It has nearly been a month since I last spoke on the Ohio State baseball team. As I resume those duties I realize not much as changed. I last updated the Buckeyes' record with the team at 8-10 overall and 0-0, on the eve of the Big Ten season. I come back with the team having gone 2-2 in non-conference play, defeating Akron twice, while falling to Bowling Green and Miami, while going 6-6 in conference play, to leave Ohio State still 2 games under .500 at 16-18, with the even conference mark after today's 10-9 loss to Penn State.
It's been that type of year for Beals' Buckeyes.
Whenever there seems to be a bit of momentum the Buckeyes fall flat.
Whenever the sky seems to be falling the men of Scarlet & Gray scrap together a victory.
All in all it's an average team with the up-and-down of the season's flow providing a fitting description.
What we knew at the beginning of the season remains the true. The team still is facing troubles with its youth, inexperience, short on talent, spotty defense, one solid starting pitcher, little power, and little plate discipline.
What we did not know, at least I did not see, is that the Big Ten is mirroring Ohio State's mediocrity. The Buckeyes end their fourth weekend of Big Ten play in a multi-team tie for fourth place, just one game back of a three-way tie for first. If ever there was a year to be youthful, inexperienced, short of talent, this is it.
In a microcosm, today's 10-9 loss is Ohio State's season in a nutshell. Yes another example of the back-and-forth conquers and struggles Ohio State has faced, but digging deeper one can find the keys to Ohio State success, and the pitfall of Buckeye failures.
On the negative, Ohio State issued more base on balls than strikeouts recorded. The team also saw their starter struggle to keep his pitch count down, offensively they left 11 runners on base. On the positive Ohio State showed solid plate discipline, executed when needed to drop sacrifice hits, and showed a bit of pop with a four doubles.
However there are two themes that have summed up the Buckeyes both good and bad this year.
When the seniors go, so to do the offense. Matt Streng and Tyler Engle reached base this afternoon at a feverish pace going 5-for-8 with three walks and three doubles combined. Though Josh Dezse may be the team's best hitter and anchored in the cleanup spot, when Engle, Streng, and Brian DeLucia go, so to does the OSU offense.
Conversely when the senior arms go, so to does the pitching staff. Jared Strayer, Theron Minium, and Andrew Armstrong, (we'll consider the redshirt-junior a senior for this) none of the three were able to secure Buckeye leads out of the bullpen.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, with the Buckeyes leading 5-4 and two runners on, Strayer plunked the first two batters he faced to allow Penn State to tie the game. After Ohio State retook the lead 6-5, Minium replaced Strayer on the mound in the bottom of the sixth, his first three at-bats went single-single-double, to again see PSU knot the game. After falling behind 8-6 after six, OSU plated two runs in the seventh to make it all square again 8-8. This time it would be Armstrong who would give PSU the edge again as a five-pitch bases loaded walk saw a Nittany Lion cross home.
To be blunt it was a rather pathetic and uninspiring effort from the Buckeye bullpen. The efforts of the respective relievers are more discomforting when time and time again the Buckeye bats faught to get back in the game.
A lot has been made of the Ohio State inexperience and youth. While players like Dezse, Tim Wetzel, and Greg Greve are having their first go in collegiate baseball while Ryan Cypret, David Corna, and Greg Solomon are getting their first taste of extended playing time at the Division I level, the team has a core of seniors. With Drew Rucinski, Dean Wolosiansky, DeLucia, Streng, Engle, Strayer, and Minium, those guys have been around the block in the Big Ten. They know what needs to be done to win games.
In a year where the conference is there for the taking by any of the 10 teams, as Ohio State enters the second half of Big Ten play, across the board, the seniors need to rise up and deliver in the final four weeks of collegiate baseball. What will be the final four weeks that nearly all of them will ever play, the time is now to be the leaders in the field, at the plate, and on the mound the team needs. Oh and it also happens to be Michigan week. A Maize and Blue team that is equalled in the Big Ten with the Buckeyes right there at 6-6.