Rutgers Baseball (24-20, 7-11) stands one and a half games behind Michigan State (17-26, 8-9) for the 8th and final Big Ten conference tournament berth. Maryland (21-27, 6-11) is a half game behind Rutgers as both teams are battling one another to reach postseason play. The two teams square off in College Park, Maryland beginning at 6:30 pm today on BTN plus.
Michigan State has a tough remaining schedule as they welcome 1st place Minnesota this weekend and fourth place Ohio State next weekend to close out the regular season. Rutgers and Michigan State are not likely to end up in a tie because Michigan State only currently has 23 games on the schedule, not 24. The reason the Spartans have played one fewer game than RU is that one of their games against Nebraska was cancelled with no reschedule date. However, by virtue of winning the season series, Rutgers would get the tiebreaker in the unlikely event the two teams are deadlocked at the end of next weekend.
Of course if Rutgers does not win this series with the Terrapins, Maryland and Rutgers would be tied but Maryland would hold the tiebreaker. Maryland faces off with Indiana (31-14, 9-8) in their final weekend series, but the Hoosiers have not been as hot as the Golden Gophers who Rutgers has to face in their final weekend series beginning next Friday at Bainton Field.
So, with all that procedural information now clear, what does Rutgers need to do this weekend to defeat Maryland?
Keys to the weekend
- Play good defense. Rutgers defensive play in the infield, outfield, and even pitchers have to be better than it has been in recent weeks. The numbers don’t show many unearned runs, but you can’t go out there, kick the ball around, and expect it not to come back and bite you eventually. The last few weeks teams have been bunting and forcing Rutgers to handle the ball which at times has resulted in the merry-go-round feeling. Good weather is expected for the first two games, but Sunday’s high is 27 degrees lower (65 F) than Saturday (92 F) with overnight rain forecasted.
- Avoid big rallies. The defense described in the first bullet point is a key component and how many games have we seen a team put up an insanely crooked number especially in a series opener? That Illinois-Rutgers opener featured huge rallies by both sides with Rutgers falling by a single run 13-12. The first game against first place Michigan a week ago saw Rutgers turn a 7-7 tie to a 15-7 lead with an eight run outburst putting the game out of reach in the 7th. It’s possible with so much at stake we could see Serafino Brito in the middle innings if Skipper Joe Litterio and Pitching coach Phil Cundari believe it to be the most critical time in the game.
- Scratch out runs. Of course you need to get on base to be able to score and Terrapin hurlers have surrendered 437 hits plus 217 walks this season (for comparison Rutgers hurlers have only allowed 395 and 197). Rutgers is a singles team that tries to keep the line moving, so quite often they are capable of the aforementioned rallies but need to ensure they can add on a run here and a run there in this series. One way to manufacture runs is take advantage of the stolen base. Rutgers has good team speed having stolen 77 bases (Harris 20, DiGeorgio 16) to their opponents 54. Maryland has only surrendered 51, so something will have to give.
Saturday 2pm, Sunday 1 pm. Not the same bat times, but the same bat channel.