Series Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

After winning their first Big Ten series against Michigan, the Maryland Terrapins will travel to New Jersey to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-14) in a three-game series this weekend. The two teams will face off in a doubleheader Saturday afternoon before finishing off the set with a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.

The Scarlet Knights, who have yet to play a conference game, enter the weekend winners of their last four contests, including a three-game sweep at USC Upstate over the weekend. However, Rutgers has played two teams that are currently ranked this season — No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast and No. 19 Virginia — and lost all six  games against those two opponents.

While the Terps (15-8) are still not ranked, they have been playing their best baseball as of late. Maryland has won 14 of its last 17 games, including the series win over Michigan and sweeps of Princeton and Bryant.

Behind its top trio of starting pitchers, Maryland has surrendered just 17 runs in its last three weekend series — 12 of which came in the Michigan series. Starting pitchers Brian Shaffer, Tyler Blohm and Taylor Bloom are ranked first, seventh and 15th in the Big Ten in earned run average, respectively. Shaffer, who has reached double-digit strikeouts in each of his last two starts, is in the midst of his best season to date.

The Terrapin offense has stayed hot as well. Outfielder Marty Costes is tied for second in the Big Ten with a .459 on base percentage, and his .359 batting average is the best mark on Maryland’s roster. After a slow start, shortstop Kevin Smith, has begun to heat up at the plate, as his five home runs, all of which have come in the last two weeks, lead the team.

On the other side, Rutgers’ offense is led by Mike Carter, one of the conference’s best hitters. The senior from Bloomfield, New Jersey, leads the Big Ten in hits and ranks second in batting average (.396), on base percentage (.459) and doubles. His teammate atop the lineup, Jawuan Harris, leads the Scarlet Knights and ranks in the top five in the conference in homers (7) and steals (13). Carter and Harris are two of the five Rutgers players with double-digit RBI totals, as Milo Freeman, Christian Campbell and Tom Marcinczyk have all driven in at least ten.

But while the Scarlet Knights match up well with the Terps offensively, their starting rotation has been the polar opposite so far. Gaby Rosa leads the group with a 3.38 ERA, albeit in just 21.1 innings pitched. But the other two hurlers have struggled mightily in their first six outings: Serafino Brito’s five losses tops the Big Ten and John O’Reilly has allowed the most earned runs in the conference. As a team, the Scarlet Knights have allowed the most earned runs and second-most walks in the Big Ten.

Overall, Rutgers’ pitching staff has struggled, with a 6.78 team ERA and a .294 opponents’ batting average. However, the Scarlet Knights do have two solid bullpen pieces to turn to: Max Herrmann and Joe Neglia. Herrmann, who holds a 2.57 ERA over 11 appearances, has struck out 17 batters in 14 innings and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with four saves. Neglia has made seven appearances, allowing just two hits and one earned run.

These two teams last met in May 2016, when the Terps lost two of three games to the Scarlet Knights in College Park, Maryland. This will be just the second series between these clubs, as both are newcomers to the Big Ten.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SAT 12:00 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Brian Shaffer (3-1, 1.77 ERA) vs. So. RHP Serafino Brito (1-5, 5.19 ERA)

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Brian Shaffer’s historic season continued on March 24 against Michigan, as the junior threw eight stellar innings in the Terps 7-2 victory. In his six starts, Shaffer has only allowed more than two earned runs once, and it came against then-No. 5 LSU. His K/9 ratio is 10.74, the best mark in his career, and he leads the Big Ten in strikeouts. Maryland’s entire starting rotation has been solid, and sending Shaffer to the hill has been a safe bet for the Terps to compete in any ball game.

Serafino Brito will oppose Shaffer in the first game of the three-game set. Brito’s last start was his first career Friday start, and the sophomore was awarded for his efforts with another. Against USC Upstate, Brito threw seven innings without allowing a run and striking out five. Prior to his Friday start, Brito threw three shutout innings against Florida Gulf Coast.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SAT 3:00 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Taylor Bloom (3-2, 4.11 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP John O’Reilly (1-4, 6.55 ERA)

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Although Bloom threw just five innings and allowed four runs last week against the Wolverines, the junior has been reliable throughout the season as a No. 2 starter. After he lost his first two starts, Bloom has bounced back nicely and looked like the pitcher he was a year ago in his sophomore season, when he recorded a team-best 2.46 ERA. Prior to his no-decision against Michigan, the right-hander had won three straight starts.

O’Reilly has proven he can provide the Scarlet Knights with solid innings — as he has completed five innings in five of his six starts this season — but has surrendered plenty of runs. He has allowed 25 earned runs, tied for the most in the Big Ten, and is prone to allowing the long ball, surrendering five in 34.1 innings of work this season.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SUN 1:00 p.m. EST

Fr. LHP Tyler Blohm (4-2, 2.86 ERA) vs. Sr. RHP Gaby Rosa (3-1, 3.88 ERA)

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Maryland’s freshman southpaw struggled in his last start against the Wolverines, one of the few blemishes in his superb first season of collegiate baseball. After he was named Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week in back-to-back weeks, Blohm allowed four runs through three innings last week. Nonetheless, he leads the team with four wins, and owns an impressive 2.86 ERA through six career starts.

As Blohm gets a chance to redeem himself, Rosa looks to build off his strong start against USC Upstate in which he earned the win after five innings of work. The two-way player, who has appeared in five games as a pitcher in 2017, allows opponents to hit just .211, by far the lowest mark of all three Rutgers starters.