Are these guys for real?
The short answer is Yes: very much so.
The Hawkeyes must finally feel vindicated. After getting slighted in the preseason polls (no national rankings and mid-tier B1G predictions), Iowa has vaulted to the top of the B1G standings in the early part of conference play. Sitting alone in first place with a 6-0 B1G record, 21-8 overall, the Hawkeyes have begun making an appearance in the polls. Iowa has an RPI of 37, which puts them on the bubble for a possible NCAA bid. It would be their first since 1990. Currently D1baseball projects Iowa as a #2 seed in the Regionals. Iowa has wins against No. 20 Missouri State and Bradley (RPI 22). But muddying up the Hawkeyes' resume is a No. 137 SOS and some embarrassing losses.
In terms of conference play, Iowa swept Indiana at home two weeks ago, but time will tell whether or not this is a significant achievement. Last weekend the Hawkeyes swept Purdue at West Lafayette. Although Purdue is a lower-tier B1G team, sweeping a conference foe on the road is nevertheless impressive. So this weekend's series against the No. 16 Terps will be a true litmus test for Iowa.
Iowa led the B1G in scoring last year, and they're pretty tough at the plate this year. They have one of the conference's leading table-setters in senior center-fielder Eric Toole. In fact, Toole has improved over his 2014 performance to such an extent that he is arguably the team's MVP so far. He's raised his average from .302 to .358 and his 18 stolen bases (1st in B1G) already eclipse last year's total of 14. His .450 OBP ranks 6th in the B1G. Toole makes the Iowa offense go, and keeping him off the bases will be key for the Terps.
Another hot bat is that of OF/P Tyler Peyton (.364 avg), the Friday night starter who is a threat at the plate also. Nick Day (.324, 2 hr, 6sb-6sba), Jake Mangler (.306, team-high 21 rbi), and JUCO transfer junior RF Joel Booker (.283, 2 hr) are all capable hitters. The Hawkeyes lead the B1G with 48 stolen bases, accomplished in just 62 attempts: a 77% success rate. However, with only nine home runs and a slg% sitting at a mediocre.364, Iowa by necessity needs to manufacture runs.
Pitching and defense
While Nebraska's weekend rotation looked good (at least on paper), Iowa's is even better. In fact, the Hawkeyes rank third in the B1G with a 2.80 era, and their three weekend starters have been pitching exceptionally well: three RHP juniors, Tyler Peyton (4-2, 2.17 era), Blake Hickman (4-1, 3.13 era), and RHP Calvin Matthews (3-0, 1.25 era). Reliever Luke Vandermaten has allowed a single run in 17.2 innings, and Iowa's bullpen is strong. Overall, pitching has made a major leap from where it was in 2014, when Iowa's pitchers sported a 4.34 era. Iowa is second (behind Nebraska) in fielding percentage, and Booker has got a strong arm in right field
Iowa is a bit like Nebraska in that they have superb weekend starters, play excellent defense, hit for average, but lack power. Like Nebraska, the Hawkeyes come in with some pundits doubting about their ability to play elite teams. So this weekend is a stringent litmus test for Iowa, who face a Maryland team that until Wednesday had not lost at Shipley in 15 straight games. Further, the Terps should be getting LaMonte Wade back from a hand injury, as well as Nick Cieri.
What it comes down to has an appealing sound: can Maryland's heavy metal take care of Iowa's classical touch?
Match-ups and How-to-Follow
Friday 6:00 pm p.m. RHP Tyler Peyton (4-2) vs. Mike Shawaryn (7-0)
Saturday 2:00 p.m. RHP Blake Hickman (4-2) vs. Tayler Stiles (2-2)
Sunday noon Calvin Matthews (3-0) vs. Brian Shaffer (2-0) or Kevin Mooney (0-0)