At a certain point, Nebraska baseball has to come back to earth.
Maybe it took a pair of disappointing home losses to Western Carolina in mid-March. Maybe it’s the law of averages telling us all Nebraska is a good baseball team. And maybe things are simply falling NU’s way. But whatever it is - it’s working.
Since those losses to WCU, Nebraska is 15-3-1 in its last 19 games. The Huskers have taken a series over Big Ten frontrunner Maryland and won a pair of tough road games against Indiana. They swept both College of Charleston and the annual two-game, home-and-home midweek set against Kansas State.
And now, they welcome Iowa to Hawks Field for the first time since 2012, with an opportunity to keep rolling in the Big Ten.
At face value, it looks like a competitive series. NU is 20-11-1, and Iowa is 20-11. Nebraska’s played well at home, and Iowa’s had a tough time on the road. Where Iowa has been markedly better is at neutral sites: a 6-3 record compared to NU’s 3-6.
But consider WarrenNolan.com’s RPI: Nebraska comes into the weekend ranked 35th in the country. Iowa sits in the middle of the Big Ten at 95 - trending downward following a series loss to Northwestern last weekend.
If those numbers mean much of anything, it’s Nebraska’s series to lose.
That’s not to say Iowa isn’t a good team. The Hawkeyes have won eight of their last 10 games. And before back-to-back losses to Northwestern, the Hawks had won eight straight to surge into the Big Ten tournament’s eight-team safety zone, and pretty good in doing so.
Jake Adams is as dangerous as any hitter in the country. After two years at Des Moines Area Community College, the junior is slashing .341/.421/.707 in his first 31 games at the D1 level. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but Adams leads the Big Ten in home runs (13), RBIs (43) and slugging percentage. In 2016 at DMACC, he finished with 25 homers, 75 RBIs and an .860 slugging percentage. Regardless of level, those numbers are absurd, and he’s a threat to do significant damage this weekend.
Beyond Adams, the Hawkeyes are hitting .285 and slugging .433 as a team. In the Big Ten, only Michigan State (.469) hits for more power than Iowa, and the Hawks average 6.1 runs per game. The Hawkeyes have five regulars, hitting better than .300 and four regulars with an on-base percentage better than .400.
Iowa’s crutch, however, is pitching. The staff’s 4.10 ERA is in the top-half of a conference with plenty of inflated team ERAs, but beyond the April 14 starter Nick Gallagher (2.15 ERA, 41 Ks/8 BBs in 46 IP), there isn’t a whole lot of depth. The Hawkeye pitching won’t blow anyone away, and they’ve played one of the conference’s easiest schedules. Iowa won’t have to play Michigan, Indiana, Maryland or Minnesota this year.
It’s an opportunity for Ben Miller, who’s 19-for-39 in his last nine games, to continue his roll. Because of Miller’s resurgence, it’s easy to forget about Scott Schrieber, who qualifies as Jake Adams’ comparison in the NU lineup. Angelo Altavilla is quietly still hitting above .300, and Mojo Hagge still reaches base as often as any Nebraska player has.
Pitching matchups favor Nebraska, too. Jake Hohensee (4-2, 2.16 ERA) vs. Gallagher April 14 is a wash. But based on quality of opponents faced, you’d give the nod to Derek Burkamper (2-2, 3.64 ERA) over Ryan Erickson (0-1, 3.76 ERA) April 15 and Jake Meyers (5-1, 2.25 ERA) over Cole McDonald (2-2, 5.34 ERA) April 16.
Really, if NU continues playing at the level it has over the last month, it’s hard to see Iowa winning the series. Crazier things have happened, but let common sense prevail this weekend.
Barring inclement weather, the series begins at 6:35 p.m. April 14. Game two will get underway at 6:05 p.m. April 15 and the two teams wrap it all up at 2:02 p.m. April 16.