Maryland baseball comfortably sits atop the Big Ten standings with three more weekends of conference play left. The Terps’ biggest remaining challenge comes this weekend, when they travel to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers are on the inside of the NCAA tournament bubble, with a RPI very close to the Terps’ No. 25 figure. Plus, the Hoosiers are coming off of series wins against Minnesota and Michigan, respectively, with the latter having taken place in Ann Arbor.
To get a better feel for the 2017 Hoosiers, I traded questions with Alex Robbins of SB Nation’s The Crimson Quarry. Alex is the baseball beat writer and an avid Indiana baseball fan. My answers to his questions can be found here .
Testudo Times: Indiana lost its entire weekend rotation from 2016. That had to hurt. Has there been any consistent starter this year for the Hoosiers?
Crimson Quarry: That did hurt, and no, there have not been any consistent starters. Everyone who has started on a weekend has had a flash of brilliance, but Jonathan Stiever was the only guy who, coming into the year, could have been expected to be consistent or an ace. An early-season injury really put a damper on him, though, and he’s still only made eight starts. He held Oregon State, who I think is clearly the best team in the country, to one run in the season opener. Stiever has not gotten much help from the offense. It all seemed to come together last weekend, though, against Michigan. He threw seven scoreless innings against the Wolverines and picked up the Friday night win. If he can turn that kind of performance into something more consistent it will be huge for Indiana because, as of right now, they look poised for a decent seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they won’t stand a chance of being successful without Jonathan Stiever being at his best.
TT: Last year Indiana wasn’t a team that would necessarily outscore opponents. This year’s team is different, especially in terms of the long ball. What’s been responsible for the home run outburst?
CQ: Two newcomers — Matt Lloyd and Matt Gorski — have really helped out in the home run department. They have 12 between them (nine from Lloyd, who hit three in one day at Northwestern earlier this season). But it’s not just those two guys. Craig Dedelow, despite having a season-long slump (he’s hitting just .244), has added a lot of power it appears and has nine of his own. Logan Sowers has always demonstrated that he can tear the cover off the ball and he’s got six. Really, though, I think the difference has been that the Indiana lineup is much longer. What I mean by that is that there aren’t as many soft spots where pitchers can find easy outs.
Last year, pitchers could work around Dedelow, Sowers, and Luke Miller. That’s not the case this season. That has allowed all the guys with power to see a lot more good pitches than they saw or would have seen last year and they are making teams pay at least a couple times each weekend.
TT: Chris Lemonis is in his third season as head coach. What’s been the general impression of how he’s done?
CQ: There are no grand delusions in Bloomington that the wild success the program saw with Kyle Schwarber and co. is something that will ever be replicated, or at least not consistently. But there is a general feeling that this program has separated itself from most of the pack in the Big Ten (save Maryland, Nebraska, and Michigan) and should make the NCAA Tournament every year, or at least shouldn’t miss out very often. So after two years, the results weren’t disappointing by any means. However, there were some legitimate complaints about the weak scheduling last season, that hurt the Hoosiers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament.
But this season, Lemonis has fixed that problem. And right now, despite only being six games over .500, Indiana is 28th in RPI thanks to having the No. 8 strength of schedule in the country. Aside from the scheduling, I don’t think anyone being fair could have a complaint. Each one of his teams has had a glaring deficiency, like all northern teams will have. This season, the starting pitching, as well as the backend of the bullpen, have probably given away five or six games.
Lemonis is a competitor and isn’t afraid to tinker with his lineup, his rotation, or his bullpen, and I think he has made some savvy moves that have really covered up some of his teams’ shortcomings. All in all, Lemonis is off to a great start and, unless a baseball school comes along and steals him (like Arizona State did with Tracy Smith), I think he will have a long run of success in Bloomington.