Maryland baseball is in the midst of a tight Big Ten race early in the conference season. The Terps need every Big Ten series they can get, and their first conference home series will be this weekend against Rutgers.
Maryland currently stands at 17-11. After a rocky start, the Terps have rallied, winning 13 of their past 17 contests. Last weekend, they took two out of three from then-No. 25 Iowa on the road, scoring 25 total runs in the weekend series against the Big Ten’s best pitching staff.
But even in this winning stretch, the Terps have had some tough showings. Ace Jason Savacool gave up five runs in the first inning last Friday against Iowa, which required a valiant comeback to take the game. The Terps’ most recent game against William & Mary on Tuesday resulted in an embarrassing 10-run loss. Maryland saved its needed arms in its most recent midweek contest, but the whole staff needs to bounce back if the Terps want to beat the Scarlet Knights.
Friday’s opener against the Scarlet Knights is set for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch on Big Ten Plus. Both of the next two games will be aired on national television; Saturday’s 3 p.m. start will be on Big Ten Network and Sunday’s noon game will air on ESPNU.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-13, 1-2 Big Ten)
Despite recent struggles, the Scarlet Knights have been impressive in nonconference play. Rutgers swept 2022 regional host Georgia Southern and took a game from No. 14 Campbell in the first series of the year. Head coach Steve Owens is in his fourth year leading Rutgers and is trying to get it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007, when it was in the Big East. Rutgers, the No. 38 team in the RPI, is no pushover as the Terps host a Big Ten opponent for the first time this season.
Hitters to watch
Evan Sleight, junior outfielder, No. 3 — Sleight has been the most productive hitter in the Scarlet Knights’ lineup, with a 168 wRC+ in 126 plate appearances. Sleight leads the team in homers with seven; he has been one of the best hitters in the Big Ten thus far.
Ryan Lasko, junior outfielder, No. 26 — Lasko already has a decorated collegiate career for the Scarlet Knights. Among many other accolades in 2022, he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, a Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist, and tied the Rutgers single-season doubles record. So far this year he’s cooled off, but is still dangerous.
Pitchers to watch
Drew Conover, junior right-handed pitcher, No. 31 — Conover was a 2022 Cape Cod League All-Star with a 1.50 ERA in 12 games for the Harwich Mariners. He was also drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 20th round of the 2022 MLB Draft, but decided not to sign and transferred from Seton Hall to Rutgers. Conover has a 5.57 ERA on the year, but has only surrendered one homer in over 30 innings of work. With an average of over 10 strikeouts per nine innings, Conover is slated as the Friday starter.
Ben Gorski, Junior right-handed pitcher, No. 35 — Gorski was named the Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week after four innings pitched and seven strikeouts in a combined no-hitter against Georgia Southern on March 11. Gorski has the lowest ERA (1.37) on the team among qualified pitchers and and a 32.5% strikeout percentage in 12 appearances. He does walk around 15% of his batters, though, which may be a benefit for the disciplined Terps.
Consistent hitting. Rutgers has a team batting average of .305, with two qualified batters well over .370. On the other hand, Maryland’s pitching staff has struggled to keep runners off base. As seen by the Terps’ struggles to get out of jams against Iowa and William & Mary, Rutgers could be in store for some strong offensive showings.
Pitching struggles. Despite having some accomplished arms on staff — most notably Conover — Rutgers has not seen as much success on the mound as it may have wished for before the season began. The Scarlet Knights rank 10th in the Big Ten in hits allowed, ninth in runs allowed and 10th in earned run average.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland replace Matt Woods’ production? The Terps took a major blow on their Tuesday game against William & Mary when Matt Woods slammed into the wall trying to track a fly ball. Woods was evaluated for a concussion, putting his status is in question for this weekend.
Sophomore outfielder Jacob Orr, freshman outfielder Luke Zeisloft, and possibly sophomore outfielder/designated hitter Ian Petrutz could take his place in right. Woods has posted a near-1.000 OPS since a rocky start to the year, and he’s been great in right field all year. Vaughn has cycled through outfielders in the past two weeks, but Woods has started every game since his one-game suspension at the end of February.
2. How can Maryland shake its pitching woes? The Maryland pitching staff has often put its offense in a precarious position with game-killing meltdowns. Maryland’s staff ERA is currently at 5.64. While junior right-handed pitcher Nick Dean looks like he’s bouncing back, several pitchers hit a rough patch in the past week, such as redshirt junior right-handed pitchers Nigel Belgrave and David Falco Jr. Rutgers’ offense isn’t as explosive as Iowa or UCF, but Maryland’s pitching has struggled against just about everyone this season.
3. How will the Maryland crowd be? The Maryland crowd was loud and lively in the middle innings in its contest against William & Mary, with 80-degree weather and a late start time. While College Park is expected to cool down this weekend, a Big Ten series against Rutgers will draw a crowd. With sunny weather expected, it may be an active one.