Rutgers. They scored plenty off the Big Ten’s worst pitching staff (6.00 ERA), averaging six runs per game, but the Terps found themselves playing catchup for most of the first two contests. Friday, the Terps fell behind 2-0 early before Justin Morris’s two-run single in the fourth tied it and Zach Jancarski gave them a 3-2 lead on a safety squeeze. However, the bullpen surrendered three runs in the seventh and the Terps could not make a second comeback. Saturday, Rutgers led for most of the game, as they roughed up Taylor Bloom for six runs over seven frames. Down 7-2 in the ninth, Kevin Smith hit a three-run homer to cut into the deficit, but again, the Terps had dug too deep of a hole to get out of. Maryland plated six runs Sunday without getting an RBI hit, scoring on three bases loaded walks, a hit batsman, a wild pitch, and a sac fly. Despite hitting .260 over the three game set (better than their season conference mark of .235), the Terps could not pick up key hits, leaving a combined 30 men on base.
Things won’t get easier for them though, as Michigan State has one of the best pitching staffs in the Big Ten. They rank first in strikeouts (173), second in ERA (2.85) and fourth in runs allowed (77) in conference play. On the year as a whole, they have pitched to a 2.64 ERA while holding opponents to a .235 average. Reliever Dakota Mekkes leads the team with 83 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA, while Cam Vieaux leads the Spartan starters with a 2.31 ERA and 75 strikeouts. The Michigan State offense, meanwhile, can do damage as well, as they have hit .286 in conference play and .290 overall. Jordan Zimmerman leads the team in nearly offensive category, including batting average (.394), home runs (8), RBI (33), runs scored (45), total bases (115) and OBP (.482). He’s no slouch in Big Ten play either, as he leads all qualifiers with a .392 average and six homers.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
THU 3:05 pm EST
Jr. RHP Mike Shawaryn (4-4, 3.33 ERA) vs. So. RHP Ethan Landon (7-2, 2.47 ERA)
Mike Shawaryn, who struggled early in the year, has settled back into his usual self of late. While his outing last week against Rutgers (5 IP, 2 R, 4 K) wasn’t his best performance, he threw eight shutout innings against Illinois the week before. He leads the team with 75 strikeouts, and opponents are hitting a miniscule .203 off him. The Spartans will counter with Ethan Landon, a Kansas State transfer who is coming off six shutout innings in last Friday’s victory over Iowa. Sporting a 2.47 ERA on the year, he has allowed just one home run in 73 innings of work.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
FRI 3:05 pm EST
So. RHP Taylor Bloom (6-4, 2.45 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Joe Mockbee (2-1, 3.00 ERA)
Despite giving up six runs in seven innings in his worst outing of the season last weekend, Taylor Bloom has been the Terps’ most consistent starter this year. He has tossed five complete games in 12 starts, and his control has been impeccable, walking just nine batters over 88.1 innings pitched. He’ll match up against southpaw Joe Mockbee, who is also coming off a rough start, allowing three runs in 4.2 innings last week against Iowa. He is a strikeout machine, however, whiffing 50 hitters in 48 innings this season.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP
SAT 1:05 pm EST
So. RHP Brian Shaffer (6-3, 2.70 ERA) vs. So. RHP Andrew Gonzalez (3-3, 2.70 ERA)
Brian Shaffer is fresh off one of the best starts of his career Sunday, striking out eight while allowing just three hits across eight shutout innings. Like Bloom, his control has been outstanding, as he has surrendered just 11 walks all season while holding hitters to a .219 average. With the Spartans clinching a postseason bid in Friday’s walk-off win, Andrew Gonzalez will start Saturday for the Spartans in the place of lefty ace Cam Vieaux.
MSU coach Jake Boss said Andrew Gonzalez will start Sat instead of Cam Vieaux to get the lefty back on his normal rest. May pitch an inning.
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) May 20, 2016
The move from head coach Jake Boss is not surprising given the tournament berth, Vieaux’s recent struggles (he’s failed to complete five innings in each of his last three starts), and the fact that he would be pitching one on fewer day of rest. Gonzalez, a sophomore right-hander, has an ERA of 1.76 as a starter this season.