Friday, March 4, 2011

Hello 2011 Baseball

I did not intend to take such a lengthy, unannounced, and inconvenient break, but it happens. Normally I'd feel bad in such situations, but all things considered; school, work, professional aspirations, and just living the life of an amazing 24-year-old, I don't.

Baseball is fun, supporting Ohio State can be too, but devoting the hours I may want to or need to with everything I want to do with the coverage just isn't going to happen.

But I know my words through the Buckeye Nine can be at times both insightful and informative so I will make a better effort to update during the season. I've learned to not make promises, but ideally I would like to have and keep it to three or so posts a week; any midweek and random news or Buckeye-baseball related feature, a weekend look, and a weekend recap. I think, keyword being think, I can handle that. If not, this is fair warning that posts may or may not come up as scheduled.

Anyhow catching up on the season for the 5-3 Buckeyes so far with a few thoughts...

5-3 is good but expected...
After today's 7-1 win over 1-7 Army Ohio State sits at 5-3 on the season. Four of the wins have come against pretty bad competition. One win is solid in the Challenge-closing game versus St. Johns. One loss is ugly, that being to Western Michigan last week, one loss is nothing to be ashamed of the 2-0 blanking versus now 6-2 Louisville, though the shutout was the first tossed against OSU since April, 2008, and the other, the season opener versus Cincinnati, is in the middle.

All in all, in my opinion, the Buckeyes have been favored in five games, underdogs in two, and a toss-up against the in-state rival Bearcats. 5-3 is about right.

So what have we learned?
As a team not too much has been learned about Ohio State yet. Hard to know where the team truly stacks up, we'll find that out come two weeks when the Buckeyes run of games in California take place.

But individually we know a few things:

*Dezse is pretty good. Through the eight games the freshman is leading Ohio State with a solid .469 average going 15-for-32 at the plate. He is also 1-0 with two saves on the mound. Ohio State has their first two-way threat since JB Shuck, and also the Big Ten's top freshman for the first time since 2006 with Shuck won that award.

*Rucinski and Wolosiansky appear determined to take charge in their senior season. With Wimmers moved on to the professional ranks Drew and Dean have stepped their game up quite considerably here in their first few outings giving Ohio State, so far, a very good and consistent 1-2 punch. Be it injury or overuse, the past two seasons have been a bit rough for both. All things appear lined up for the two and the results have been great atop the Buckeye rotation.

*Solomon's defense is what it was hyped up to be. While Dan Burkhart was a great offensive catcher, a bit of a fringe arm made him a bit susceptible to stolen bases. So far that appears not to be the case of the JUCO transfer Solomon. His defense was was visible in fall practice and has carried over to the spring. He has thrown out three of the six runners trying to steal a base while picking off four other. He is also swinging a pretty solid bat.

*Greve and Wetzel have yet to find their fall ball success. These two freshmen moreso than Dezse, showed quite a bit in the offseason making it a no-brain decision to have the two be the respective third starter and center fielder. So far the results have been shaky. After Wetzel opened the season going 4-for-14, he has gone 1-for-14 since. Greve was roughed up in his first start allowing seven runs off 11 hits in four innings, but had a better second go. The expectations of the two should be tempered a bit with the realization it does take freshmen some time to adjust. Unless you're Dezse it appears.

*Engle still can't shake prolonged slumps. It seemed after week one that Tyler Engle had found his stroke just in time for his senior season. After three seasons of collectively near .250, .2517 to be exact, the shortstop had a 5-for-10 opening weekend. Unfortunately he has since gone 2-for-15 over the last five games.

*Buckeye bullpen still has a few questions. With Jared Stayer on the shelf for another 3-to-5 weeks with a broken arm, there are a few questions in the bullpen. While Andrew Armstrong and David Fathalikhani have been pretty good as they have combined for 8.1 shutout innings, Theron Minium and Brett McKinney have had good outings mixed with shellings. Right now a consistent first option nor a true set-up man has emerged before Beals can turn the ball over to Dezse.

*Baserunning woes. Beals is aggressive, he is going to run. So far the Bucks are just 3/9 in stolen bases. The team is pretty scarce on speed to burn so it is not of too big a surprise, but it does put the pressure on the opposition to still throw you out and is a sign of things to come in the program under the year-year coach.

Where do we go from here?
The Buckeyes should not lose more than two games the remainder of this weekend combined with next weekend's slate of games. They could be sitting with a nice 9-4ish record going out west where they will play two ranked teams Cal and Fresno State, and an upstate Cal-State Bakersfield. Those eight games will give us a good indication of where the Buckeyes are.

Right now they are one of the Big Ten's top six team. I can say that with certainty. The win against St. Johns was nice as too was playing Louisville tough. Those bode well come conference play with the Big Ten appearing to be in a down year. Yet top to bottom, they still are a big step behind Indiana offensively and slightly pitching, who in my opinion are the top team with Minnesota and MSU behind. However the Bucks have shown enough, and pending success in California, that they can't be discarded and not think they can compete for the conference's auto-bid.

That is much better than what I thought going into the season. The Buckeyes have holes in the offensive, the outfield has done little, and it is yet to be seen how Greve shakes out as the Sunday guy. But the team is buying into Beals philosophy, they have a never-say-die attitude, and they're scrappy. I'll take that.

So that is where things are in my opinion with one game down in weekend three. I'll try not to be such a stranger and follow up with more here soon.

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