Following a 5-2 road victory Wednesday afternoon against the Villanova Wildcats, the Terrapins (23-22) return home this weekend to face the first-place Michigan Wolverines (31-11). With only three conference series remaining on the schedule, Maryland will need to play its best baseball of the season to continue their postseason push.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2015, the Terrapins have faced off with the Wolverines on three different occasions: 2015, 2017, and 2018. In eight games, the Terps have gone 3-5 versus Michigan and picked up their sole series win against them in 2017. While Maryland won its three games versus Michigan by a combined nine runs, they’ve been pummeled in their losses, losing by a combined 25 runs.
Maryland is coming off a rather successful series at Penn State, winning two of three games in State College, Pennsylvania. While the Terps had caught somewhat of a breather by playing against a team that had lost its last seven games, the Terps offense remained relentless, especially with the top third of the lineup continuing to wreak havoc against Big Ten pitchers.
Senior AJ Lee had himself another impressive weekend showing, bumping his season average to .313 as he tallied six hits and three RBI between the Penn State series and Wednesday afternoon’s matinee versus Villanova. At the same time, Randy Bednar collected a trio of two-hit games plus four RBI, while senior Taylor Wright had a big Friday night versus Penn State, cumulating three hits, two RBI, and a walk over five plate appearances.
The Maryland pitching also held up nicely over the four-game span, with ace Hunter Parsons appearing to come back to form with a nine-strikeout, seven-inning effort that led to Friday night’s 5-2 win. Redshirt sophomore Zach Thompson followed up his teammate with a quality start of his own, tossing seven innings of three-run ball. The only blemish on the Terps pitching last weekend was when Sunday starter Trevor LaBonte surrendered five runs over two innings in what led to Maryland’s lone loss of the Penn State series.
Michigan Wolverines (31-11, 11-3 Big Ten)
The Michigan Wolverines had a rather successful 2018 season despite not reaching the NCAA tournament. Finishing the season 15-8 in the Big Ten, the Wolverines placed third in the conference and reached the second round of the Big Ten tournament before getting knocked out by the second seed Purdue Boilermakers. It was hard to find a weakness in the 2018 Wolverines, as their weekend rotation sustained a 2.98 earned run average while their offense slashed an exceptional .275/.371/.400.
Despite losing one of their best hitters in Jonathan Engelmann (.952 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2018) to the 2018 MLB Draft, the Michigan Wolverines’ strengths have only improved over the span of a year. Now in first place with a conference record of 11-3, the Wolverines are being paced by an offense that’s putting up an outrageous .888 OPS and nearly a .300 average in conference play. Their pitching improved immensely over the year as well, coming in at a 3.09 team ERA despite losing starting pitcher Ben Dragani, who led the team in ERA last year (2.76), to Tommy John surgery.
Hitters to Watch
The Terps are going to need quite the lengthy scouting report in order to figure out this Michigan lineup. Out of the nine Wolverine batters who have over 100 at-bats, seven of them have OPS’s greater than .800. While all seven of those hitters have been red-hot all season long and have been pacing the offense of the first-place Wolverines, the biggest force to be reckoned with is junior Jordan Brewer. In 37 games, the outfielder leads the Big Ten in average (.378), slugging percentage (.685), and places in the top ten for on-base percentage (8th, .428), hits (5th, 54), RBI (3rd, 41), home runs (4th, 11), and stolen bases (3rd, 13). If anything is going to be a thorn in the Terrapin pitching’s side, it’s going to be the monstrous bat of Jordan Brewer.
Pitchers to Watch
It’s hard to find a weekend rotation in the Big Ten better than Michigan. In fact, it’s virtually impossible. All three Wolverine pitchers – Karl Kauffman (2.40), Tommy Henry (2.61), and Jeff Criswell (2.61) – have ERAs that place within the top ten in the Big Ten. The trio also has an impressive nine strikeouts per nine innings with all three pitchers placing in the Big Ten’s top 15 for strikeouts. Their bullpen is highlighted by closer freshman Willie Weiss, who has maintained a 2.86 ERA while earning eight saves over 17 appearances.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Sr. RHP Hunter Parsons ( 8-2, 3.51 ERA) v. Jr. RHP Karl Kauffman (7-3, 2.40 ERA)
Hunter Parsons is coming off his best start in a couple of weeks, pitching seven innings of two-run ball while nearly striking out double-digits. Of course, Parsons had faced a last-place offense in Penn State, so facing the slaughterhouse that is the Wolverines offense will be the toughest challenge for the righty as his season is slowly nearing its end.
Karl Kauffman will be entering the weekend series after wrapping up his best start of the season since February 23rd. Facing the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the junior Kauffman dominated with eight shutout innings while only letting three opposing batters reach base en route to picking up the win and being named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Saturday, 2:00 p.m. ET
Jr. RHP Zach Thompson (2-4, 5.12 ERA) v. Jr. LHP Tommy Henry (7-3, 2.61 ERA) vs.
Zach Thompson, like his teammate Hunter Parsons, also found success in his start versus the Nittany Lions last Saturday. The junior recorded a quality start, pitching seven innings and limiting Penn State to three runs on the way to his second win of the season. Thompson continues to right the ship of his season after experiencing several hiccups in recent weeks, and he’ll have a chance to keep up the effort versus Michigan.
Just like several of Maryland’s starters, Tommy Henry has been on the opposite side of fireworks shows as of late. Although his worst start of the year is a few weeks in the past (four innings, six hits, six runs, and four walks), Henry hasn’t completely returned to his early-season self in which he once recorded a complete-game shutout one-hitter. However, he appears close after limiting Rutgers to one run over six innings of work.
Probable Starting Pitching Matchup
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Fr. RHP Trevor LaBonte (1-5, 6.56 ERA) v. So. RHP Jeff Criswell (2-1, 2.86 ERA) vs.
The only pitcher to end up on the losing end of the Penn State series was Trevor LaBonte as he continues to struggle at keeping the ball in the strikezone. Since his first start in March, LaBonte has failed to limited his walks to less than three in each of his starts, and after a five-run outing at Penn State which bumped his season ERA to 6.56, LaBonte desparately needs to find some sort of bounceback as the threat of Michigan looms in the distance this Sunday.
Even sophomore Jeff Criswell, the Sunday starter for Michigan, has been on a tear this season. Coming in at a 2.61 ERA, the best by any Sunday starter in the Big Ten, Criswell is coming off his longest start of the season – a 7.2-inning effort against Rutgers in which he only allowed three hits.