Series Preview: Indiana Hoosiers

Last week was a banner one for Maryland. The Terps went a perfect 4-0, including a weekend sweep of Big Ten foe Michigan State, and ascended back into the top 25 nationally and to the top of the Big Ten standings.

Maryland (28-11, 12-3 Big Ten) has won seven games in a row, it’s last loss all the way back on April 12 to George Mason. This weekend will see the Terrapins go out on the road to take on Indiana at Bart Kaufman Field, which is also the site of the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers (21-16, 8-6 Big Ten) are the most recent Big Ten team to play in the College World Series, making it to Omaha in 2013. Since then, they have fallen to the middle of the pack in the conference while Maryland has taken its turn as the conference’s top dog.

At 21-16, Indiana’s record is not particularly impressive, but the Hoosiers have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country with the No. 11 Strength of Schedule and the No. 33 RPI. That difficult slate included a pair of early season games against No. 1 Oregon State, which IU lost 1-0 and 4-1. More recently, the Hoosiers have gone toe to toe with No. 17 Michigan in Ann Arbor and held their own, taking two of three from the Wolverines last weekend. Indiana and Maryland are responsible for four of Michigan’s nine losses this season.

When the Hoosiers have had success, it has frequently been because of the long ball. Indiana leads the Big Ten in home runs with 45, while sophomore Matt Lloyd and senior Craig Dedelow are tied for fourth in the conference with nine apiece. Sophomore Luke Miller is also in the conference’s top 10 with eight homers.

Lloyd is Indiana’s best hitter, usually batting in the cleanup spot of the Hoosiers lineup. It’s the Canadian’s first season in Division I baseball after transferring from Iowa Western Community College in the offseason. He’s thrived at college baseball’s top level, hitting .336/.434/.655 and leading the team in walks with 18, but the left-handed hitter also strikes out a lot, whiffing in over 23 percent of his plate appearances.

Not only is Lloyd the team’s top bat, however, he is also its best arm out of the bullpen. The right-hander has appeared in 11 games and has been the Hoosiers’ de facto closer, picking up four saves. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound two-way star has pitched to a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 innings, striking out 12 and walking just three. When opponents make contact against him, it’s generally soft; he’s given up only two extra-base hits all season.

Lloyd is Indiana’s best hitter in 2017, but in 2016 that honor went to Dedelow, who was a third-team All-Big Ten performer in each of the last two seasons and was selected in the 34th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He decided to return to IU for his senior season, though, and he’s mashed again, rolling up a .481 slugging percentage with 18 extra-base hits. Like Lloyd, he is a free swinger, with just a .250 batting average, his lowest since his freshman season, and a 21.7 percent strikeout rate.

Miller is sandwiched in between Lloyd and Dedelow in the usual Indiana batting order, normally occupying the three spot. He was a freshman All-American a season ago when he hit .333 in Big Ten play. This season, he leads the Hoosiers in hits and total bases while batting .297 with a .520 slugging percentage.

Indiana’s pitching has struggled at times this year, as it did last week when it gave up a combined 21 runs to the Wolverines in the final two games of the series. The staff has compiled a 4.76 ERA with a .285 opponents’ batting average. While the Hoosiers have hit a lot of home runs, their pitchers have also given up their share, with opposing teams going deep 32 times against Indiana.

Lloyd is arguably Indiana’s best arm in the bullpen, but the first one out of the pen for the Hoosiers is often Cal Krueger. The freshman from Jasper, Indiana, has appeared in 15 games and pitched 28.1 innings overall while posting a 2.51 ERA. He’s not a strikeout pitcher–he has just 15–but he’s also allowed just six extra base hits. If an IU starter struggles, expect to see the right-hander in long relief.

From the left side, Krueger’s fellow freshman Cameron Beauchamp has been solid for Indiana as well. He has very good stuff with a fastball that touches 93 and a solid curve. He’s posted a 3.68 ERA in 10 appearances, including two starts. The Indiana native sometimes struggles with his command, though; he’s walked 15 in 14.2 innings this season.

Starting Pitching Matchup

FRI 6:05 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Brian Shaffer (5-2, 1.77 ERA) vs. So. RHP Jonathan Stiever (2-2, 4.95 ERA)

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Shaffer and the Terps essentially settled the debate over the best pitcher in the Big Ten last week when the junior right-hander shut down Michigan State and Maryland’s offense chased Big Ten ERA leader Alex Troop after four innings and 11 runs. Now Shaffer occupies that top spot in the ERA rankings, the only qualified pitcher with a mark under two. He also leads the conference in innings pitched, and ranks second in the conference with 74 strikeouts, just one behind Michigan’s Oliver Jaskie.

Maryland’s ace will take on Jonathan Stiever, who is coming off his best start of the season. Last week against Michigan he pitched seven shutout innings, striking out seven and walking one in a 1-0 victory over the Wolverines. The sophomore right-hander is best-known for his exceptional control. As a freshman he ran a K/BB ratio of six over 40 innings, mostly as a reliever. This year, he’s improved upon that already impressive number, striking out 32 and walking just three in 40 innings of work, all as a starter. His ERA is 4.95 mostly because he’s given up 19 extra-base hits, including seven home runs. Opponents hit .310 against Stiever, who throws a fastball that sits around 90 and curve that measures in the upper 70s.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SAT 2:05 p.m. EST

Fr. Tyler Blohm (7-3, 2.49 ERA) vs. Jr. RHP Brian Hobbie (2-3, 6.19 ERA)

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Blohm has almost as much of a presence on the Big Ten pitching leader boards as his rotation mate Shaffer. The freshman leads the conference in wins and ranks third in ERA. His performance has led to his promotion to the Terps’ Saturday starter after beginning the season pitching on Sunday. His first two Saturday starts haven’t disappointed, as he’s pitched 12 innings and allowed just two runs while striking out 11 and picking up two wins. Blohm hasn’t had much trouble adjusting to college hitters, as he’s allowing opposing batters to hit just .206. Like Shaffer, he gets plenty of swings and misses, as well, striking out 47 in 50.2 innings of work.

Hobbie pitched just 8.2 innings last season, but his workload has taken off as a junior. He’s made the most starts, 10, of any Indiana pitcher, throwing a team-high 56.2 frames. Like Stiever he’s kept his walks down, allowing only 1.74 free passes per nine innings, but when he’s made mistakes in the zone batters are punishing them. Opposing hitters have posted a .303 batting average against the 6-foot-4 Hobbie, racking up 14 doubles and nine home runs. Hobbie is most effective when inducing ground balls, as he throws a sinker as hard as 93, so if Maryland is beating a lot of balls into the dirt it should be a good day for him.

Starting Pitching Matchup

SUN 12 p.m. EST

Jr. RHP Taylor Bloom (5-2, 4.08 ERA) vs. So. RHP Pauly Milto (3-3, 4.20 ERA)

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Bloom has struggled a bit this year compared to a season ago when he posted the fourth-best ERA in the Big Ten (2.46) and walked just nine hitters in over 100 innings. His most recent outing, however, was one of his best of the season. Maryland staked him to a big early lead and the 6-foot right-hander did the rest, tossing 7.2 innings of two-run ball, while striking out four and walking none. He was economical, as well, needing just 93 pitches to complete the sweep of the Spartans. Despite his periodic inconsistency, Bloom is still second on the team in innings pitched and leads the Terps with 11 starts.

Milto is another sophomore hurler who had a promising freshman season, but has seen his ERA rise in his second year with the program. The Greenwood, Indiana, product had a 3.38 ERA last season while striking out more than a batter per inning. In 2017, those numbers have slipped to 4.20 and just over six strikeouts per nine innings. He’s been a jack-of-all trades for the Indiana staff this season, though, appearing 10 times out of the bullpen in addition to four starts. Last time out, Milto started against the Wolverines on Sunday, April 23 and gave up six runs in five innings.