Maryland baseball hosts four-game series against Northwestern and Michigan

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Maryland (6-9) returns home to host two of the best in Big Ten at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in a split four-game series against Northwestern (9-5) and the Michigan (11-4).

Maryland lost three of its previous four games and now faces the second and fourth place teams in the Big Ten.

“Number one, we are going to have to play really good defense against both teams,” head coach Rob Vaughn said.

In game 1, Sean Burke (1-1, 5.06 ERA) gets the start, while Nick Dean (0-0, 3.00 ERA gets the start in Game 2. Connor Staine (0-2, 7.17 ERA) is on the bump in Game 3, while Jason Savacool (4-0, 2.83 ERA) is the anchor in Game 4.

Burke and Savacool have been Maryland’s most consistent pitchers this season. Even though he has a high ERA, Burke is second in the conference with 39 strikeouts. Savacool leads the Big Ten in wins (4), innings pitched (28.2), and complete games (2).

“When they go deep into games and keep our bullpen fresh when we need them,” shortstop Ben Cowles said.

Northwestern counters with starters Mike Doherty (1-0, 3.20 ERA) and Jack Dyke (1-0, 8.59 ERA). Doherty’s 25.1 innings is third in the Big Ten and he ranks ninth in ERA.

Maryland pitchers must slow down a Northwestern lineup with the highest the batting average in the conference (.304) and first in the conference with home runs (29). First baseman Anthony Calarco spearheads the Wildcats offense. He has the second highest batting average (.441) in the conference, while he ranks third with a (.847) slugging percentage.

Northwestern has five players in the Top 10 of the conference in home runs. Designated hitter Michael Trautwein and catcher Stephen Hrustich are tied for the team lead with six. Trautwein is third in the conference in RBI (19), one of five Wildcats who has 10 or more RBI’s on the season.

“With the way Northwestern is swinging the bat right now, free bases turn into crooked innings,” Vaughn said.

To counter the potent lineup, Maryland must take advantage of Northwestern’s pitching staff who have struggled. The Wildcats 5.45 ERA is ninth in the Big Ten. Northwestern also struggles mightily in the field last in fielding percentage (.953), while committing the most errors (25). Those mistakes have lead to 48 unearned runs, which Maryland will look to capitalize on.

At the plate, Maryland will rely on hitters like Cowles plans to keep his hot season going. Cowles is first in the conference in slugging percentage (.940), tied for first in home runs (8), second in RBI (23), third in total bases (47), and fifth in batting (.400). The Terps have also found success on the base paths with the most steals in the Big Ten, but the Wildcats have taken that strength away from teams so far this season.

Unlike Northwestern, Michigan has a strong pitching staff with the lowest ERA (3.04) in the conference and the fewest home runs allowed (4). Fortunately for the Terps they won’t be facing Michigan’s top starters, Cameron Weston (3-1, 3.20 ERA) and Steven Hajjar (1-0, 2.66 ERA). Instead Maryland will try and solve starters Jacob Denner (1-0, 4.32 ERA) and Blake Beers (0-1, 6.75 ERA)

“Against a team like Michigan, you’ve just got to line up and play good baseball,” Vaughn said. “You’re going to get runners in scoring position; when you get them, you have to be ready to go.”

The Wolverines are only seventh in batting average (.260) but are second in on-base percentage (.375) and walks (75) and sixth in slugging percentage (.426). Outfielder Clark Elliot has the best OPS for the Wolverines (1.023), while first baseman Jimmy Obertop is the team’s main power hitter with a team-high six home runs and 14 RBI’s this season. Michigan has six players with nine-or-more RBI on the season.

“If we execute when we need to, don’t give up free bases, and we play clean defense; it doesn’t matter who you are playing, you give yourself a fighting chance,” Vaughn said.

Maryland plays Northwestern Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at noon. Then the Terps take on Michigan Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Monday at 3 p.m.