Series Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Maryland baseball showed in Wednesday’s extra-inning victory over Towson that it will be fighting until the very end of the season. The Terps played from behind the entire contest, tying the game in both the eighth and ninth innings before Nick Dunn delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th — the first walk-off in his Maryland career.

Now, the Terps will host Rutgers this weekend in another pivotal conference series with postseason implications.

After Wednesday’s game, head coach Rob Vaughn said everyone in his dugout still believes they’re not finished just yet. With six games left in Big Ten play, the Terps are still mathematically in contention despite three teams separating them and the No. 8 seed in the tournament. The current Big Ten standings:

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Losing two of three on the road last weekend against Nebraska hurt, as it put the Cornhuskers one spot ahead of Maryland. But looking ahead to Rutgers, the Terps have a great opportunity to jump up a couple positions with a possible sweep. A positive week can keep Maryland’s hopes alive heading into the final three games of the season next week on the road against Indiana.

The Terps have won four of six games against Rutgers since joining the Big Ten, including a three-game sweep on the road last season. It was a very successful series for Maryland, which held the Scarlet Knights to just one run in each of the three games. Two seasons ago, Rutgers took two of three against the Terps in College Park.

Rutgers is trending downward as the Big Ten season progresses, and has an even more difficult road to the tournament than Maryland. The Scarlet Knights are 1-5 in conference games over the last two weeks, losing two of three to Michigan and being swept against Purdue. Like the Terps, Rutgers will be giving its all with three games on the road this weekend before hosting first-place Minnesota to end the regular season.

The Scarlet Knights are a good offensive team that is often held back by its pitching. They hit .276 as a team with three different players hitting above .301, but their two primary weekend starters haven’t been too successful, and neither have the carousel of Sunday starters they’ve employed.

Senior infielder Kyle Walker leads the team with a .310 average and a .438 on base percentage. He’s walked 23 times with just 16 strikeouts. He was one of Rutgers’ hottest hitters in the beginning of the season, hitting over .400 until April. He’s used primarily as a designated hitter, but only started once last weekend.

Junior third basemen Carmen Sclafani spent the last two games in the four-hole for Rutgers, second on the team with a .305 batting average. He’s third on the team with three home runs and has four multi-hit performances in his last 10 games. Junior Nick Matera is on the 2018 Johnny Bench Award Watch List, awarded to the best catcher in college baseball. He started in 42 of 44 games this season, leading the team with five home runs.

Rutgers’ weekend starting pitching has been suspect for much of the season, with none of their current three players with an ERA below 4.82. Senior right-hander John O’Reilly and freshman left-hander Harry Rutkowski have started every weekend for the Scarlet Knights, while right-hander Karl Blum has turned into the most recent Sunday starter as a graduate student.

The bullpen for Rutgers isn’t the strongest, but they’ve had seven different players make at least 10 appearances out of the pen. Ryan Wares and Serafino Brito have each had over 20 outings in relief duty.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 6:30 p.m. EST

Sr. RHP John O’Reilly (5-2, 5.28) vs. TBD

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Rutgers plays well with their Friday night guy on the mound, winning in nine of his 12 starts. In the middle of the season, the Scarlet Knights won six consecutive games the right-hander started in. He has a winning record this season, but it’s been more because of run support than his perforance. O’Reilly’s 5.28 ERA isn’t great, and he has allowed 87 hits and 27 walks in 73.1 innings this season. O’Reilly is a workhorse that’ll preserve the bullpen for Saturday and Sunday. He averages six innings per start and has one complete game this year. In his last start, he allowed seven earned runs in 6.1 innings against Michigan.

Maryland’s starter is TBD. Freshman right-hander Mark DiLuia has started the last three Friday nights, though.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 2:00 p.m. EST

Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski (4-5, 4.82) vs. TBD

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In just his freshman season, Rutkowski has filled the Saturday starting role for Rutgers this season. A 28th round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school, the left-hander has had ups and downs this year. He’s conceded at least three earned runs in seven of his 12 starts and each of the last three. He had a stretch of five straight starts of at least six innings, including a season-high 8.1 innings of one-run ball against La Salle. In his last start, Rutkowski gave up five earned runs on six hits in 4.2 innings against Michigan.

Maryland’s starter is TBD. Junior right-hander Hunter Parsons, though, has started the last three Saturdays.

Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST


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Both starters for Sunday are to bet determined. For the Terps, senior right-hander Taylor Bloom and sophomore left-hander Tyler Blohm have alternated Sunday starts over the last two weekends.