Historic Spartan Baseball Team Comes to East Lansing for Home Opener

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Baseball is finally back in East Lansing as the Michigan State Spartans (14-3) take on the Central Michigan Chippewas (4-15) Wednesday at 3:05 p.m. at McLane Stadium.

The Spartans are red hot despite coming off two straight losses at the hands of the University of South Florida Bulls. MSU got off to their best start in school history, starting at 12-1. This also puts Michigan State at the top of the Big Ten standings, two games up on their in-state rival, University of Michigan. The tremendous start can mostly be credited to an unsuspectingly good offense, although the team offers a great mix of pitching and hitting as the team remains in the top 10 in the nation in both ERA and batting average. That’s a remarkable stat for a team that lost six of its nine starters and some key pitching arms from the previous season.

You can learn more about what the Spartans expected from this team and how they have grown in the early part of the season by checking out the MSU baseball weekly podcast, “Warning Track.”

It will be a tale of two teams as the two Michigan teams square off. CMU has had a dramatically different start to the season than the Spartans as they hold on to more losses than the Spartans have wins. The Chips are sitting on a four-game losing streak entering Wednesday’s play, posting equally dreadful numbers for both ERA and batting average. This will be in the Spartan’s favor as the MSU boys have not hit top 100 pitching as well as they may have liked, but they simply mash teams that have poor pitching, driving in over seven runs in 10 of their first 17 games.

MSU still must be wary of CMU’s big slugger Daniel Jipping, who is batting .290 with 3 home runs and 15 RBIs. The only real hitter around Jipping is Zach McKinstry, who leads the team in batting average with .346.

No starting pitcher has an ERA better than 5.46. MSU will likely face Nick Deeg, who could barely be considered an ace.

For Michigan State, junior Dan Durkin, who has played mainly left field and second base, as well as junior transfer Jordan Zimmerman, who has played mainly second base and first base, have been absolutely mashing. Both are batting over .415 while being two of the biggest RBI contributors. The two have started in all 17 games. Sophomore center fielder Brandon Hughes and utility freshman standout Marty Bechina are among the others that have double digit RBIs in the young season. Only three of 12 Spartan regulars are batting under .300.

Pitching is what the ball club thought it was going have to ride all year. But due to a surplus in offense, the team has been able to manage its pitchers more freely and take them out earlier than they would in a close game. Manager Jake Boss Jr. even said in last week’s press conference that he has never had this much trust in a bullpen where he knows he can safely take a starter out, instead of pitching him until he falters.

The three go-to starters for MSU are junior Cam Vieaux, a 2015 Detroit Tigers draft pick, Kansas State transfer Ethan Landon, and junior Walter Borkovich.

Vieaux has been near-perfect all season, what you expect from a future pro-baller, posting a 1.19 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched. He has suffered from poor defense, though. Defense has been a weakness for MSU all year, and that simply comes from having two freshman in the infield and not having set positions in the field yet. It’s a problem that will most likely work itself out as the season progresses.

Landon has adjusted nicely to his new team after having a poor first start as a Spartan. He’s started two games this year where he has allowed zero runs, one of those games coming against SEC giant Auburn. He has been good about allowing hits, only letting up more than six in one of his five starts. Landon has pitched at least six innings in his last three starts.

Borkovich had been dominant all season until he showed some signs of folding against North Dakota State on March 13. Then he really blew up in Sunday’s contest against USF, allowing six hits and five earned runs in one inning of work. In his three starts before NDSU, he had only allowed two runs in 19.1 innings of work. Keeping Borkovich in ace-form will be crucial going forward.

Junior Joe Mockbee was supposed to be the closer going into the season, but hasn’t been used in too many save situations. Mockbee has three saves on the year thus far. The go-to arm in the pen is sophomore Dakota Mekkes. Mekkes has nine appearances on the year and has already tallied 30 strikeouts in only 16.2 innings.

Alex Troop is someone to keep an eye on. He has a 1.64 ERA and a .372 batting average. It’s rare to see such a talent on both sides of the ball. He’s not just good at both pitching and hitting — he’s phenomenal. Any baseball fan should be excited to see what he can do in front of a home crowd.