Series Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

First place in the Big 10 is on the line this weekend as No. 18 Maryland travels to Piscataway, New Jersey for a three-game series against the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. This Rutgers team will pose the most difficult challenge yet in conference play for the Terps, both teams entering action with 36 wins on the season. If Maryland can pick up a sweep this weekend, they’ll find themselves leaders of the Big 10 with six games to go.

It was another successful week for the Terps, winning a weekend series over Northwestern that saw three fantastic starting pitching performances including Ryan Ramsey’s perfect game on Friday night. Tuesday’s showdown with Georgetown saw another dominating performance by this Maryland lineup, lighting up the Hoyas pitching staff for 19 runs.

Chris Alleyne and Maxwell Costes continue to provide the power to this lineup, each hitting a home run over the weekend against Northwestern. The pair of sluggers currently sit at one and two in the Big 10 for homers, Alleyne on top with fourteen and Costes right behind him with thirteen.

Kevin Keister had a huge game on Tuesday, going four of five and driving in three runs against Georgetown. After a really difficult start to the season that saw him platooning with Drew Grace and Jacob Orr, Keister is now batting .328 and has firmly secured his spot as the starting second baseman.

Freshman pitcher Matt Cunningham made a great first impression on Tuesday, striking out the side in order in his first outing as a Terp.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (36-10, 15-3 Big Ten)

Last Season

2021 saw a middle-of-the-road year for Rutgers in a season of conference-only games, going 21-23 and finishing eighth in the Big 10. Hitting was a struggle for this team a year ago, having a conference third worst .257 batting average. Pitching was a bit better but still toward the middle of the league, finishing seventh in the Big 10 with a 5.00 ERA. By the end of the season, 21 wins were not enough to earn the Scarlet Knights a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

This Season

There were not too many people outside the Rutgers dugout who would have told you back in February that this team would be in first place in the Big 10 with three weeks to go in the regular season, not even projected to finish in the top six based on the preseason coaches poll. Yet after the first week of May, that’s exactly where they find themselves. At 15-3, the Scarlet Knights enter the weekend two and a half games ahead of second place Maryland, meaning only a Terps sweep will be able to dethrone them. Timely hitting and dominance on the mound have been key for Steve Owens’ team. At the plate, the Scarlet Knights lead the Big 10 in batting average, hits and runs scored. At 3.52, Rutgers also boasts the second-best team ERA in the conference.

Hitters to Watch

You would be hard-pressed to find a hitter in this Rutgers lineup who is not having a fantastic year. Currently, there are seven players, all consistent starters, who are batting over .300 on the season.

The best among them has without a doubt been redshirt junior Nick Cimillo. His name appears all over the Big 10 leaderboards, sitting in the top five for batting average, slugging percentage, OBP, OPS and runs scored.

Sophomore Ryan Lasko was awarded national player of the week by D1 Baseball for his performance last week where he went a combined 14 of 21 against Hofstra and Ohio State, hitting five home runs and driving in fourteen. He has also won Big 10 Player of the Week twice this year, consistently providing a spark for this Rutgers lineup no matter who the opposing pitcher may be.

Pitchers to Watch

Redshirt junior Dale Stanavich has been almost unhittable out of the bullpen this year for Rutgers. In 18 appearances, the Scarlet Knights closer has allowed just three earned runs across 23 1/3 innings. He will be a lethal weapon against the Maryland lineup late in games this weekend.

Redshirt sophomore Sam Bello has been a great bullpen piece this year for Rutgers as well. Aside from one tough four-run outing against Coastal Carolina, the reliever has not allowed more than two runs in any appearances and enters the weekend with 2.10 ERA. His best outing of the season came back in February where he provided 4 1/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen in a win over Houston Baptist.

Probable Starting Pitcher Matchups

Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET

Jr. LHP Ryan Ramsey (8-0, 2.42 ERA) vs. 5th Year Sr. RHP Jared Kollar (7-1, 2.76 ERA)

There really isn’t much more to say about Ryan Ramsey’s performance last Friday night that hasn’t already been said. He completely outmatched Northwestern’s lineup on the way to throwing just the 34th perfect game in the history of college baseball. It was an utter display of dominance that truly encapsulated how good he has been this season. Entering the weekend, the Maryland lefty finds himself fourth in the conference in ERA, second in opposing batting average, first in wins and seventh in strikeouts.

Jared Kollar will get the start opposite Ramsey on Saturday. A graduate transfer from Seton Hill University, he has provided a great lift to this pitching staff, posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.02 WHIP to this point. His best start of the season came back in March against Omaha where he went 7 1/3 shutout innings, only allowing two total hits.

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

So. RHP Jason Savacool (7-2, 2.39 ERA) vs. 5th Year Sr. Nathan Florence (5-2, 2.94 ERA)

Jason Savacool will get the ball in game two of the series, coming off yet another fantastic performance. With so much to live up to following Ramsey’s perfect game, the sophomore went seven shutout innings, only allowing three hits and lowering his season ERA to 2.39, good for second best in the Big 10. With nine punchouts in the performance as well, he continued on his path to striking out the most batters in the conference, now 15 K’s ahead of second place in that category. A late-inning comeback by Northwestern prevented Savacool from getting the win, but he’ll enter the weekend with lots of momentum on his side.

Another graduate transfer for Rutgers, Nathan Florence has been a welcome addition to this pitching staff alongside Kollar. He hasn’t necessarily been an innings eater for the Scarlet Knights, only pitching up to six innings in one start, but he has very effective nonetheless. His best outing by far came against Nebraska on April 9, where he went five innings, only allowing two total baserunners and striking out seven.

Monday, 1:00 p.m. ET

Jr. RHP Nick Dean (3-2, 4.12 ERA) vs. So. LHP Justin Sinibaldi (2-0, 5.81 ERA)

Moving to the Sunday spot seemed to have worked for Nick Dean as we saw a version of him closer to what he looked like back in February and early March. Over five innings he did not allow a run to Northwestern and only gave up one hit. There still seemed to be some issues with his command though as he allowed four walks, but the outing as a whole was still very encouraging as the end of the regular season draws closer.

It’s been tough going for Sinibaldi since he assumed the Sunday starter role at the beginning of April, only going more than three innings once in his past four starts. In his last start against Ohio State he only lasted 2/3 of an inning, allowing four runs, three hits and three walks to the Buckeyes lineup. He was also brought out of the bullpen on Tuesday to face two batters in a loss to Seton Hall, so it will be interesting to see how long he is allowed to go on Monday given the abnormal week he has had.