The Weekend 10

It’s starting to be crunch time in the Big Ten, with teams entering the back-half of their conference schedule and the postseason picture becoming clearer. The weekend saw many stout performances, so strong in fact that the Big Ten’s top sluggers, Bren Spillane and Scott Schreiber, didn’t make the cut, even though both connected on two home runs this weekend.

Here’s the standouts who did.

Northwestern Jr. 1B Willie Bourbon

Bourbon collected five hits in 10 at-bats, in additional to drawing three walks in Northwestern’s weekend series against Michigan State. The Wildcat picked scored a pair of runs and drove in teammates.

Iowa Sr. C Tyler Cropley

Cropley continued his strong season in the heart of the Hawkeye order, going 6-for-12 over three games in Minneapolis. Against the nationally-ranked Gophers, Cropley roped two doubles, and picked up a home run, driving in three runs.

Michigan Fr. 1B Jesse Franklin

A leading force in Michigan’s now 20-game winning streak, Franklin scored seven runs and drove in another seven, as the Wolverines defended their home turf with a weekend sweep over Penn State. In 13 at-bats, Franklin picked up two singles, a double, and two home runs.

Minnesota Fr. RHP Patrick Fredrickson

The race for Big Ten Freshman of the Year continues to be a tight one, with Fredrickson, this week’s 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week, continuing a stout season in the Gopher rotation. On Saturday, Fredrickson held Iowa to six hits and two walks over 7.2 innings, striking out a pair of Hawkeyes, en route to improving to 5-0 on the year in Minnesota’s 3-0 victory.

Ohio State Sr. RHP Seth Kinker

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals relied on Kinker to keep the Buckeyes in tight contests this weekend against Indiana, and did not take the ball out of the hand of his best reliever. On Saturday, Kinker, this week’s Pitcher of the Week, pitched two innings of scoreless baseball, holding the Hoosiers without a grab his ninth save in securing a 5-4 victory. In Sunday’s rubber match, Kinker pitched the final 5.1 innings, scattering two hits, and again kept the Hoosiers off the scoreboard, as the Buckeyes grabbed another upset victory with a 6-5 win in 12 innings.

Purdue Jr. 1B Jacson McGowan

In a weekend critical to the team’s postseason hopes, Purdue went on the road and swept their weekend series at Maryland, improving to 7-4 in conference play. Guiding the Boilermakers to three wins, McGowan, this week’s Player of the Week, recorded a multi-hit game in each contest. The slugger’s 6-for-12 weekend was highlighted by a game-tying, ninth-inning home run on Saturday, before connecting on the game-winning shot in the 11th.

Ohio State Sr. 3B Noah McGowan

Ohio State’s athletic communications department was unable to find the last time the Buckeyes won a weekend set against a top 10 team. Leading the Bucks to the big weekend win was McGowan, responsible for the game-winning hits in both of OSU’s victories. Going 6-for-12 with three RBI, McGowan connected on a solo home run on Saturday, before hitting an opposite-field double to drive in Ohio State’s sixth and final run on Sunday in the 12-inning thriller.

Michigan State Sr. 1B Zach McGuire

A second-half surge continued for Michigan State, with the Spartans sweeping Northwestern. Running their conference winning streak to six games, MSU got a big weekend from first baseman Zach McGuire, who picked up two home runs on the weekend, half of his four hits in 11 at-bats, as he scored four runs and drove in five.

Michigan Jr. 3B Blake Nelson

No player drove in more runs over the weekend than Nelson, responsible for driving in nine of the 41 runs the Wolverines scored. Over 13 at-bats, the junior third baseman grabbed six hits, half of which were doubles on Saturday. Nelson reached base twice more by way or walk and scored two runs.

Indiana Jr. RHP Jonathan Stiever

Starting Indiana’s weekend off on the right foot, Stiever held a high-powered Ohio State offense off of the scoreboard on Friday. In seven innings of work, the righty surrendered only five hits, walked four Buckeyes and struck out six batters, improving to 5-1 on the year with a 2.53 ERA.

March 22 Power Rankings

With the exception of Maryland, Purdue, and Ohio State, Big Ten play starts this weekend. With teams tending to non-conference schedules in hopes of positioning themselves for an NCAA Tournament berth, the focus now turns to the conference crown.

From a standout newcomer, to veterans with multi-year track records, this week’s power rankings takes a look at each team’s closer, examining the first five weeks of the season for the pitchers responsible for nailing down the victory as Big Ten teams begin to fight for the title.

Previous power rankings: Week 1Week 2Week 3, Week 4

#1 Indiana (15-4) Last Week: 1

Jr. RHP Matt Lloyd– A preseason All-American at the utility position, the two-way talent has done his job at the back of the IU bullpen. Appearing in four games, Lloyd has pitched six scoreless innings. Saving two contests, Lloyd has surrendered five hits, walked two batters and struck out seven hitters.

#2 Ohio State (14-6) LW: 3

Sr. RHP Seth Kinker– A 3-1 record stands next to four saves for Kinker, as the Buckeye provides Greg Beals with security to keep games close and lock down Ohio State victories. In 17 innings, Kinker has struck out 19 batters against three walks, and holds a 1.06 ERA.

#3 Illinois (12-5) LW: 2

Jr. RHP Joey Gerber– Conceding only four hits in 27 at-bats, Gerber sports an impressive .148 batting average against, With a 3.58 ERA, the Illini has recorded four saves over eight outings, picking up 11 strikeouts and issuing three walks in 7.2 innings.

#4 Minnesota (14-8) LW: 6

Fr. RHP Max Meyer– Trough the first five weeks of the season Meyer has delivered on high expectations. After the graduation of All-Big Ten second-team selection Brian Glowcki, Meyer, has filled in nicely, recording five saves over nine outings. Meyer has picked up 19 strikeouts to four walks in 14.1 innings and holds a 3.14 ERA.

#5 Rutgers (11-7) LW: 5

Jr. RHP Serafino Brito– Brito has transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen in his third season in Piscataway. Making nine relief appearances, Brito has recorded two saves for the upstart Scarlet Knights. Brito has struck out 17 batters in 14.2 innings, sporting a 6.14 ERA.

#6 Michigan (9-11) LW: 11

Soph. RHP Jack Weisenburger– It’s been bullpen by committee for Michigan, but more and more Weisenburger’s number is being called later in tight contests. With all seven appearances coming in relief, Weisenburger has logged 14.2 innings and has a save under his belt. The second-year pitcher has struck out 17 batters, walked 11, and holds a .176 batting average against.

#7 Iowa (12-7) LW: 9

Jr. RHP Zach Daniels– Three Hawkeyes have recorded saves this year, but Daniels has been the most consistent. The converted infielder has a 2.03 ERA over 13.1 innings, with two saves and a 2-1 record. Daniels has recorded 16 strikeouts, tied for third most on the team, responsible for nine hits and five walks.

#8 Nebraska (12-9) LW: 5

Sr. RHP Jake Hohensee– Injuries have depleted Darin Erstad’s pitching staff, but Hohensee has been a rock in a move to the bullpen. Hohensee’s five saves have come over eight outings, as he’s allowed one run over nine innings. Hohensee has stifled the opposition, allowing just four hits in 32 at-bats with one walk, while striking out seven.

#9 Northwestern (7-8) LW: 12

Sr. RHP Tommy Bordignon– Bordignon’s power arm is starting to turn in the production Spencer Allen has believed the senior held. Enjoying his best season in Evanston, Bordginon has recorded three saves in five outings. Logging 11.2 innings of work, Bordginon’s ERA stands at 3.09.

#10 Maryland (10-11) LW: 7

Jr. RHP John Murphy– Murphy has been a strikeout machine out of the Terrapin bullpen, picking up 19 strikeouts in 10.1 innings. Nine walks have contributed to a 2.61 ERA, as Murphy has only allowed four hits in 34 at-bats. The junior has two saves on the season.

#11 Penn State (6-9) LW: 13

Soph. RHP Eric Mock– Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Mock has shown flashes of promise for Rob Cooper. The redshirt sophomore has recorded three saves, as he’s toed the rubber six times this year. Mock’s 5.86 ERA is the result of 10 hits in 11.1 innings, two being home runs, but he has struck out 16 batters to four walks.

#12 Purdue (9-9) LW: 8

Sr. LHP Ross Learnard– A preseason All-American, Learnard has pitched well, although save opportunities have been limited. Appearing in seven games, Learnard has pitched eight innings, and holds a 2.25 ERA. The lefty’s .143 opponent’s batting average continues to be one of the best in the conference.

#13 Michigan State (6-12) LW: 10

Soph. LHP Mitchell Tyranski– The Spartans as a whole may be off to a tough start, but the sophomore southpaw has been a consistent weapon out of the bullpen for Jake Boss. Tyranski’s 1.15 ERA leads Michigan State pitchers who have at least two appearances. In eight games, Tyranski has allowed nine hits, issued eight walks, and struck out 15 batters.

The 10 Spot: Webb’s Wonders

A wild Big Ten season is set to come to an end in nine days, with the final two weekends of play set to bring high drama and tense moments as six teams battle for the conference championship. Gearing up for a frantic finish, this week’s 10 Spot takes a look at 10 thoughts 10 Innings’ Chris Webb has on the season thus far.

Maryland’s Jekyll & Hyde Act

While it may not please head coach John Szfec, it is quite impressive how Maryland can be two different teams based on where a game is played. When playing in College Park, Maryland has the country’s best home record at 19-1. But away from Bob “Turtle” Thomas Stadium, the Terrapins are just 8-12 in road games. Avoiding home losses has helped Maryland keep a stout RPI, but the inability to play at the same high level looks to have cost the program a shot at its first Big Ten championship, dropping their last two series, at Indiana and at Illinois.

Gilbreath’s Pitcher of the Year claim

Minnesota junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath entered the season with much attention, moving into the Gophers’ Friday role after excelling in relief last year and boosting his prospect stock in the Cape. Strangely, Gilbreath hasn’t received a lot of attention as the year has gone on, even though he’s performing at a Big Ten Pitcher of the Year season. Overall, Gilbreath is 5-0, with a 2.30 ERA, third-lowest in the Big Ten, with 74 strikeouts in 62.2 innings, and the conference’s stingiest batting average against at .167. In conference play, Gilbreath’s 1.86 ERA is second among starters, his batting average against drops to an incredible .141 with 47 punch-outs in 39.2 innings. Maryland’s Brian Shaffer and Michigan State’s Alex Troop have also had strong seasons and garner more attention in respect to prospect status, but Gilbreath is right there and it’s undeniable he’s having one of the best seasons among pitchers in the Big Ten.

Standout freshman

Quite the race is unfolding for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, with several players, not only having strong debut seasons, leading the way for their teams. Minnesota infielder Jordan Kozicky stepped into the lineup due to injury and has not relinquished a spot on the Gophers’ lineup. The redshirt freshman is second in the Big Ten with a .357 average. On his heels is Ohio State right fielder Dominic Canzone, leading the Buckeyes with a .356 average and 10 stolen bases. Illinois second baseman Michael Massey is batting .321 with 10 doubles and six home runs, adding a superb glove up the middle. Michigan State left fielder Bryce Kelley is batting .347 with three triples and 10 stolen bases and Purdue center fielder Skylar Hunter sports a .325 average. Each of the five players have shown the skill and ability to be a force in their teams lineup for the next few seasons.

Harris’ prospect status primed to climb

The back-half of the Big Ten season has not been kind to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights have dropped five consecutive conference games after reaching .500 in Big Ten play through 10 games. But the season has seen center fielder Jawuan Harris continue to climb as one of the conference’s top draft prospects for the 2018 season. As a freshman, Harris’ used elite speed to lead the conference with 35 stolen bases. But as a two-sport standout for Rutgers, starring at wide receiver on the gridiron, Harris was more athlete than baseball player. With a year of at-bats under his belt, as well as year of collegiate strength and conditioning, Harris’ overall game has blossomed. He’s still the Big Ten’s premier base stealer, with 23 swipes in 29 attempts, but he is now adding power with the speed. Batting .279, Harris has connected on eight home runs. Being a two-sport player does limit Harris’ ability to take on the summer circuit and engage in fall ball, but what he has done this spring has been noticed and could force a decision on which sport to pursuit a year from now.

Kinker a bright spot for the Buckeyes

It’s been a tough year for Ohio State. After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, leading the Big Ten with 45 wins a year ago, it’s been a step backward for the Buckeyes, all but looking on the outside of the Big Ten Tournament. Injuries have hampered OSU pitching to go with an offense needing to retool after the graduation or drafting of seven starters. But there’s been a bright spot in right-handed pitcher Seth Kinker. The junior has been a rock for Greg Beals, closing, providing long relief and now emerging as a starter. In his first career start, Kinker tossed six innings of two-run baseball in the series finale at Michigan, leading the Bucks to a 4-2 win. In conference play, Kinker has the sixth-best ERA of qualified pitchers at 2.21, striking out 20 batters in 20.1 innings, giving Beals and the Buckeyes an anchor in the pitching staff to build around next season.

A tough Coach of the Year call

With two weeks to go, it’s shaping up to be a tough call for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Nebraska’s Darin Erstad has been a calming and steady force in guiding the Huskers through a turbulent start to their perch atop the Big Ten standings. Purdue’s Mark Wasikowski has overseen the best turnaround in the country, taking last year’s last place Boilermakers into an all but Big Ten Tournament participant with a winning season. Considering where teams where a month ago, Indiana’s Chris Lemonis and Illinois’ Dan Hartleb deserve recognition for in-season coaching, and Northwestern’s Spencer Allen has the Wildcats competitive, fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in seven years. There’s still two weeks to go and the standings are sure to have a final shakeup or two, but there’s been several outstanding jobs done by coaches in the conference this year.

Meyers is MVP, but Player of the Year?

Nebraska junior left-handed pitcher and center fielder Jake Meyers isn’t the best position player in the conference, nor is he the most dominant or outstanding pitcher. But in being able to take the mound on Sunday, leadoff Nebraska’s lineup, play defensively up the middle and be a terror on the bases, it’s hard to argue a player is more valuable than Meyers. On the mound, Meyers is 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA, striking out 45 batters against just eight walks in 70 innings. At the plate, Meyers sports a .301 average, a .422 on-base percentage and has stolen 18 bases in 19 attempts. Last year, Minnesota’s Matt Fiedler was named the top player, serving as the Gophers DH and Friday starter. He wasn’t the best player on the mound nor at the plate, but he helped Minnesota to the conference championship as a two-way force. Meyers may not jump out as the top player, but the precedent is there for him to take home the honor.

IU the new OSU?

The Hoosiers are rocking and rolling hitting mid-May with a head full of stream. From scuffling near .500 to being the top Big Ten team by way of RPI, the Hoosiers have caught fire. The run of Indiana is not unlike what the Big Ten saw last year with Ohio State. At one point, the Buckeyes were 2-5 in conference play before controlling their championship destiny in the last weekend. The Buckeyes blitzed through the Big Ten Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament, a thought unfathomable two months prior. Ohio State slugged their way through the 2016 season, hitting a conference-best 57 home runs. Indiana leads the Big Ten in home runs, also at 57, reaching the total in just 47 games, 18 less than last year’s Buckeyes. With Craig Dedelow, Matt Lloyd and Luke Miller, IU has a trio of players with at least 10 home runs, giving Chris Lemonis the Big Ten’s most dangerous lineup, one never out of a game.

Travel curfew madness

The Big Ten season has already experienced one tie, Nebraska and Indiana playing to an 11-inning, 1-1 tie on April 2. The game ended in a deadlock due to Nebraska’s travel curfew. The conference nearly saw a second tie due to a travel curfew this past Sunday, when Illinois and Maryland were in the bottom of the ninth, tied 6-6, as Maryland’s travel curfew hit. A tie was averted as Illinois hit a two-out, two-run walk-off home run, to avoid needing a new half-inning, which would not have played. But, the close call came a week after Maryland did not play nine innings, as a travel curfew ended their Sunday final in Bloomington, after eight innings. That game did experience a weather delay, but it may be time the Big Ten goes to 11 a.m. starts for select Sundays, when teams on the boundaries of the Big Ten border, Nebraska, Rutgers, Maryland have to get away from locations without easily accessible airports. The games deserve a just completion.

Rebuilds continue Big Ten’s competitiveness

There’s no set blueprint to rebuilding a program, each task is different. How a rebuild unfolds hinges on the dynamics of a roster, is it an underclassmen-heavy roster or one that will experience a significant turnover with the graduation of a large senior class. How scholarships are allocated throughout the roster and things such as recruiting budgets, admission requiring and scheduling can slow or expedite a change in win-loss fortune. This year, the Big Ten is home to quicker-than-expected competitiveness from two clubs. Behind Wasikowski, Purdue is leading the country in improvement from 2016 to 2017 winning percentage, sitting in the middle of the Big Ten after finishing last two of three years. Northwestern hasn’t fared much better of late, and to be just a tiebreaker from inside the Big Ten Tournament’s field heading into the weekend, is a testament to the job Allen has done. The last five seasons have witness the top of the Big Ten compete with any team in the country. Now, those who have lagged are stepping up creating an ultra-competitive conference top to bottom.