Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hosting A Regional

I thought Michigan should have submitted a bid to host a NCAA Regional. I believe they should have taken the opportunity to capitalize on the team's success and build some fan interest heading into their stadium renovation project.

While I know the administration would rather wait for the renovation to be complete before inviting the nation in, I think that hosting would have brought along some credibility and excitement to the program. It also might have gotten Rich Maloney's squad a bit more local press coverage than normal.

Both major Detroit papers might send a reporter or a photographer to Ann Arbor for a couple of hours, or a local television station might have a cameraman grab some footage for their Sunday night sports wrap-up shows, but neither are about to ship anyone to Atlanta to follow Wolverines baseball.

The crowds for the Big Ten Tournament were good and would probably be even better for a NCAA regional. The thought of bringing in a national power or two, might have intrigued both the Michigan faithful and general baseball fans who rarely get to see the nation's best teams on display, let alone in person.

Do I really need to point out that it could have been a recruiting tool, as well?

Hosting a regional would have made the program appear to be on the rise, even if it went two and barbecue. Now, if the Wolverines drop two straight and end up spectators, or simply don't advance, it ends up a very small paragraph in the Detroit papers and probably won't get any mention on metropolitan news broadcasts.

All that said, I don't think they had any chance at hosting a regional. If Notre Dame, which is considered the standard bearer for northern baseball, can't win a regional after claiming the Big East regular season and tournament titles, Michigan wasn't about to host, either.

However, if you put in a failed bid, so what? You tried to get your kids another home series. You made an attempt to lift the program to the next level. You don't lose anything trying. Win a bid, however, and you've got another weekend of publicity and the program gets a boost without the aid of a new facade on the stadium.

Sure it's a risk bidding for a regional, but it was a risk worth taking.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Michigan Heads To Georgia Tech

The tournament field was announced this afternoon. Michigan doesn't head west to Corvallis, as a number of folks thought the Big Ten Champions might, they head south to play in the regional hosted by Georgia Tech. In addition, to having the Yellow Jackets, the Wolverines are in a regional with Stetson and their opening round opponent, Vanderbilt.

This is not an easy regional. The Jackets (45-16) are one of the eight national seeds, in more simple terms, one of the eight teams favored to be in the College World Series. That's bad enough. Stetson (38-22) may not be a household name to fans of Big Ten football and basketball, but they can play baseball. Finally, there is Michigan's (42-19) first opponent, Vanderbilt. The Commodores (36-25) are darn good. I've seen them two or three times on television and they have a very solid team.

If the average college baseball fan was asked to put in order who would win this regional, I suspect it would be: Tech, then Vandy, Stetson third and the Wolverines last. It's painful, but true. Did I mention this is not an easy regional?

That doesn't matter, however. There are no easy regionals. Michigan, and Notre Dame, for that matter, needs to win NCAA Tournament games regardless of the opposition. They need to bring some credibility and respect to baseball in the north. It needs to begin somewhere, it may as well begin in Georgia.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Big Ten Tournament: Day 5

As you probably know by now, # 23 Michigan won the Big Ten Conference Tournament title over Minnesota, 9-4. The Wolverines captured both the regular season and tournament championships. The win gives Michigan an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament field. (More on that a bit later.)

Rich Maloney's squad posted single runs in the first three innings then, in the fourth, hung five more tallies on the Gophers and never looked back. CF Eric Rose was the offensive star collecting three hits and three RBI. Adam Abraham, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, also hit a solo homer.

Craig Murray got the start for Michigan and pitched 4.2 innings before giving way to Michael Powers (4-0) who completed the last 4.1 frames and merited the victory. The Gophers scored twice on each Michigan hurler, but only one of Murray's runs was earned.

Minnesota had plenty of chances, as they connected for eleven hits and received five free passes, but failed to keep pace with the Wolverines offense. Andy Hunter had three hits and Kyle Baran's two RBI paced the Gophers' attack.

What seperated #23 Michigan from the rest of the Big Ten this year was pitching. In particular, starting pitching carried the Wolverines to the Big Ten titles. Paul Hammond and Chris Fetter were named first team All-Big Ten. Zach Putnam garnered second team accolades.

While seniors pitchers like Hammond, Drew Taylor and Craig Murray were counted on to be leaders, it was the emergence of their freshman arms that proved to be the difference.

Fetter, Putnam, Adam Abraham and Michael Powers helped lift Michigan from title hopeful to conference champions. This tournament was evidence of that. Michigan won four times en route to the crown and each of the freshman--Fetter, Putnam, Abraham and Powers--earned a win.

In addition to Abraham being named the Outstanding Player, the Big Ten announced it's All-Tournament Team. Abraham was named to the team as a pitcher and a designated hitter.

Now, it's on to baseball's Big Dance for the Wolverines. Where Michigan plays will be announced tomorrow. Many of the pundits have suggested either a trip to Corvallis to take on Oregon State or, possibly, Lexington to play in Kentucky's regional. That's speculation, of course. Michigan could end up just about anywhere, but in looking over the regional hosts, UK is the closest site.

Michigan, who played the best defense in the Big Ten, did not look good defensively this week. That will need to improve, plus the Wolverines need to continue to get quality starting pitching in order to play well next weekend. I'm hopeful they can put together a strong showing for the conference and northern schools, in general.

Certainly, the strength of whatever regional they are assigned will be a major factor.
I'm sort of hoping that not playing at home, not having the burden of being the favorite, will help Michigan in the NCAA's. We will all have a better idea what is going on at this time Monday.

I'd love to hear Ohio State's name get called during the selection show tomorrow, but I just don't see them overcoming their low RPI number, just as Minnesota won't. In spite of their incredible second place finish in the regular season, Northwestern's overall record eliminated them from the NCAA's before the Big Ten season began.

Finally, here is a link to some photos from Saturday's action--Michigan vs. Ohio State and the Wolverines vs. Minnesota. They loaded in reverse order, but you still get the idea.

Can You Pitch?

Just a thought or two before I head out. Who on Earth is left to pitch for either side today? If it wasn't bad enough that both teams have been through starters 1-4, last night's slugfest forced more arms out of the 'pen. I'm not even going to hazzard a guess as to who will take the mound today.

One thing I will suggest is that we might be in for more offensive fireworks today. With a drained pitching staff, warmer weather (high 80's today) and two teams that combined to score twenty runs last night and you've got the makings for another track meet. Of course, having said that, I've probably all but assured a 1-0 pitcher's duel.

Regardless of the outcome, today is the last day of the tournament. It's been a great experience, but boy, oh boy, do I have a lot of work around the house I need to catch-up on. Five days away from the real world and you get behind. The rain predicted for tomorrow better hold off until I get done grilling. (I'm firing up the BBQ for lunch tomorrow. I know one thing that won't be on the fire--hot dogs. I've seen enough of them for a while.)

Big Ten Tournament: Day 4

In the first game of the day, #23 Michigan defeated Ohio State, 3-2. The Buckeyes managed only four hits off a trio of Michigan hurlers led by starter Zach Putnam. Putnam (6-1) pitched 6.2 innings of three hit, one run baseball. Ben Jenzen and Adam Abraham followed Putnam to the hill and each allowed only one hit a piece.

For the Wolverines' offense, Derek VanBuskirk had a double, run scored and RBI.

The Buckeyes didn't do themselves any favors by committing three errors on the day. Nor could they take advantage of the seven walks issued by Michigan's pitchers. Their own starter, Jake Hale, countered Putnam's strong effort working seven innings while allowing seven hits, two walks and three runs. Only one of the runs was earned, however.

Once again this afternoon, Michigan displayed the formula that carried them to the Big Ten regular season crown--strong starting pitching and timely hitting. The Wolverines have also been rock solid defensively this year, but they have not been anywhere near as good with the glove this week.

Michigan's win eliminated Ohio State from the tournament and, barring the unexpected, probably finishes the 2006 season for Bob Todd's squad. The Buckeyes finish at 37-21 unless the are chosen as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament which seems unlikely as of this moment.

The Wolverines victory meant that they got to play Minnesota in the second game of the day--a potential championship game for the Gophers. Unfortunately for the Minnesota faithful, if a championship is coming, it won't be until Sunday, as Michigan beat Minnesota, 11-9.

This was a good old fashioned slugfest. Adam Abraham was the star for Michigan. Abraham started as the designated hitter and went 2 for 4 with two RBI. Abraham (5-3) also pitched five innings of relief work giving up nine hits, but alllowing only one walk and one run.

Mike Schmidt drove in three runs and Nate Recknagel hit a bomb (the ball went out over the 375 ft. sign) amongst his three hits on the evening. Gophers' SS Dan Lyons had three hits, including a homer, scoring twice and driving in four runs.

The Gophers entered the ninth inning trailing 11-8. With two outs, Minnesota began a rally. Two singles and a walk later and the Gophers had the bases loaded with the winning run coming to the plate. One run did eventually cross the plate, but that's all the Gophers could muster in the last frame.

Both teams will play for the Big Ten Tournament Championship tomorrow (which is technically now today) at noon. The weather is expected to be sunny and warm for the last game of the year in the conference.

It's late, again, so I'll leave off here and I'll try to blog something after I get some sleep and the sun comes up.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Baseball Hangover Blogging

I'm feeling a bit out of sorts this morning. For the last three days, I've been getting ready to head towards Ann Arbor at this time. This morning, I'm back behind the keyboard as the tournament doesn't resume until 3:30pm this afternoon. What no BP until after lunch? Who's heard of such nonsense? (I can already see where next week's return to work routine is going to be unpleasant.)

In spite of my baseball hangover this AM, I'm going to try and blog along. Let's begin with last night's late tilt between Minnesota and Ohio State. As I reported much earlier this morning (see previous post), the Gophers beat the Bucks, 7-3. For the third straight game, Minnesota got a solid effort out of it's starter.

Friday night's strong start was courtesy of Dustin Brabender, who in 7.1 innings gave up three runs on eight hits and four walks. The Buckeyes were also hurt by three hits, including two doubles, and three RBI from number nine hitter catcher Chris Herbert.

This is why I had "a feeling" about Minnesota. The Gophers are doing exactly what I thought they might--pitch very well and get some timely hitting. Either OSU or Michigan is going to beat Minnesota twice to claim the automatic NCAA Tournament spot. That seems like a large task right about now.

I'm guessing OSU will start Jake Hale. I'm less certain of whom Michigan will send to the mound. If healthy, perhaps, Zach Putnam? A battle of freshman righthanders in an elimination game would be interesting. It's supposed to be warm and sunny, as apparently summer has decided to arrive on Memorial Weekend.

Let me complain some here, too. What would this site be without me whining, anyway? Why on Earth is the Big East Baseball Tournament getting so much love? Seriously, who in the BE is a baseball power? Yes, Notre Dame is good, I'm not here to debate that. However, is the Irish baseball program really significantly better, either now or historically, than the programs at Minnesota, Ohio State or Michigan (who, oh by the way, beat ND)?

I'm not here trying to diminish the Big East. I'm really not. Anyone who visits here even semi-regularly knows I'm always promoting baseball in the snowbelt, not bashing it. (Hey, I might even start covering the BE next season.) I'm just trying to get some perspective on why the BE has got a prime spot on CSTV.com's Championship Central page and the Big Ten gets the usual red headed step child treatment? Live blogging from the Big East site, but not one from the Big Ten? It's makes it look like the Big Ten is far less a baseball power than the Big East, which is simply incorrect.

I know, I know. The Big Ten blows, right? They have a horrible RPI. Well, kids, you are correct. Last I checked, the RPI numbers do favor the Big East over the Big Ten--by one whole stinking spot. The BE is 14th, the Big Ten 15th. Yeah, that's a major difference.

Critics might argue that Notre Dame, Connecticut and St. John's all have better pseudo-RPI numbers than anyone in the Big Ten outside of Michigan and ND is higher than the Wolverines. True, but I'll take Minnesota and Ohio State over UConn and STJ and you can keep your numbers. The difference between the schools is minimal, and theoretic, at best.

In the end, I realize that by giving love to the Big East, CSTV (and everyone else) are pandering to the Boston-New York-Philadelphia mega fanbase. I'm nuts, not stupid. The players and coaches in the Big Ten don't get a fair shake on this one and it's my job to point that out.

I got an email from college baseball blogging buddy, Joanna, about my ranting on umpires. Seems the Big XII folks aren't very impressed with their men in blue, either. Does anyone think the umps in their conference are, generally, doing a good job? What can be done to correct it, if not?

I had best stop here to get some other things done before it is time to pack up for Ann Arbor. Before I go, I have to point out that Big Ten Hardball set a record for hits yesterday and has already surpassed the highest monthly total I've ever had. As always, I thank you for stopping in.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Big Ten Tournament: Day 3

Four baseball games in one day is quite a few even for me. Yet, I did see the majority of innings played in today's quadruple header played at the Big Ten Tournament. As usual, I continue to learn things, alas some I cannot report, but it was a fun and tiring day. Here's the action that took place.

The day began before lunch with Minnesota dropping Michigan, 6-2. (Remember when I said I had a crazy feeling about Minnesota?) Gopher starter Brian Bull (7-4) pitched gave up only two runs in eight innings to earn the victory. Luke McLean had four hits, Dan Lyons three for Minnesota. Doug Pickens hit a two run homer for Michigan.

In game two, Northwestern sent Purdue home, 8-4. George Kontos pitched a complete game triumph. The righthander did allow twelve hits, but struck out seven en route to his third win of the year. The offensive highlight for NU was rightfielder Antonio Mule's titanic homer to dead centerfield. Mule also paced the attack with three hits.

All-Big Ten shortstop Mitch Hilligoss went 3 for 4 and drove in two Purdue runs. The Boilermakers finished the season at 31-27.

The win over Purdue meant Northwestern got to play in the very next game. However, the results would be much different. The Wildcats dropped game three of the day to Michigan, 8-3, and have been eliminated from the tournament.

Nate Recknagel, Jeff Kunkel and Adam Abraham each had two RBI. Recknagel led the Wolverine hit parade by going 4 for 5 with his sixth dinger. Michigan starter Chris Fetter worked 6.2 innings allowing two runs on seven hits. The freshman righthander also fanned seven.

Mule, again, led the NU offense. He went 3 for 4 with another homerun, his 11th, but it wasn't enough as the 'Cats season ends with a 26-33 record.

The last game of the day has just gone final. Minnesota beat Ohio State, 7-3. (See, I just had this feeling about John Anderson's squad.) I expect the stats to be along shortly, but I will probably finish blogging before then. Use the links on the right to dig out the numbers, if you need them.

This result means OSU will play Michigan tomorrow afternoon with the winner playing the Gophers for the championship. If the Gophers win the late game tomorrow, they will claim the title. If the OSU/Michigan winner goes on to beat the Gophers, then there will be a Sunday game between the two teams to determine who wins the tournament and gets the Big Ten birth in the NCAA's.

Some random observations before calling it a night (and a pretty darn long day, too). It seems to me that the warmer the weather, the better the ball flys at Fisher Stadium. Last I checked, Saturday was scheduled to be the warmest day of the tournament thus far.

Do people actually say "Excuse me" anymore or is that just out of style? I can't tell you how many people walked right in front of me, basically occupying the identical space, without the slightest acknowledgement that I was being inconvenienced.

Yes, I bought my tournament t-shirt. Thanks to Jeff for his suggestion. Jeff, I opted for long sleeve, but if the short sleeve are still around tomorrow, I may put your plan into affect.

College teams, at least those in the Big Ten, bunt too much for my taste. As just one example, number three hitters with no outs and runners on base square around. Maybe I've been too unduly influenced by the pro game, but it seems strange to sacrifice what, in theory, is the best hitter in your lineup. If your best hitter can't be counted on to drive in runs, what makes you think the next guy's odds are better? (In fact, the odds simply can't be better if the next guy's average is lower.)

A tip of the cap to the Fisher Stadium ground crew. After Thursday's nasty thunderstorm and today's early rain, they managed to keep the field playable. Nice job.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Big Ten Tournament: Day 2

I enjoy the casual atmosphere of batting practice. There is, however, something about batting practice in the morning that I find serene. I don't know what it is about morning BP that I find so comforting, but it is. I think the world would be a better place if I could watch batting practice each morning. Well, fine, my world would be a better place.

Tomorrow, I'll get to enjoy that experience even earlier than I have the last two days. The fifth game of the tournament--Minnesota vs. Michigan--was postponed this evening and re-scheduled for 10am Friday. I guess I'll need to haul my lazy behind out of bed earlier. Of course, there is still plenty o' rain in the forecast for Friday, so the entire schedule tomorrow is dicey.

As for what did occur today, Purdue bounced Illinois, 10-5. Mitch Hilligoss went 3 for 4 with a homer and Spencer Ingaldson was 4 for 6 with three runs scored for the Boilers. Jay Buente (6-4) went the distance giving up all five runs on ten hits.

The Illini got two RBI a piece from Ryan Hastings and Trevor Huisinga. Illinois finishes the year at 29-29.

In the second game, Ohio State stomped on Northwestern, 9-0. Jedidiah Stephen hit a three run homer and Ronnie Bourquin went 3 for 3 with three runs scored to lead the Buckeyes' offense. Eric Fryer also homered for the Buckeyes.

OSU managed to plated six runs on Pitcher of the Year, NU's Dan Brauer. (Only three were earned runs, though.) Brauer lasted eight innings giving up ten hits and not fanning a single OSU batter. Brauer's performance reflected what seemed to be the Wildcats opening game jitters.

Buckeye starter Cory Luebke pitched eight innings allowing only three hits. Rory Meister came in to close out the affair.

Now, if I am correct, which I admit is the minority of the time, we have a quadruple header on tap for Friday. I suspect the weather may force more games into Saturday and, possibly, Sunday, but I'll try to get to Ray Fisher Stadium early just to see if anyone is in action around breakfast. (Technically, by ten in the morning I'm on breakfast number two, but that's a story for another day.)

Oh, remember those tournament t-shirts I lamented not seeing yesterday? Well, lo and behold, they arrived promptly around the ninth inning of game one today. (Note: I'm not taking credit for this development.) Of course, yours truly was nearing the end of his cash supply, so I have to wait for tomorrow to live up to my end of the deal. Hey, if they were there yesterday, when the tournament began, I would own one now.

I have now seen five games at Fisher Stadium in three days (I was at last Saturday's contest between Iowa and Michigan), and there is a theme that is repeating. The fans don't like the umpires. No, not personally. Every group of fans think their guys aren't getting the calls. Every fan base believes the officiating in Big Ten contests is poor, at best. I don't care which Big Ten school you support, all can agree--the umps stink.

My initial reaction to this is two-fold and completely contradictory. First, as I think the Big Ten dismisses baseball in general (which is the topic of another post I need to get to), there might be a very good chance that they don't hire quality umpires or just don't care about how well they perform their jobs. Since baseball is not a revenue sport, why should they care? (See also: If an ump is lousy, but no one is there to see it, does it really matter?)

The opposite thought is probably one you've heard before. If I hate the officiating because I think my team is getting screwed. And you hate the officiating because you think your team is getting screwed is it possible that the officials are actually just calling it even? Or, possibly, calling it accurately?

Sure, the critics could argue that bad umping, even it is equally poor for both sides, is still bad and should be unacceptable. Point taken. However, to think they are all bad across the board seems like stretch, doesn't it? See, I told you I had conflicting thoughts on this.

Well, that's all for tonight edition of BTH. If you are at the tournament, stop by and say hello. I'll be the guy at the t-shirt stand looking dumbfounded trying to figure out whether to get the long sleeve or short-sleeve model.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Big Ten Tournament: Day 1

It was a day that held true to form. The higher seeds prevailed and with each side sending it's traditional Friday starter to the mound, pitching was the story of the day.

Behind a strong performance from Cole DeVries, Minnesota beat Illinois, 8-1. (Note: The Gophers have a new website or, at least, a new design. I wasn't crazy about the old one, so I embrace the change.) DeVries (7-3) and reliever Andy Cole combined on a one hitter. Mike Mee and Chris Herbert each drove in a pair of runs to power the offense.

The nightcap went twelve innings before Jedidiah Stephen drove home the winner leading Ohio State to a 2-1 triumph over Purdue. Big Ten Freshman of the Year, J.B. Shuck earned the win in two innings of relief. Starter Dan DeLucia worked the first ten innings allowing seven hits, two walks and the lone Boilermaker tally.

Purdue could not help starter Dan Sattler who worked nine solid innings of his own. The righthander yielded six hits, three walks and one run.

Tomorrow's action looks like this. At noon, Illinois and Purdue will play an elimination game. At 3:30pm, Ohio State will take on Northwestern. The tripleheader concludes with Minnesota taking on #23 Michigan.

For those of you not in Ann Arbor, and much to my pleasant surprise, the Big Ten has set-up a special Tournament Central webpage. It claims to provide live streaming video of the games. I cannot attest to that, as I was at the games, so proceed with that caveat in mind.

(As an aside, here's a question for the Big Ten. How about a Conference Tournament T-Shirt? I got one about ten years ago, but I can't get one now? Are we regressing or do the shirts arrive tomorrow? Look, I'm not only offering you advertising space for free, but I'm willing to pay for the ad. Work with me here.)

All and all it was a very good day of baseball. Tomorrow, we get an additional game plus the top two seeds, Michigan and Northwestern, take to the field for the first time in this tournament. The weather forecast, however, isn't as promising. Let's hope they are wrong.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Thoughts Before The Big Ten Tournament

I'm heading out to Ann Arbor tomorrow to catch the opening games of the Big Ten Tournament. I'm hoping to be at a majority of the games over the next four days, so posts may be less frequent or arrive at even stranger hours than they do now.

If things go even close to my plan, this may be the most live baseball I've seen back-to-back ever. At minimum, nine games in four days. That's a fan's dream come true. With a NCAA Tournament spot at stake, there's also more than a bit of tension built in. It should be very entertaining baseball. Hope all of you can make it out to Ray Fisher Stadium.

Here are just some of my thoughts before the conference tournament opens.

The Favorite: #23 Michigan
Now nationally ranked, the Wolverines are hosts and have to be the front-runners. Coming into the tournament on a roll--including a sweep of Iowa and a triumph over Notre Dame. Pitching (Paul Hammond and Chris Fetter were first team All-Big Ten choices, Zach Putnam landed on the second team) and defense have gotten them to this point. Toss in timely hitting and you have the recipe for success in the post-season, as well.

The Next Most Likely To Win: Ohio State
This team is loaded offensively (first in team batting average, obp, slugging) and have more than enough pitching (first in team ERA) to win this tournament. Whether their bats can overcome what will be everyone's best pitching is the question. A potential second round encounter with NU's Dan Brauer would be very, very interesting.

The Darkhorse: Purdue
Early this year, Purdue looked like the team to beat in the Big Ten. Then, the bottom fell out. They still have some of the best hitters in the league--Mitch Hilligoss, Ryne White, Spencer Ingaldson, Eric Wolfe--and some better than average arms. Can the Boilermakers make up for a disappointing regular season in Ann Arbor?

My Crazy Pick: Minnesota
No, they don't hit much, but they pitch pretty well (Cole DeVries and Brian Bull are a solid 1-2 combo) and John Anderson's teams play well in this tournament. They took two of three from Ohio State in Columbus two weeks ago and I've just got a feeling about the Gophers. Go ahead, call me crazy.

RPI Numbers:
Ohio State-91
Northwestern- 142

Some Of The Players I'm Looking Forward To Watching (that I haven't seen already):
Dan Brauer, Northwestern
Antonio Mule, Northwestern
Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue
Ryne White, Purdue
Kyle Baran, Minnesota
Cole DeVries, Minnesota
Jacob Howell, Ohio State
Ryan Snowden, Illinois
Shawn Roof, Illinois

Forecast (from the BTH Weather Center):
Wednesday- It's supposed to be very nice for both games. May need a light weight coat early, but if it was like today, it will be almost perfect by the first pitch. Storms may arrive at night. Thankfully, only day games tomorrow.

Thursday- Here's where things get iffy. I've seen forecasts with more sun than rain and vice versa. It's supposed to be warm, though. Maybe into the 80's. Let's hope the rain stays scattered.

Friday- Again, storms are in the forecast. Of course, so is sunshine. When either arrive and for how long they stay are the questions. Back to the 70's.

Saturday- Sunny. Warmer. Mid-80's forecasted. No talk of rain. Yet.

Sunday- Partly Sunny. There was even talk of 90 degrees. Come on, they aren't even sure about Thursday, can they really know much about Sunday now?

Summary- It's Michigan. It's Spring. Pack one of everything--shorts, sweats, t-shirts, umbrella.

All-Conference Honors

The Big Ten Conference announced it's award winners today. At some point, I hope to name an All-BTH Team for 2006. Until then, review the conference's official selections. I have to say, however, that I concur with the majority of them.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Classic Pitcher's Duel

I've logged out of Blogger about three times now, only to find another reason to sign back in and type. It's no wonder I don't get near enough sleep. Regardless, my latest sign in is due to the fact I want to mention the game I went to Saturday before all the tournament action consumes me.

I saw game one of the doubleheader between Iowa and Michigan. It was simply the best pitched Big Ten game I've ever seen.

Jeff Maitland (pictured at right), who has been great for Iowa all year long, took the mound for the visitors. Freshman Chris Fetter, who has been very solid, as well, countered for the home side. Both got into a bit of trouble early, but neither yielded a run. Each time it appeared a rally might be starting, it was ended in short order.

Both were throwing strikes, keeping hitters off balance and just generally pitching beautifully. Both hurlers worked seven very strong innings. Maitland scattered six hits, Fetter allowed only four. Iowa's lefty walked two batters, Michigan's righthander yielded only one free pass. Neither, unfortunately, were around in the end.

Fetter was replaced by Ben Jenzen in the top of the eighth. Tim Gudex, the Hawkeyes' star closer, came on in relief of Maitland in the bottom of that inning. Michigan had moved runners to second and third with two outs in the 8th when freshman Adam Abraham stepped to the plate.

Gudex went 2-2 on the Michigan leftfielder when his next pitch was called a ball, the controversy began. The Iowa faithful and the Hawkeyes' bench thought the pitch was a strike, thus ending the frame. The umpire disagreed. The man in blue went on to warn Jack Dahm about arguing balls and strikes.

With the count now 3-2, Abraham reached out and poked a single into right scoring the winning run and bringing Michigan within a half game of the conference crown. It also brought a steady stream of profanity from those in Black and Gold, both on and off the field, upon the homeplate ump.

Maitland was charged with the run, but although he took the loss, his effort was outstanding. Fetter was just a little bit better and the final outcome reflected that. It was the best combined pitching performance I've seen at a college game.

A NCAA Regional Host, Too?

Will Kimmey of Baseball America suggests Michigan still has an outside chance of being host of a NCAA Regional.

Official Press Release

For those of you curious about the Big Ten Tournament's history, the conference gives some background amongst it's seven page tournament press release. (Note: it's a .pdf file.)

Bourquin Has Top OPS

Ronnie Bourquin, Ohio State, finished the regular season with an on base plus slugging percentage of 1.131, tops in the Big Ten Conference. Bourquin's teammate, Eric Fryer, finished the season in second at 1.016. The last member of the 1.000 plus OPS club is Purdue shortstop Mitch Hilligoss at 1.011.

That probably completes my Tuesday look at OPS numbers for the year. I may get brave and review the Mid-American Conference figures or even the Mid-Continent numbers, but that will be sometime after the post-season concludes.

Alright, I admit it. There is a possibility that I might add in the Big Ten Tourney figures, but I'm not planning on it as of today.

New College Baseball Site

Rivals.com has launched a sparkling new college baseball site. It's another good sign for college baseball that Rivals.com, arguably the premier source of college sports information on the web, decides to give baseball it's own home.

Obviously, I encourage you to check it out and you can look for it to be added to my links section shortly.

This Week's NCAA Tournament Predictions

I know some of you stop here just for my weekly links to those guessing the tournament field, so here they are.

Mark Etheridge, SEBaseball.com

Kendall Rogers, Rosenblatt Report.com

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Records Against Each Other

Here is how the six teams in the Big Ten Tournament faired against each other this year.

1-3 vs. Northwestern
2-2 @ Illinois
4-0 vs. Ohio State
3-1 @ Purdue
3-1 @ Minnesota

3-1 @ Michigan
Did not play Ohio State
3-1 vs. Illinois
2-2 @ Purdue
2-2 vs. Minnesota

Ohio State
0-4 @ Michigan
Did not play Northwestern
3-1 vs. Illinois
3-1 vs. Purdue
1-2 vs. Minnesota

2-2 vs. Michigan
1-3 @ Northwestern
1-3 @ Ohio State
2-2 vs. Purdue
3-1 @ Minnesota

1-3 vs. Michigan
2-2 vs. Northwestern
1-3 @ Ohio State
2-2 @ Illinois
Did not play Minnesota

1-3 vs. Michigan
2-2 @ Northwestern
2-1 @ Ohio State
1-3 vs. Illinois
1-3 vs. Purdue

I'm not sure what we gain from this data. (Other than I can change font colors.) We do learn that Minnesota is looking for revenge against opening round opponent, Illinois. So, too, is Purdue. The Boilermakers got handed the same 1-3 record in Columbus versus Ohio State that the Gophers left Champaign with.

However, this is a double elimination tournament--you can toss out records and cliches at random.

There is much more to type, but it's late and we know I have to get up early and tell my manager I need a few days off. More to come tomorrow. Maybe I'll even get to telling you just how great the first game of Saturday's doubleheader between Iowa and Michigan was. Certainly, I hope to provide even more meaningless information about the tournament, as well.

Big Ten Tournament Field

Here is how the Big Ten Baseball Tournament shapes up. On Wednesday, Minnesota (fourth seed) will play Illinois (fifth seed) at noon. In the second game, Ohio State (third seed) will take on Purdue (sixth seed) at 3:30pm.

On Thursday, the lowest seeded winner of those two contests takes on host Michigan (first seed) at 7pm. The winner with the highest seed will play Northwestern (second seed) at 3:30pm. The opening game of the day, at noon, will be the elimination game between the losers of Wednesday's games.

After that, and, perhaps, before my attempt at an explanation, it's best to refer to the bracket. There will be another tripleheader on Friday and a doubleheader Saturday that may determine the tournament champion. There is a chance that a single Sunday game may be necessary.

As of this moment, I'm hoping to be at most of these games. My boss doesn't know this yet, so don't ruin my little surprise for him. For those in search of tickets to the Big Ten Tournament, I'm afraid I don't have an ounce of information.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Michigan Wins Big Ten Title

Michigan swept a doubleheader from Iowa today to win the Big Ten regular season championship. The Wolverines (22-9, 37-18) won the right to host the Big Ten Tournament after Northwestern dropped the second game of its doubleheader with Purdue this afternoon.

Ohio State split their twinbill with Penn State today. Ohio State clinched third place with the single victory.

Minnesota swept Indiana moving the Gophers into the tournament field.

Purdue's game two win over NU secured a Big Ten tournament spot for the Boilermakers.

Michigan State and Illinois split their Saturday doubleheader. The Illini are one game ahead of PSU for the final post-season spot.

I'll have more on these games either later tonight or tomorrow. I attended game one of the Iowa at Michigan game, so I'll share my thoughts on that game in particular. Hopefully, I'll post a link to some photos as well.

Plans To Renovate Fisher Stadium Announced

A week or so ago, Comcast Local's broadcast team was discussing the plans to renovate Michigan's home field, Ray Fisher Stadium. The boys went on and on about all the things that were planned, but I couldn't find anything to confirm all their talk. Well, yesterday, the university shared their plans to renovated Ray Fisher Stadium.

In addition to updating the home of their baseball squad, Michigan is also planning to revitalize the women's softball facility as well. The artist rendering of the new Fish, which I'll remove the picture of if someone at the university asks me to, looks rather impressive.

Veteran stadium builders, HOK Sport+Venue+Event, are on board as the design team. A solid selection, in my opinion. A look at their list of projects reveals why I embrace their selection.

With Penn State's new ballpark ready for next year, Purdue and Michigan State raising money to renovate their facilities and Michigan's plans on the drawing board, it appears that a number of Big Ten programs are starting to make a larger commitment to their baseball (and softball) programs.

Michigan Wins, NU Loses

Michigan's 2-1 triumph over Iowa combined with Northwestern's 11-3 at Purdue has the Wolverines in sole possession of first place this morning.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan's Paul Hammond (7-3) fanned twelve Hawkeye batters en route to tossing a complete game victory. The lefty allowed only three hits, three walks and one run in nine innings. 2B/RF Doug Pickens paced the offense with three hits and a RBI.

The win moved Michigan (20-9, 35-18) into first place in the Big Ten. Iowa's (12-17, 23-30)post-season hopes are injured, but not dead, as they are a full game out of the sixth and final conference tournament slot.

At West Lafayette, Purdue (14-15, 29-23) plated seven runs in the seventh temporarily pushing Northwestern (19-10, 23-30) into second place in the conference. 3B John Hunter led Purdue's offensive attack with three hits, including his fourth homer, two RBI and two runs scored. 2B Ryne White had two hits and two RBI, while 1B Eric Wolfe went 4 for 5. Hitting wasn't the only thing the Boilermakers did well yesterday.

Starter Dan Sattler tossed eight strong innings. Sattler struck out twelve NU batters and didn't allow a single run. Pat McMahon's three hits and two RBI led NU's offense.

Dan DeLucia won his tenth game of the year leading Ohio State past Penn State, 4-3. DeLucia worked 7.2 innings allowing ten hits, three walks and all three PSU runs. SS Jedidiah Stephen cranked out his eighth homerun of the year and scored two runs to lead OSU's offense. OF Jacob Howell, who has battled a hamstring problem most of the year, was back in the Buckeye lineup and also had a pair of hits.

Rick Marlin, Cory Wine and Lance Thompson all had two hits for PSU. Wine also drove in two runs.

The Ohio State (17-11, 33-18) win moves them to within two games of second place in the Big Ten. Penn State (12-17, 23-20), like Iowa, finds themselves a game out of the final post-season opening.

Minnesota (14-14, 28-24) got closer to the Big Ten Tournament by beating Indiana (11-18, 22-31) Friday, 6-1. Cole DeVries (6-3) pitched a complete game eight hitter to lead the Gophers. DeVries allowed eight hits, a walk and struck out eight in nine innings. Kyle Baran, Luke McLean and Nate Hanson all had three hits for Minnesota.

IU's Keith Haas, Jon Fixler and Andrew Means all had a pair of hits.

Michigan State (12-17, 25-28) kept its post-season dreams alive with a 13-2 pasting of Illinois. MSU's Ryan Basham and Sean Walker went yard, Alan Cattrysse had three hits and three RBI. Ryan Snowden had three safties for the Illini (13-16, 27-26). The win moved MSU to within a game of Illinois for the sixth and final Big Ten Tournament position.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Here We Go

It's the last weekend of regular season play. Northwestern is at Purdue. Michigan hosts Iowa. Ohio State gets a visit from Penn State. Illinois is at Michigan State. Indiana travels to Minnesota.

NU, Michigan and Ohio State are in the conference tournament, so everyone else gets to jockey for the remaining three spots. I'm not about to attempt to figure out all the possibilities and, honestly, I'm probably not smart enough for the task.

For the top spot, NU just needs to stay even with Michigan, whom they hold the tiebreaker over. Michigan needs to finish one game ahead of the 'Cats to claim the regular season title. Ohio State needs a tiny math miracle to host the conference tournament next week.

It should be fun. I hope you get out to the ballpark this weekend.

OSU's Bourquin Is Howser Semi-Finalist

Ohio State thirdbaseman Ronnie Bourquin was named as one of sixteen semi-finalists for the Dick Howser Award. The award is given annually by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association to the College Player of the Year.

Championship Coverage

CSTV is doing college baseball up right. They've updated their baseball page calling it Championship Central. It's complete with podcasts, blogs and live scoring. Go check it out.

Please Come To Boston

This isn't Big Ten related, but it's very interesting. The ACC will play it's 2009 conference tournament at Fenway Park with Boston College as host.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tournament Predictions

No, I'm not quite brave enough to venture into guessing the tournament field, but, thankfully, other are. Kendall Rogers, of the outstanding Rosenblatt Report, registers his weekly predicition here.

SEBaseball.com publisher Mark Etheridge, whose work I also highly recommend, checks in with his predictions for the field of 64.

Southern College Sports has yet to post their weekly offering, but when they do, I'll add it to this post.

Editor's Note: As promised above, here is the tournament field as selected by Ben at Southern College Sports.com. I wonder if I can get the weekend off of work so I can go to the Lexington, KY Regional?

NU Beat ISU And Other Midweek Scores

Northwestern did go on to beat Illinois State last night, 11-5. Antonio Mule, who has been a standout much of the season, paced the Wildcats offense by hitting two homers and driving in four. The win improves NU's overall mark to 23-29.

As expected, NU starter Dan Brauer was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week. Reggie Watson of Indiana claimed the Player of the Week honors.

Illinois is playing Missouri tonight, but with an interesting old school twist. The teams will be using wood bats.

Ball State downed Indiana, 5-3. IU's Billy O'Connor had two RBI, Jay Brant two stolen bases and Tyler Cox had two hits and scored twice. SS Eric Earnhart homered for Ball State.

Northern Iowa beat Iowa, 6-5. I'm not sure I need to say much more.

Central Michigan beat Michigan State, 6-4. Ben Humphrey, one of the better hitters in the midwest (check out the OPS post), homered and drove in four for the Chippewas.

Minnesota defeated Augsburg, 12-5. I can honestly say I no absolutely nothing about the Golden Gophers opponent.

Ohio State plays their final non-conference midweek affair tonight against Pittsburgh.

Western Michigan did a number on Purdue, 13-6. Nathan Marquardt homered and drove in three for the Broncos. Teammate Mark Abro did one better as he also went yard and drove in four. Boilermaker pitcher Chris Toneguzzi's first college hit was a three-run blast.

Villanova dispatched Penn State, 8-5. Scott Gummo and Lance Thompson did hit back-to-back HR's for PSU.

The 1.000 OPS Club

The number of Big Ten regulars with an OPS mark above 1.000 dwindles with each passing week. Heading into the last weekend of conference play, only three players remain. Ohio State 3B Ronnie Bourquin is in at 1.082. Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue's shortstop, is second at 1.051. Buckeye catcher Eric Fryer completes our trio at 1.033.

As I've done in some recent weeks, I've taken the time to review the Mid-American Conference for those over the magical 1.000 mark. Seven MAC players still have the ultra-high OPS figure. The list begins with Drew Saylor of Kent State at 1.100. Ben Humphrey, Central Michigan, is next at 1.090. Third is Ball State's Brad Miller at 1.084. Kurt Eichorn, another Kent State player, checks in at 1.073. Kurt Davidson of Akron is fifth at 1.031. Willie Walker, Ohio, is at 1.013. Finally, at 1.009, Todd Balduf, the third KSU student, rounds out the group.

As a double bonus, and because I am plain nuts, I did Mid-Continent Conference numbers. Yes, Mid-Con baseball. I can hear the cost of my therapy increasing as I type the words. Regardless, Ryan Manthei of Valpo is first at 1.062. Second, at 1.043, is Oral Roberts' Chad Rothford. Tim Ryan, Centenary, in third with a 1.039 figure. John Torres of Chicago State makes the list at 1.015. Right behind Torres, is Andy Bouchie of Oral Roberts at 1.013. The last Mid-Con regular above 1.000 is Justin Sotelo of Southern Utah at 1.005.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Michigan 3 Notre Dame 1

Behind a strong pitching performance from freshman Michael Powers and the bat of Nate Recknagel, Michigan beat #21 Notre Dame, 3-1. Michigan scored twice in the first behind a RBI double from Recknagel and a single by Doug Pickens that plated the Michigan firstbaseman. ND starter Wade Korpi settled down after that and neither team mustered much offense again until the sixth inning.

Recknagel would extend Michigan's lead to 3-0 by opening the sixth with long homerun. Korpi would finish out the inning, but pitch no more. The lefthander allowed all three Michigan runs, but walked only one Wolverine batter and struck out seven.

Notre Dame answered with it's first tally in the top of the seventh. Craig Cooper tripled down the rightfield line and scored on freshman DH Jeremy Barnes single. However, in spite of having a single, double and triple in the 7th, the Irish could not scratch out another run. The seventh was Powers' last inning of work. Unofficially, he gave up five hits, a walk and one earned run. The right hander also fanned four and picked an Irish baserunner off first.

Adam Abraham worked a flawless eighth getting all three ND hitters to fly out to CF Eric Rose. Ben Jenzen came on in the ninth and after recording an out allowed a walk and a single, but got the final two hitters to fly out to Rose.

Michigan catcher Jeff Kunkel displayed why he's amongst the Johnny Bench Award semi-finalists. He threw out a runner attempting to steal in the first and caught Barnes straying too far from firstbase in the seventh with a quick throw helping to slow down a would-be Irish rally. It was a fine defensive performance for the senior backstop.

In terms of RPI value, this was a rather significant victory for Michigan. If they are going to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, and they are clearly on the bubble right now, this game may be the reason they get in the field. The Irish were ranked higher than Michigan and inside the top 50. It might not get them in the tournament, but it has to help quite a bit.

As for the RPI, Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri voiced his displeasure over it during the game. (It was literally during the contest as Comcast did in-game interviews with both coaches--twice!!--and talked with a player from each side, as well.) Both the ND skipper and Geoff Zahn, who worked the game for Comcast Local and is a former Michigan head coach, feel the RPI punishes the snowbelt schools for all the usual reasons--inability to improve their RPI marks during the conference schedule as no quality opponents will travel north, the teams develop slower due to the weather restraints on practice, etc......

Mainieri believes that both his program and Rich Maloney's are much better than their RPI indicates. I don't necessarily disagree. However, losing two of three to last place Seton Hall as the Irish did last weekend and dropping midweek games to MAC schools, as Michigan did over the last month, provides critics plenty of ammunition to the contrary.

Overall, it was an entertaining game to watch. Comcast's production crew did a solid job, so a tip of the cap to them.

The last I saw, Northwestern was beating Illinois State, 9-5, in the fifth inning. I'm hoping to review that game and probably take my weekly look at OPS numbers tomorrow. I couldn't get to the on base plus slugging percentage figures tonight due to the ND/Michigan game.

Monday, May 15, 2006

NU Wins, Stays Tied With Michigan

Northwestern crushed Michigan State this afternoon, 12-2. Pat McMahon had three hits and three RBI to lead the 'Cats offense. Anthony Wycklendt and Geoff Dietz each homered for NU. Julio Siberio (4-2) picked up the win. The win means NU and Michigan remain tied for first place in the Big Ten.

This week, the Wildcats will take on Illinois State on Tuesday before facing Purdue in their last Big Ten regular season series. In Ann Arbor, Jack Dahm's Iowa squad will look to derail Michigan's title hopes this weekend. However, the Wolverines have an interesting midweek affair against # 21 Notre Dame tomorrow night.

I'm confident that Rich Maloney will trot out an array of arms in this midweek game, but let's not kid ourselves--this game is more than a bit important. Notre Dame remains ranked in the Top 25 and has an RPI of 49. If the Wolverines cannot capture the Big Ten Conference tournament title, they will be left hoping for an at-large NCAA tourney berth. Their case for one of those coveted openings can be strengthened by dropping the Fighting Irish Tuesday night.

I have time to mention some additional random things, so here goes.

* Remember when I suggested that NU's Dan Brauer would probably merit his second straight Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor in light of his no-hitter? Well, Brauer did one better, he claimed National Player of the Week recognition, too.

* More quality pitching came from Doug Fleenor of Indiana. Fleenor pitched a nine inning complete game 2-0 shutout vs. Illinois today. He allowed only five hits and a walk while striking out seven.

*IU and Illini fans might like to know that the Hoosiers swept today's twinbill. Tracy Smith's nine beat Dan Hartleb's side by scores of 5-4 and Fleenor's 2-0 gem.

* Purdue's RHP Ricky Heines went the distance in beating Iowa, 4-2 yesterday. The Boilermaker righthander gave up three walks but only four hits in nine innings.

* Purdue's Trae Dauby outdueled Iowa's Jeff Maitland to post a 1-0 victory Saturday. Each pitched a seven inning complete game with Dauby allowing no runs on six hits and a single walk while Maitland countered by yielding seven hits and three walks, but the lone run of the game. Dauby K'd eight, Maitland five.

* Am I reading this correctly? Minnesota scored 12 runs on 17 hits, but did not record a solitary extra base hit? Not one?

* I've yet to learn what happened to Indiana freshman Cameron Satterwhite. It appears he has been dismissed from the squad, as he hasn't appeared in a game in quite a while and his name is no longer on IU's roster.

* Michigan catcher Jeff Kunkel is a semi-finalist for the 2006 Johnny Bench Award. The Bench Award is given out annually by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission to the nation's best catcher.

* I was whining (yes, again) not long ago about a lack of college baseball coverage on XM Radio. Specifically, I was lamenting the Big Ten not using the opportunity to broadcast their games on a satellite radio feed that was, basically, doing nothing. Well, two things have come to my attention since.

First, Michigan and Ohio State, to name just two, have a separate satellite deal with Sirius radio. I sort of knew that. (How you have broadcast rights to the Big Ten without Michigan and Ohio State seems kind of odd, but okay.) What I was totally clueless about (in addition to college baseball) was that Sirius does broadcast Big XII and SEC baseball games. Imagine my surprise and disappointment.

Sure, now, CSTV.com's Eric Sorenson points this out. Where was this information when I was reviewing satellite options, Eric? Even though I am Sirius-free, it's still good news for college baseball. Okay, college baseball's big boys, but I'm all in favor of more college baseball coverage.

Note to the other satellite radio provider and the conference I tend to cover here: I still think the Big Ten should at least put together a Game of the Week for XM. Hey, XM has the Pac-10, as well. Why not a Pac-10 tilt?

* Jim Carty of The Ann Arbor News wrote this story on Michigan reliever Ali Husain and his life after the death of his father, Faz, earlier this year. I met Ali a year at a Michigan baseball meet-and-greet and came away very impressed.

* Ohio State's diminished title hopes are outlined by Mark Znidar of The Columbus Dispatch.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

NU's Brauer Tosses No-No, Michigan Grabs First

I'll begin the weekend review at the top where Northwestern has taken two of the three games played with Michigan State. The highlight of the first three games for NU has clearly been Dan Brauer's (6-1) no hitter vs. the Spartans today. The Wildcats won the opening game of today's twinbill, 7-0, behind the junior lefty's no hit, one walk, eight strikeout seven innings of work. I think there's a pretty good chance Brauer will repeat as Big Ten pitcher of the week.

The Wildcats other win came in the lone Saturday affair, 6-3. Caleb Fields, NU's 3B, hit his fourth homer, drove in two, scored twice and stole a base. MSU's Kyle Day went 3 for 5, stole a base and also went yard to lead the Spartans offense. MSU starter Craig Brookes (1-4) fanned 12 'Cats in seven innings, but suffered the loss. NU starter Ryan Myers (3-4) also worked seven innings to post the win.

The Spartans win came in the nightcap of Sunday's doubleheader. After getting no-hit by Brauer in the opener, MSU prevailed in game two over Northwestern, 6-2. The game was quite a pitcher's duel. Both MSU's John Dwan and NU's George Kontos pitched seven inning complete games. Dwan tossed 130 pitches fanning 10 Wildcat batters and improved to 2-5 on the year. Kontos (2-9) countered by throwing 122 times, striking out 11 Spartans, but taking the defeat.

Sean Walker went 3 for 3 for the Spartans and teammate Ryan Basham drove in a pair of runs. NU 2B Jake Owens went 3 for 4. Northwestern's loss allowed Michigan to claim first place in the Big Ten.

The Wolverines took three of four games from Penn State this weekend. Michigan took Friday's game (see previous post) and then split Saturday's doubleheader with the Nittany Lions. Game one went to Michigan, 2-0. Michigan's Chris Fetter (4-1) allowed no runs, no walks, four hits and struck out three in 6.2 innings. PSU's Mark Wyner (2-8) was the hardluck loser tossing a complete game six hitter. Michigan's Ben Jenzen earned his third save facing only two batters.

The Nittany Lions roared back in game two, winning 13-2. Matt Cavagnaro went 3 for 4 (a double, triple and homerun) and had six RBI for PSU. Lions' starter Seth Whitehill (2-2) pitched six innings and fanned eight.

Michigan took the Big Ten lead by beating PSU today, 4-0. Drew Taylor (5-4) tossed a complete game nine inning shutout. The Wolverines' starter allowed only seven hits and walked only a single batter. Freshman outfielder Adam Abraham went 3 for 5 for Michigan. PSU's Aaron Greenfield had three hits on the day.

The win placed Michigan one half game ahead of Northwestern heading into Monday. The Wildcats hope to play the finale of the their set with Michigan State at 3pm central time. Another NU win would put the Wildcats back into a first place tie with the Wolverines. A loss would give Michigan a full game lead heading into the final weekend of Big Ten play.

Ohio State remains in third place, but the Buckeyes have dropped two of three from Minnesota this weekend. The Gophers have 2-1 and 12-3 wins after a Friday night OSU triumph, 10-2. Purdue and Iowa split their weekend encouter. Illinois and Indiana split the only two games they've been able to squeeze in between the raindrops.

As it's late, I'm going to stop here. My apologies to those I have not provided links to. I'll attempt to address that matter and give some credit to those who performed well in the games I've glossed over Monday night. Hopefully, I'll also have a Northwestern/Michigan State result to share. And, yes, an Illinois/IU game (or two) result, as well.

Editor's note (5/15/06): I believe I've linked all the players I've referenced. Again, my apologies if I missed someone.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday Night Scores

Michigan moved a half game ahead of idle Northwestern today by beating Penn State, 7-0. Paul Hammond started for the Wolverines and posted his sixth win of the year. Zach Putnam, who has been Michigan's Friday starter for about a month, became the Friday DH and promptly collected two hits and drove in three runs.

Ohio State is currently beating the you-know-what out of Minnesota. The score in the seventh inning is 10-1, OSU. Freshman J.B. Shuck is 4 for 4 with a pair of RBI and Ronnie Bourquin, the Big Ten's leading hitter, has three hits and three RBI.

Iowa is beating Purdue, 4-2, but that game is still early. Illinois and Indiana got washed out. Michigan State and Northwestern won't begin until tomorrow, weather permitting.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rain, Rain Go Away (Or At Least Let Us Play)

Stinking spring showers. I thought they were supposed to arrive in April, not May. For those unaware, we in the upper Midwest appear to be stuck beneath a swirling low pressure center that is dumping rain from the Wisconsin/Minnesota border to about Maryland. Basically, the majority of Big Ten baseball fields are getting damp and it isn't going to end anytime soon. And, as we all know, baseball and rain aren't the best of pals.

A quick look at this weekend baseball schedule reveals that our hosts are Indiana, Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and Northwestern. Only the Hawkeyes seem to be outside the rain zone. Of course, a subtle move west by this baseball nightmare and Iowa City gets wet, too. This protracted precipitation means that the weekend slate of contests could be in danger. (Northwestern is already anticipating weather trouble and has moved some game times around.) I'm guessing right now somebody is playing on Monday, as there are only eight games remaining to determine a regular season champion.

It's bad enough the Big Ten plays a month of road games because it snows up here until, well, June (sarcasm, only sarcasm), but now the rain threatens the next-to-last weekend series of the year. Wonderful. Here's hoping the majority of games get played.

As for the battles on the field, co-leaders Northwestern (16-8/19-28) get a visit from Michigan State (10-14/23-24). The Wildcats are coming off a split of last weekend's meeting with the Gophers and a midweek pasting at the hands of Illinois-Chicago, 23-5. Those results might lead one to believe the 'Cats are ready to take a fall, but they've rebounded so many times this season I just can't write them off.

The Spartans dropped three of four to Ohio State last weekend, but did win their midweek match-up against Western Michigan, 10-6. The Green and White enter the NU series on a two game winning streak.

State College is the where the Big Ten's other front runner, Michigan, finds itself this weekend. Penn State (11-13/18-29) is battling for a spot in the conference tournament, while the Wolverines (16-8/30-17) are looking to gain sole possession of the top spot overall and host the post-season event.

The Nittany Lions enter this meeting having won the final two contests against Purdue last weekend. PSU had no midweek game. Michigan also split their weekend series vs. Illinois, but prevailed in a midweek game versus Eastern Michigan, 11-6.

Ohio State (15-9/31-15), only a game behind Northwestern and Michigan, plays host to Minnesota (11-13/24-23). The Buckeyes took three of four from MSU last week and are 7-2 in their last nine games. The Gophers did split their face-off with NU, but have a 3-6 record in their last nine games.

In the one place not getting rain currently, Iowa (10-14/21-26) hosts Purdue (11-13/25-20). Jack Dahm's squad took three of four from IU last weekend and didn't face a midweek opponent. Purdue enters the Hawkeye series having split their last Big Ten encounter with Penn State. The Boilermakers' midweek affair against Indiana State got washed out in the first wave of this week's rainfall.

Fourth place Illinois (12-12/26-21) travels to Bloomington to take on Indiana (8-16/19-28). The Illini are 5-2 in their last seven games having split with Michigan a week ago. In the other dugout, Tracy Smith's side has won their last two games, including a 13-11 midweek triumph over Valpo. It's interesting to note that the last place Hoosiers have exactly the same overall record as the first place Wildcats, 19-28.

I see that the folks at IU are keeping an eye on the old Doppler radar, as well. Indiana has joined NU in changing the start times for their weekend games.

Oh, I hope the majority of these game get played. I have no idea what the conference would do if rain cost any of the front runners multiple games. It will no doubt be interesting. And soggy.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mattingly Going To UT

Preston Mattingly, son of ex-New York Yankee star, Don, has committed to attend Tennessee. He will play baseball for the Volunteers next season. This is bad on two accounts.

First, Mattingly attends high school in Indiana. It's disappointing to see another youngster in Big Ten country jump ship and head off to a "southern school". I don't blame the younger Mattingly for choosing a more baseball friendly institution, but a player of his pedigree would have helped the Big Ten's image and quality of play.

The second bad thing about this is that elder Mattingly isn't even a star from my childhood. He's in the group that immediately followed that. Basically, this means a guy who played pro ball when I was a very young adult now has a son in college baseball. What I am trying to say is that I am really, really getting old.

Maiking A List, Checking It Twice, Or Maybe Three Times

This week's NCAA tournament predictions begin with The Rosenblatt Report's Kendall Rogers. For my Big Ten centric readers, Mr. Rogers envisions Northwestern in the Big Baseball Dance. He's got the Wildcats out in Corvallis facing host Oregon State.

SEBaseball.com's Mark Etheridge takes his weekly shot at the field, too. Mr. Etheridge forsees Michigan in the tournament. (I like Mr. Etheridge's predictions a bit better as he feels both Notre Dame and Kentucky could host opening round series. In addition, check out one of the Irish opponents in the bracket. That might convince me to be in South Bend that weekend.)

Before this past weekend's action, Boyd Nation offered his weekly views on the tournament make-up. When it comes to our conference of focus here, Mr. Nation smartly avoids trying to guess which one of the clubs is going to emerge victorious. He's just slotted a "Big Ten" spot. As always, smart decision from college baseball's premier number cruncher. (Hope you don't mind that label, Mr. Nation.)

Last, but certainly not least, Ben at Southern College Sports.com makes his predicitions for the field of 64. Ben takes Michigan as the Big Ten representative. From a purely selfish standpoint, I like his notion of the Wolverines opening NCAA tournament play at Kentucky. Lexington is a distance I can handle. Plus, my wife--a horse lover, thus a Kentucky lover--endorses your opinion, Ben.

Hilligoss Tops In OPS

Purdue's Mitch Hilligoss continues to lead the Big Ten Conference in on base plus slugging percentage. The All-America shortstop has a 1.086 OPS figure as of Monday. Second in OPS is Ohio State 3B Ronnie Bourquin. Hilligoss and Bourquin are probably the leading contenders for Big Ten Player of the Year.

Third is Ryan Basham of Michigan State at 1.067. In strictly conference games, Basham has the highest batting average (.425) and slugging percentage (an impressive .701) and is third in on base percentage (.475). Eric Fryer, Ohio State, is next on the list at 1.066. Fryer's teammate, Jedidiah Stephen, is the last player in the Big Ten above the magical 1.000 mark. The Buckeyes' SS has an OPS of 1.010.

Monday, May 08, 2006

OSU @ MSU Photo Link

As promised, here is the link to the photos Mrs. BTH took of Friday's game between the Buckeyes and Spartans at Oldsmobile Park in Lansing.

You'll note there are plenty of shots of starting pitchers Dan DeLucia (OSU) and John Dwan (MSU, at right). Both lefties threw their fastball in the low 80's/high 90's. I'd call 89 mph the average speed for both. Their off-speed stuff clocked in at something closer to mid to low 70's. Sure, there was an occasional 60-something, but that was the exception. This assumes, of course, that the Olds Park radar gun was accurate.

Right now, I have hopes of attending one more Big Ten series--Iowa at Michigan--before the season closes. I also harbor ideas of making it to the Big Ten Tournament and/or the first round of the NCAA's, if Notre Dame, Kentucky or a Big Ten school can host (which seems very unlikely).

Monday Standings

The top of the Big Ten standings on Monday look surprisingly similar to the standings prior to the weekend. Well, at least the top four didn't move any. Michigan (16-8) and Northwestern (16-8) both won on Sunday keeping their dual hold of the conference lead. Ohio State (15-9), after ripping off three straight in Lansing, lost to Michigan State yesterday dropping the Buckeyes back into their pre-weekend spot in third place. Illinois (12-12), which split their weekend encounter with the Wolverines, is still in fourth spot.

Purdue (11-12) split their weekend four game set with Penn State moving the Boilermakers into fifth place. Minnesota (11-13), which went toe-to-toe with the front-running Wildcats this past weekend, has hold of the final spot in the Big Ten Conference tournament picture at sixth.

The Nittany Lions (10-13), Spartans (10-14), Iowa (10-14) and Indiana (8-16) round out the field.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Catching Up On The Weekend

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've had no time over the last couple of days to log into Blogger. While I was away from the keyboard, I didn't entirely ignore the Big Ten baseball race. Part of the time away was spent watching college baseball. On Friday, I made the trek up to Lansing to watch Michigan State host Ohio State. (Expect a picture link to be provided later. Hopefully, later today, but I make no promises.)

As for the game between the Spartans and Buckeyes, well, it wasn't very competitive. Dan DeLucia, OSU's Friday starter, kept MSU hitters off balance and got plenty of offensive support in a 16-2 Buckeye triumph. It was the type of dominant performance I expected from Ohio State in Ann Arbor a few weeks back.

As I've learned since, things haven't gotten much better for the host Spartans as OSU also took both halves of yesterday's doubleheader. Ohio State took game one, 12-3, and the second affair by a 6-4 count. The three consecutive OSU's wins combined with Northwestern and Michigan dropping two of their three games thus far, has led to a three way tie atop the Big Ten standings.

Minnesota beat Northwestern up on Friday, 15-3. The bats for both sides went silent Saturday as both teams claimed 1-0 victories. Dan Brauer led NU to the triumph in the first game. The nightcap went to Gophers courtesy of starter Brian Bull.

While in Champaign, Michigan lost Friday's game, 3-1 and split the Saturday twinbill with the Illini. Dan Hartleb's side won the second game, 7-4, but Rich Maloney's nine took the opener, 1-0.

Purdue and Penn State have only played a single game so far this weekend. Saturday's solo contest went to the Boilermakers, 6-5. A doubleheader is on tap for today. In Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have taken three in a row from Indiana. Friday was 3-2, Iowa. Saturday's doubledip went the Hawkeyes' way by scores of 4-3 and 6-0.

All this leaves Ohio State, Northwestern and Michigan tied atop the Big Ten at 15-8. Illinois if fourth at 12-11. Minnesota is fifth, Purdue sixth. If the regular season ended today, those outside the conference tournament would be Iowa, Penn State, Michigan State and Indiana.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

So Much To Type, So Little Time

There is a great chance that I won't be checking in here again until Sunday, yet I have so much I want to address. There is simply no way I can get to everything I would like to. However, let's see how much I can review before other responsibilities call me away from my computer.

I guess I can begin with midweek games. I saw Michigan beat Western Michigan courtesy of Comcast Local, 10-5. The contest was pretty typical of midweek fare. The Wolverines jumped out to a big lead and held on to win. The television coverage, always a popular subject here, wasn't as good as the last CL game I watched, but it was acceptable.

Of course, the broadcast was hindered greatly by the fact the audio was running behind the video. The guy would be standing on first after a single when you heard the "ping" of his bat and the announcer make the call. Annoying. It was a problem on the channel after the game as well, so the production crew doesn't lose any points from me for the audio difficulities. I did learn something during the game, too.

Apparently, Ray Fisher Stadium is about to undergo a major renovation. I believe ex-coach Geoff Zahn mentioned a $9 million figure. I can't say I completely understood the specifics of the upgrades but it sounds like they are going to build an indoor hitting facility, rebuild the dugout and the pressbox. They also made mention of the seating changes. It sounded like they might be adding either box seats, a second deck or both.

This was the first thing I've heard about updating Michigan's baseball structure. There have been rumors about an entirely new ballpark, but I had not heard anything this concrete about pouring new concrete at the old yard. While I won't have time to Google this tonight, I have yet to see anything this definitive about Fisher Stadium from any other source. (More work I don't have time for right now.)

I have to admit that I am surprised that the university opted not to tear down the current diamond, thus creating space for either parking for football and hockey or building a practice facility for the basketball team. However, I am happy to hear that yet another baseball program is getting some revenue towards facilities.

On that note, Penn State announced the their new yard, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is nearly complete.

As for other midweek games, Lars Davis hit a walk-off homer powering Illinois over St. Xavier, 6-4. Iowa's game with Western Illinois got cancelled. (Rain? Nope. Snow?! Nope. Scheduling conflict? Yes. Does this happen in college football?) North Dakota State thumped Minnesota, 7-3. Apparently, John Anderson's side didn't exactly bring along the entire team. Northern Illinois beat Northwestern, 8-6. (That sound you hear is NU's and the conference's RPI falling.) Ohio State beat Eastern Michigan, 5-2.

This weekend's Big Ten action looks like this: Ohio State travels to Michigan State in a battle of the top two offensive teams in the conference. Purdue hosts Penn State. Iowa is at Indiana. Minnesota visits league leading Northwestern and co-conference leader Michigan is in Champaign to take on Illinois.

Michigan State's Ryan Basham got some ink from Green and White.com.

Ohio State got some love from CSTV. Here is a video look at the Buckeyes. (Assuming I did the video link correctly. My apologies, if I didn't.)

Speaking of CSTV, Kellen Kulbacki of James Madison is this week's leader in CSTV.com's Player of the Year balloting.

Iowa released information about pitcher Casey O'Rourke, his ongoing battle with cancer and his effect on his teammates. While it's clear the struggle continues, I was glad to hear that the Hawkeye pitcher is cancer free. The Hawkeyes season has been bumpy, to put it mildly. Here is Ryan Long, of the Daily Iowan, explaining all the difficulities Jack Dahm's squad has had to endure in 2006.

I think that's it for now. And probably tomorrow, as well. I might try to sneak back in here Saturday night, time permitting. Enjoy the weekend action.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Regional Predictions And More

Mark Etheridge, Publisher of SEBaseball.com, takes his weekly stab at guessing the field of 64.
Not to be outdone, Kendall Rogers of the Rosenblatt Report (I love that name), also predicts the make-up of the NCAA Tournament.

SEBaseball.com also released it's weekly radio show, SEBaseball Review. It almost goes without saying that I encourage you to check all of these links out.

Tuesday Is OPS Day

And then there were six. The list of Big Ten regulars maintaining an OPS mark above 1.000 is down to a half dozen. Five of whom will be facing off against each other this weekend as Ohio State travels to Oldsmobile Park to take on Michigan State. Here are this week's on base + slugging percentage leaders.

Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue 1.124
Ronnie Bourquin, Ohio State 1.091
Eric Fryer, Ohio State 1.051
Jedidiah Stephen, Ohio State 1.044
Ryan Basham, Michigan State 1.026
Steve Gerstenberger, Michigan State 1.000

Then there are our friends in the Mid-American Conference. Yes, for the second week in a row, you get MAC OPS numbers. Please restrain your excitement.

Ben Humphrey, Central Michigan 1.144
Drew Saylor, Kent State 1.056
Brian Toner, Northern Illinois 1.044
Kurt Eichorn, Kent State 1.034
Willie Walker, Ohio 1.033
Bryan Mitzel, Central Michigan 1.029
Brad Miller, Ball State 1.014

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Final Three Weeks

The race for the Big Ten Conference title is down to its final three weekends. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the remaining schedules for the conference leaders. I realize that there is a possibility that one of the programs I don't have listed below could still claim the crown. However, I'm going to assume that one of the top four teams right now is going to hold on to win the regular season championship.

Michigan State
@ Purdue

@ Illinois
@ Penn State

Ohio State
@ Michigan State
Penn State

@ Indiana
@ Michigan State

If you just review the home/road series, you have to like NU and Ohio State. Both play host twice in the final three weeks, while Michigan and the Illini are going to have to play two of their final three series on the road.