HawkeyeReport - Weekend Iowa Baseball Preview
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Weekend Iowa Baseball Preview

The Hawkeyes fly east this weekend to face Rutgers for a huge series.
The Hawkeyes fly east this weekend to face Rutgers for a huge series.

This weekend has been looming on the schedule for a couple of weeks and it has finally arrived.

The Hawkeyes travel across the country to face 31-7 Rutgers in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights enter the weekend winning 17 of their last 18 games and are sitting at #50 in the RPI. The weekend provides an opportunity for Iowa to add quality wins to their resume, as well as make a move up the Big Ten and RPI standings. Last year, the Hawkeyes traveled to New Jersey and took three of four games from Rutgers.

“Respect to Rutgers and the job Steve Owens has done with that program. We felt like they were a really good team last year when we went out there and we played really well. We are going to need to do that again,” said Coach Rick Heller. “All of us are really excited. We like challenges and you like to play good teams. It should be a fun weekend.”

Why Rutgers? Why Iowa?

As mentioned, the Scarlet Knights are one of the hottest teams in college baseball and are playing with all sorts of confidence. Despite losing to Princeton on Wednesday, they have won 17 over their last 18 games. During their hot stretch, Rutgers has scored 8+ runs ten times and have swept three straight Big Ten weekends (Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana). It is not an easy task to win a road series against a team that is playing with the confidence the Scarlet Knights are playing with.

The Hawkeyes will be the toughest opponent yet for Rutgers. While the Scarlet Knights are 31-7 on the season, they have just a 1-1 record against Q1/Q2 teams. They have a Q1 midweek win against Penn, but that is it. 20 of their 31 wins are against Quad 4 teams, which inflates their record a bit. There is no doubt that Rutgers is a tournament team and 11-1 in Big Ten play speaks for itself, but the starting rotation Iowa will roll out will be the toughest the Scarlet Knights have seen to this point in the season.

Friday Pitching Matchup – rSoph Adam Mazur vs GSr Jared Kollar

Mazur is set to make his tenth start of the season and is looking to carry over his performance for his last outing against Minnesota. The redshirt sophomore went a career-high 8.0 innings, allowed three runs and struck out 11. Mazur’s ERA is down to 3.00 on the season, while he is averaging 10.3 SO/9 and walked just 20 in 54.0 innings.

Seton Hall transfer Jared Kollar has been the Scarlet Knights ace for much of the season and enters the game with a 6-0 record, 2.56 ERA and an impressive 0.91 WHIP. Through nine starts, Kollar is averaging 10.1 SO/9 and has walked just 12 batters in 52.2 innings of work. In his last start against Indiana, he went 6.0 innings, allowing one earned run on five hits, while striking out five and walking three.

Saturday Pitching Matchup – GSr Connor Schultz vs GSr Nathan Florence

Connor Schultz made his way back into the starting rotation last weekend and did exactly what the coaching staff wanted in his first start back. Schultz made it 4.2 innings, allowing just one run on four hits, while striking out five and walking two against Minnesota. On the season, Connor has a 2.63 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

Hartford transfer Nathan Florence will make the Saturday start for Rutgers, and he enters the game with a 4-1 record, 2.92 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Florence tends to walk a few more batters than Kollar, but in return he averages 11.3 SO/9. Last week against Indiana, the graduate senior made it just 4.0 innings. While he allowed only two runs, it was five hits and four walks that pushed his pitch count into the 90s. With a tendency to walk some batters, Hawkeye batters need can’t afford to help him out at the plate.

Sunday Pitching Matchup – Soph Ty Langenberg vs Soph Justin Sinibaldi

Ty Langenberg has been a reliable arm in the Iowa rotation all season, but the sophomore comes into the weekend looking to bounce back from a rough outing against Minnesota last week. Langenberg allowed three runs on six hits and made it through just 3.0 innings. However, he has five outings of 4+ innings and two or less runs allowed on the season.

Justin Sinibaldi is similar to Connor Schultz, where he has been a starter, as well as a bullpen arm. Sinibaldi will be making his sixth start and comes in with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. Half of his hits allowed on the season are extra base hits, while his 13 extra base hits allowed is second most on the team. Last season, the Hawkeyes scored six runs on Sinibaldi in Piscataway and knocked him out after just 2.1 innings. The sophomore made it through just 3.0 innings last week against Indiana, as he allowed four runs, three earned on four hits and two walks.

Breaking Down the Scarlet Knights

No doubt this is one of the most dangerous lineups the Hawkeyes will face the entire season. The Scarlet Knights average 12.0 hits per game and have hit 53 home runs on the season. Their .322 team batting average and .422 on-base percentage rank top ten in the country. Possibly the most impressive stat is their 16.5% strikeout rate compared to their .516 slugging percentage, which ranks 12th in the nation.

Nine batters with 20+ starts enter the weekend possessing a .300+ batting average. With that said, I will try to hit the highlights in the Scarlet Knights lineup.

Infield

C Nick Cimillo is the leading bat for the Scarlet Knights with a batting average of .404 and an even more impressive .512 on-base percentage. Cimillo leads team in hits (55), doubles (13), home runs (9), walks (27), slugging pct (.699) and total bases (95).

SS Danny DiGeorgio slots in right behind Cimillo in batting average on the team at .378, including a tie for walks with 27. That gives him a .503 on-base percentage for the season. He is third on the team in hits with 51, including 16 extra base hits. DiGeorgio also leads the team with 11 stolen bases.

1B Chris Brito comes in with a .308 batting average and while he has struck out 32 times, he has walked 23 times, which pushes the on-base percentage to .437. Brito has eight home runs on the season and leads the team with 49 RBIs, while tying for the team lead with 22 extra base hits.

2B Josh Kuroda-Grauer (.331), 3B Tony Santa Maria (.306, 8 HR, 45 RBI) and Jordan Sweeney (.304, 7 HR) will also be in the lineup this weekend. It is interesting to note that Santa Maria leads the team in errors and is just 7/40 (.175) over his last 10 games. Kuroda-Grauer has recorded two hits in six of his last eight games played.

Outfield

CF Ryan Lasko comes into the weekend with a .321 batting average, including the second most hits on the team (53). He also is tied for the team lead in runs (45) and extra base hits (22). Lasko has also clubbed eight home runs, which has helped him to second place on the team in total bases with 93. He has collected a hit in 34 of his 37 games played this season.

Richie Schiekofer is batting .325 on the season, with a .415 on-base percentage in 28 starts. However, he left the Friday game against Indiana after one at bat and has missed the last four games. It is currently unknown if he will be available for this weekend.

Mike Nyisztor (.272, .352 OBP) and Evan Sleight (.308, 33 RBI, 34 SO) will both be seen in the starting lineup this weekend if Schiekofer can’t go. Garrett Callaghan (.306, .453 OBP) is a name to know, as he is the most frequently used pinch-hitter for the Scarlet Knights. He has collected 15 hits in 49 at bats this season.

Bullpen

Hopefully, the Hawkeyes don’t see much of Dale Stanavich this weekend, as he is the Rutgers closer. The redshirt junior lefty has notched eight saves on the season and has posted a 0.93 ERA. Stanavich has an impressive 15.4 SO/9 over 19.1 innings of work, while conversely only walking four batters.

Maryland transfer Sam Bello has pitched 26.1 innings out of the bullpen for Rutgers, which leads the team. Bello has struck out just 19 batters, but boasts a 2.39 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. The Hawkeyes did well against Bello last season when he was a Terrapin, but this is a different Iowa lineup and an improved Sam Bello.

Ben Gorski (2.35 ERA) and Garrett French (3.75 ERA) are tied for the second most appearances behind Stanavich with 14. Gorski is allowing opponents to bat just .181 against him, including 23 strikeouts to 13 walks in 23.0 innings of work. French is allowing opponents to hit .271 off of him. He has struck out just 16 in 24.0 innings of work and teams put it play more often against him. French has allowed 26 hits, which is good for 1.08 hits per inning.

Joe Mazza (0.00 ERA, 8.1 INN) and Sam Portnoy (2.08 ERA, 8.2 INN) have appeared in double digits games, but have not thrown many innings. This likely means they are situational arms and only come in in certain instances. The two have combined for 16 strikeouts and eight walks in 17.0 innings, while they combine for a 1.18 WHIP.

Kyle Muller (4.50 ERA, 12 gms) and Nate McLain (4.76 ERA, 12 gms) could also see some innings over the weekend from the Rutgers bullpen.

Midweek vs Western Illinois

After the big weekend series, the Hawkeyes will return home to face Western Illinois at Duane Banks Field in some midweek action. The Leathernecks are 4-29 going into their weekend series against Omaha.

The Western Illinois offense is hitting just .248 as a team and striking out 8.4 times per game. They also have hit just 11 home runs on the season, which ranks 286th in all of college baseball. 3B Kory Olsen (.325) and OF Nick Mitchell (.324) are the team’s leaders at plate. Olsen leads the team in hits (38), total bases (48) and runs scored (21), while Mitchell leads in RBIs (19), stolen bases (21) and is second with 36 hits.

The pitching staff has struggled mightily, posting a 9.11 team ERA on the season, which ranks 288th in the country. The Hawkeyes should be successful at the plate, as teams are averaging 1.31 hits per inning and 2.04 baserunners per inning against the Leathernecks pitchers.

Final Thought

Set the Over/Under at 2.5 wins for this stretch. The Hawkeyes should, in theory, be able to roll to a Milwaukee type victory on Tuesday against Western Illinois. This means that the difference between hitting the over or under will depend on winning or losing the Rutgers series. The team knows the importance of this weekend and they are ready to showcase themselves against the current top dog in the Big Ten standings. With four very navigable weekends remaining after this weekend, a series win could provide a huge momentum boost going into the home stretch of the schedule.