Feb. 22 Power Rankings

The 10 Innings Power Rankings are back for 2018. But this year, instead of touching on where the team is or isn’t playing its best baseball, as we rank each team based on the quality of baseball they are playing at the present moment (not necessarily who is best 1-13, though over time they usually align), each week will have a theme where we share insights from each team on that particularly topic.

For week one, we highlight the aces around the Big Ten, noting how each team’s top pitcher opened the season, and how such a showing would impact the their team’s season if it were the norm.

Records through Feb. 20.

#1 Indiana (3-1)

In Indiana’s 6-3 loss to Oklahoma, junior right-handed pitcher Jonathan Stiever allowed six runs off eight hits in five innings, giving up three home runs. Last year, as IU’s Friday starter in 14 games, Stiever was struck for 10 home runs, showing there is a propensity to surrender hard contact. As much as IU has an offense that can bail him out, Stiever will need to curtail the loud hits, if he’s to be the ace that Indiana needs to have a long postseason.

#2 Purdue (3-0)

Purdue’s Tanner Andrews was dominant in his start against Western Michigan. In 6.2 innings, Andrews did not concede a run, scattering four hits without issuing a walk, striking out nine batters. Such a showing isn’t out of the norm for Andrews, he had four scoreless outings last year. But even with those four outings, Andrews finished with a 4.52 ERA, due to four outings where he allowed at least five earned runs. If the Andrews that pitched against WMU can be the Andrews Purdue routinely sees in 2018, last year’s turn-around is only the beginning.

#3 Maryland (2-1)

Andrews didn’t open the season with another weekly honor as that went to Maryland’s Taylor Bloom. Bloom edged out Andrews with a nine-strikeout, zero-walk showing himself, holding Tennessee off of the scoreboard over seven innings of five-hit baseball. Bloom thrives off of command and control, using location and deception to beat hitters. Outings like the one against the Volunteers can lead to back-to-back Big Ten Pitcher of the Year winners for the Terps, and a fourth regional in five years.

#4 Penn State (3-0)

Justin Hagenman nicely assumed the role of the Penn State ace, leading the charge in what ultimately was a sweep of Elon. Pitching to a 5.49 ERA over 80.1 innings in 2017, Hagenman opened his junior season with five innings of scoreless baseball against Elon, striking out seven batters, walking two, and giving up four hits. The .183 opponent’s average carried last year by ace Sal Biasi may be hard to duplicate, but his 3.18 is in reach with showings like Hagenman’s on Friday, which would go a long way in Penn State rebounding from a 18-37 season.

#5 Nebraska (3-1)

Take a bow, Mr. Alvarado. In Luis Alvarado’s first season as a collegiate pitcher, the Husker right-hander logged 10 saves and held a 1.76 ERA in 15.2 innings. Not bad. In Luis Alvarado’s first start as a collegiate pitcher, the Nebraska senior allowed one run off four hits, striking out nine batters in 4.2 innings. That also is not bad. Alvarado has the stuff to take Nebraska’s Friday role and run with it. He still only has 20.1 career innings under his belt, but if the flash of promise can last a starter’s workload, Nebraska will have more than a fighter’s chance to repeat.

#6 Ohio State (3-1)

It was a fairly typical outing for junior right-hander pitcher Ryan Feltner, which unfortunately isn’t what the Ohio State coaches need from their ace in 2018. Entering the season as the Big Ten’s top pitching prospect, Feltner had a 6.32 ERA over 62.2 innings last year, striking out 57 batters but walking 28. Feltner’s line against Canisius on Friday: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 6 SO. Feltner has the ability to power his fastball by batters, but needs to reel in his control and concede fewer hits if the Bucks are to rebound from last year’s 11th-place finish.

#7 Iowa (3-0)

Nick Allgeyer did not receive a decision in Iowa’s 4-3 victory against Toledo on opening day, but the showing by the junior lefty was a victory for Iowa. A year removed from Tommy John surgery, Allgeyer struck out seven batters in five innings, held Toledo to four hits, and walked three batters. After pitching to a 3.44 ERA in 36.2 innings in 2016, Allgeyer was inline to be a weekend starter last year. Now, as Iowa needs to replace its season-ending weekend rotation, Allgeyer is in a position to help the Hawkeyes sustain the program’s rising momentum.

#8 Michigan (2-1)

Any of Michigan’s three weekend starters could serve as the staff ace, but we’ll give the nod to righty Alec Rennard on seniority, and due to the senior being first out of the gate for Michigan. Army mustered only four hits off Rennard in five innings, going down on strikes four times without collecting a walk. Rennard is a strike-thrower, finishing the 2017 season with only 15 in 65 innings. The ability to keep free bases to a minimum will immensely help Michigan as the Wolverines settle in a lineup with six new starters in the field.

#9 Minnesota (2-2)

Moving from midweek starter to weekend headliner, Reggie Meyer gave Minnesota a solid start in their opener at Georgia Tech. Over four innings, Meyer allowed three runs to score, two earned, off four hits, walking a batter and punching out three. Pitching is the big question mark for the Gophers after losing their closer and weekend bookends. As he was on Friday, Meyer doesn’t have to be spectacular, just solid, to help Minnesota seek a second Big Ten title in three years.

#10 Illinois (1-1)

Illinois’ season opener occurred on Sunday, after a cancelled flight prevented them from heading to Texas as planned, then snow postponed an adjusted opener in St. Louis on Saturday. Ty Weber was on the mound when Illinois finally opened the season against South Dakota St.. But given the circumstances, who takes the ball this Friday may change. Weber or not, Illinois will ask more of the left-hander than what he showed last year, going 2-7 with a 5.51 ERA in 78.1 innings. Sunday’s start was a step in the right direction, holding the Jackrabbits to two runs in 4.2 innings, Weber did walk three while striking out three.

#11 Rutgers (1-2)

Senior John O’Reilly had the toughest opponent of any Big Ten pitcher this weekend, taking on Miami. But with 35 starts under his belt, few pitchers in the country have been called upon to start as many games as O’Reilly has. With his background, he knows the three-inning outing against Miami isn’t good enough to help Rutgers move up the Big Ten pecking order. O’Reilly walked three batters and hit another, and gave up five hits as the Hurricane scored seven runs, five earned, off the right-handed pitcher.

#12 Northwestern (1-2)

The lone Wildcat pitcher to make a start in every weekend in 2017, hopes are high in Evanston that Hank Christie can be a leading force in Northwestern sustaining the momentum created in the program last year. The first start to Christie’s sophomore season wasn’t favorable to that cause. In 3.1 innings, Omaha racked up six runs off seven hits. Northwestern will utilize a tandem-system, piggybacking pitchers at a predetermined mark, so Christie may not have the opportunity to put up eye-popping numbers, but with the ball in his hand to open the weekend, his outings can go a long way in setting the tone for the Wildcats throughout the season.

#13 Michigan State (0-4)

The Spartans left Fresno without a win, but their ace Riley McCauley did everything he could to start the season on the right foot. Making the transition from closer to start, McCauley punched out 12 Fresno State Bulldogs in six innings, allowing one run off two hits and two walks. A coach never knows what a pitcher will give him when he’s extended in a new role, Jake Boss will gladly take Friday night’s McCauley for the remaining 50 games of the season.

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