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Spartan Baseball Series Preview: Illinois

The Big Ten schedule is set to open against the Fighting Illini

Michigan State put a nice bow on the “official” non-conference schedule, finishing with a impressive record of 12-5 (1-0 Home, 7-3 Away, 4-2 Neutral) while remaining a top 30 team in the country for offense —namely batting average, and runs scored per game — and scoring double-digits in 6 of their 17 games this season.

Recently, the Spartans headed home for the first time in 2017 and hung 11 runs on the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Chips tried to beat Michigan State with a freshman on the mound and the high powered Spartan offense took full advantage ending the day with 16 hits.

The Spartans look to carry their new found momentum into the Big Ten season Friday when they lead off against the Fighting Illini.


The Basics

The Numbers

  • Record: 6-12 (0-0 conference, 2-3 Home)
  • Best Win: @ No. 21 Coastal Carolina (RPI: 113), W 7-6
  • Worst Loss: @ Lamar (RPI:155), L 9-15

Last Five Games

  • 3/21 - Illinois State, W 7-1
  • 3/19 - Southern Illinois, L 1-3
  • 3/19 - Toledo, L 4-10
  • 3/18 - Southern Illinois, L 5-8
  • 3/17 - Toledo, W 11-5

Illinois is 6-12 on the year and coming off a 7-1 win earlier this week over Illinois State. The Fighting Illini went deep in their rotation, using six pitchers and only surrendering three hits.

They’re extremely young and majority of their contributions have come from freshmen and sophomores. Of their nine starters, only two are juniors/seniors (recently Michigan State played CMU, also a young team and put 11 runs up, so there’s that).

The Illini’s offense is definitely improving. In 2016 they hit 27 home runs all year, but in 2017 they already have 19. They are first in the Big Ten in terms of home runs per game (1.06) and are 30th in the nation for the same stat.

It’s always interesting when almost 80% of a teams production done by young guys. Michigan State has loads more experience than this team does which will be very advantageous this weekend.

Illini To Know

Sophomore Jack Yalowitz is on a tear in 2017, posting great offensive numbers. He is top ten in almost every statistical category for the Big Ten. Here’s where he ranks:

  • Batting Average: .389 (3rd/B10)
  • Slugging %: .653 (3rd/B10)
  • On-base %: .453 (8th/B10)
  • Hits: 28 (3rd/B10)
  • RBIs: 22 (3rd/B10)
  • Home Runs: 4 (7th/B10)
  • Stolen Bases: 7 (7th/B10)

There’s really not much else to say other than he is top 30 in the country for batting average among underclassmen and is a top 100 player in Division I baseball. Other guys helping Yalowitz out include Casey Dodge (.333) and Pat Mclnerney (.319).

Hitters Michael Massey and Ben Troike are absolutely insane, combine these guys stats and fans will see they have 137 AB and just 8 strikeouts. Neither of them ever strikeout, ever, and both are ranked in the top ten nationally for AB/SO among freshmen.

Come Friday Michigan State’s Alex Troop might really have his work cut out for him.

How The Spartans Match Up

When fans run down the numbers they will see the Spartans have the best marks in the B10 for batting average (.304) and also lead in runs per game (7.8). This must sound like a broken record by now but it will always hold substantial relevance.

Up to this point, there haven’t been very many teams who could hang with Michigan State’s offense, the only time the Spartans lose seems to be when the bats fizzled out (hence the record). That’s where we go back to the saying “defense wins championships” because even though Michigan State’s strength is it’s offense they must rely on their defense/pitching to close games out for wins. Something they have done more often that not.

Much like football, baseball can be translated to a game of inches. You can have all the offensive firepower in the world but without good pitching to back you up it’s going to be very taxing trying to win a 2-1 ball game (Tigers fans know what I’m talking about).

Luckily, the Spartans don’t run into this wall too often. All year Michigan State’s lineups and rotations have been solid and with consistent production on both sides of the ball MSU won’t be sweating this series out.

Prediction

Illinois is a very talented baseball team (it should be noted in the last three years the Illini have won 71.4% of their conference games), but they are about a year or two away from becoming that top tier Big Ten team. Michigan State is where they want to be, they’re just there now. The Spartans talent, experience, and their coaching are going to pay huge dividends in their first B10 series.

Michigan State’s probable rotation looks like it’ll be Alex Troop, Ethan Landon, and Andrew Gonzalez in that order. Jake Boss Jr. hasn’t been shy about throwing multiple guys over and over again throughout a series. Illinois is most likely going to be seeing the best Michigan State has to offer considering this is their first conference weekend. The Spartans offense and defense will simply be too much for the Illini to overcome.

Michigan State takes two out of three to start the conference season