Series Preview: Michigan State Spartans

Maryland (25-11, 9-3 Big Ten) plays host to Michigan State (20-13, 4-4 Big Ten) this weekend in College Park, looking to stay hot at home and expand on its 15-1 record at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. 

After Maryland’s three-game sweep of the Nittany Lions last weekend, the Terrapins traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, Wednesday, where they defeated William & Mary 6-0. In Maryland’s last three midweek games entering Wednesday, the starter allowed at least two runs in the first inning. Right-hander Ryan Hill made the first start of his Maryland career and ended the trend, pitching a scoreless first frame, the first in a midweek game for the Terrapins since March 22 against UNC Wilmington. The junior lasted three innings, giving up no hits and no runs. Zach Jancarski, Nick Dunn and AJ Lee led the offensive attack against the Tribe, combining for 11 of the team’s 16 hits. Lee has been especially hot of late, reaching base in each of his last 11 plate appearances to raise his average to .333 on the season.

Winners of five of its last eight games, Michigan State will visit Maryland coming off a weekend series win against Ohio State and a midweek loss to No. 15 Michigan, who the Terrapins beat twice earlier this season. In other Big Ten action, Michigan State swept Illinois before being swept by Minnesota. The Spartans rank sixth in the conference, while Maryland currently sits second behind the Golden Gophers.

The Spartans are balanced offensively and defensively, boasting a .289 team batting average and a 3.71 ERA, both of which rank in the top third of the Big Ten. Like Maryland, Michigan State fields a balanced lineup, 1-9. They are led by Brandon Hughes, who owns a .336 average, four home runs and 28 RBIs while going 18-for-20 in stolen base attempts this season. Three Spartans lead the team with six homers— Marty Bechina, Dan Durkin and Zach McGuire. Maryland and Michigan State have each hit 36 balls out of the park this season.  

Michigan State’s pitching staff also has quality arms in the bullpen. Walter Borkovich leads the team with 35 innings in 17 appearances, and the senior has been used so frequently in relief that his 2.31 ERA ranks fourth among qualified Big Ten pitchers. Jake Lowery is also one of the leaders in the bullpen for the Spartans, holding opposing hitters below a .200 batting average in 28.1 innings.  The Spartans have held opponents to under five runs per game, while allowing them to hit .269.

Maryland won two of three games against Michigan State in East Lansing in 2016 in the last weekend of the Big Ten schedule. The teams also met up in the Big Ten Tournament, and again, the game was decided by one run, as Michigan State handed Maryland its first loss of the tournament. 

Starting Pitching Matchup

FRI 6:30 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Brian Shaffer (4-2, 1.83 ERA) vs. R-So. LHP Alex Troop (5-2, 1.50 ERA)

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Maryland’s usual Friday night starter will begin the series on the mound looking for more run support. In Brian Shaffer’s last two starts against Penn State and Nebraska, the Terps only scored one run in each of his eight-inning starts. He allowed just four hits in 8.1 innings last weekend against Penn State, setting a career-high with 11 strikeouts, but the right-hander exited the game with one out in the ninth and received a no-decision after Maryland came back to walk it off with back-to-back homers. Shaffer is second in the Big Ten in ERA, trailing only his counterpart on Friday night, Alex Troop.

After struggling with Penn State’s Sal Biasi through 25 outs last Friday, the Terps are in store for another challenge in the form of Alex Troop. The redshirt sophomore holds hitters to a .217 average and has struck out 53 batters in 54 innings pitched. In his last three starts, the southpaw has allowed just one earned run on 10 hits in 21.2 innings. While dominant on the mound for much of this season, Troop has struggled of late with control, walking four batters in two of his last three starts, including his most recent six-inning shutout performance against Ohio State.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SUN 10:00 a.m. EST

Fr. LHP Tyler Blohm (6-3, 2.76 ERA) vs. Jr. LHP Keegan Baar (0-0, 3.60 ERA)

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Freshman Tyler Blohm will return to the mound for the Terrapins in Sunday’s doubleheader after pitching for the first time on a Saturday last weekend against Penn State. In that game, he tied career-highs in innings pitched (7) and strikeouts (8). He received his Big Ten leading sixth win of the season, allowing just two earned runs on five hits in Maryland’s 8-3 win. In the Big Ten, the southpaw ranks fifth in runs allowed, third in hits and ninth in strikeouts. He’ll look to continue a successful freshman campaign against the Spartans this weekend.

Keegan Baar will start against Blohm, making Game 2 a lefty-lefty pitching matchup in College Park. The junior will make just his third start of the season — he’s made most of his appearances this season out of the bullpen. Baar pitched Tuesday against No. 15 Michigan, allowing one hit and recorded one out in his two batters of work. The southpaw also pitched last Sunday, allowing no earned runs in 2.2 innings. This Baar’s first weekend start of the season, the other two coming on a pair of Tuesday matchups.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SUN 1:30 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Taylor Bloom (4-2, 4.57 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Andrew Gonzalez (3-2, 4.64 ERA)

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After three poor starts in a row, Taylor Bloom took steps in the right direction last weekend against Penn State. Pushed back to Sunday after making a midweek start, the junior surrendered two runs on nine hits over seven innings. The right-hander was the beneficiary of 15 runs of support, but also made pitches to minimize damage and escape jams. Bloom has struggled to keep men off base this season, walking 18 hitters in 45.1 innings while opponents are batting over .300 against him.

Andrew Gonzalez will take the hill after making the last several Sunday starts for the Spartans. Despite pitching in most series finales, he’s had more success than normal Saturday starter Ethan Landon of late. However, the junior is coming off a short appearance last weekend against Ohio State, when he allowed three runs on six hits in just 2.1 innings, receiving the loss. While he’s allowed over one hit per inning, he doesn’t allow many free passes. The right-hander has allowed just six walks in 33 innings. Gonzalez faced Maryland last year, receiving a no-decision after allowing three runs (two earned) over five innings in an eventual Terps’ victory.