Now it gets important.
After surviving the biggest series of the year last weekend and taking care of Omaha in the midweek, Nebraska baseball now readies itself for another big conference series against the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend.
At the beginning of what should be the most manageable stretch of baseball in 2017, NU (24-15-1, 7-4-1 Big Ten) comes into the weekend within reasonable striking distance of the conference leaders and is very much in hunt of the NCAA tournament.
After a skid against Iowa and Creighton that left NU with plenty of question marks, Nebraska did what it had to in a series win over previous Big Ten leader Minnesota. Now they travel to Columbus for the first time since 2012 to play a team that is eight games under .500 and six games under .500 at home.
Ohio State still has a few intriguing pieces. Dominic Canzone leads OSU with a .347 batting average and a .429 clip over his last 10 games. Beyond that, Canzone leads the conference with a .500 average and .550 on-base percentage in Big Ten play. Not to mention, he has a .824 Big Ten slugging percentage to top it off.
Beyond Canzone, a few Buckeyes are also playing well lately. Tre’ Gantt finished 6-for-12 and Conner Pohl knocked five hits in OSU’s series loss to UNC Greensboro. Gantt is also tied for the Big Ten lead with 27 walks. Collectively, the Buckeyes are hitting .243 with 31 home runs.
Nebraska broke out nine runs in the series finale against Minnesota and added 13 runs to it in the midweek win over Omaha. Scott Schreiber, who homered in the win over Omaha, now leads NU with a .316 batting average, while Luis Alvarado has steadily improved throughout the year and now sits second among qualified Huskers with a .307 average. Angelo Altavilla’s average is still hovering above .300, and Jake Meyers and Ben Miller remain potent in the middle of the order.
On April 18, it’ll be Jake Hohensee (5-2, 3.17 ERA) against Yianni Pavlopoulos (2-5, 6.49 ERA), and Derek Burkamper (2-4, 4.50 ERA) against Jake Post (1-3, 3.38 ERA) on April 29. The Buckeyes haven’t named a starter for April 30, but we do know Jake Meyers (6-1, 2.91 ERA) will throw for NU.
The Ohio State pitching staff hasn’t been great–a 5.11 ERA with 284 strikeouts in 352.1 innings–but the Buckeyes have a pair of relievers who have been difficult to hit. Seth Kinker has posted a 2.55 ERA over 17 relief appearances in 2017. Kinker has 36 strikeouts over 35.1 innings, but has also given up a team-high three homers this year.
Along with Kinker, Kyle Michalik has a 3.52 ERA over 15 relief appearances, with only seven strikeouts in 15.1 innings. If the Buckeye starters aren’t great, at least they have a pair of modest arms to fall back on.
NU’s bullpen has been even better. Jake McSteen has shined with a 1.75 ERA in 15 relief appearances this year. Alvarado has a 1.74 ERA in 11 appearances, and Nate Fisher has a 2.08 ERA in 11 appearances. The bullpen success NU has had historically isn’t any secret, and it’s been the same in 2017.
Game one is set for 5:35 p.m. CT April 28, with game two set for 2:05 p.m. April 29 and game three at 11:05 a.m. April 20.