It may be time to flip on the panic switch for Michigan State baseball. The Spartans dropped two of three games in another Big Ten series with Iowa. After losing 5-1 on Sunday, they now sit at 33-15 and 12-9 in the Big Ten.
It is not time to go full panic mode about not making the Big Ten tournament, even though only the top eight teams make it. But as tight as this race is and how cold MSU’s offense has been, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.
After sweeping Rutgers and taking two of three from both Penn State and Purdue, the Spartans have now lost two home series against Indiana and Nebraska, as well as the series loss to Iowa on the road. With Nebraska and Ohio State both winning Sunday, Michigan State moves into sixth place in the Big Ten. Right behind MSU is Maryland and Penn State, both teams sit at 11-10 in the Big Ten. A slip up by the Spartans would allow those two teams to move ahead of them and that would mean no postseason. Conveniently enough, Michigan State takes on Maryland next weekend. Crazy to think about that happening to a team that was ranked for a good portion of the season and commanded a hefty lead in the standings to start the year.
The Spartans, like in the Nebraska series, were unable to convert with runners on base and runners in scoring position (RISP). 9 for 45, an even .200, with runners on base and 6 for 24, a not as bad .250, with RISP. 26 runners were left on base in the series as well. On Saturday and Sunday, the Spartans weren’t facing the toughest pitching and were only able to convert one run apiece. Tyler Peyton, the Saturday Hawkeye starter, came in with a mid-four ERA and Calvin Matthews, who started Sunday, came into the day with an ERA over six. This displays how on any given day, this Michigan State offense can get blanked. If all cylinders aren’t firing, it can be a quiet day for the same bats who have easily blasted for six or more runs in a game multiple times.
You can argue that’s just the game of baseball, but this lack of consistency could hurt MSU going forward.
Friday’s 5-1 win is an excellent example of how when everything’s going right for the Spartans, they can be very successful. Ethan Landon went six strong innings followed by Walter Borkovich and Dakota Mekkes shutting the door hard on Iowa. Offensively, only one guy didn’t get on base, so they were able to get production from the whole lineup, not just the top of the order. This then allowed them to get out to a comfortable lead and let the bullpen, who has been a strong point for this team all year, to come in and end the game.
To compete with the best teams in the nation, let alone the Big Ten, the Spartan team that came out on Friday needs to come out more often.
The Spartan ace, Cam Vieaux, gives even more reason for fans to not be confident. Often, one can hope with guys as talented as Vieaux to turn it around on their own, but with yet another poor outing, fans should be concerned if there is something deeper wrong with the potential pro player. Vieaux has only pitched 10 innings in his last three starts. Odd for someone who has consistently gone seven innings all season and has even thrown a complete game. He has been getting pounced on early by opposing offenses causing his pitch count to get too high too early or even giving up too many runs in the early going. This was someone who used to be a guaranteed win, and now he is searching for what is wrong.
To his credit, Vieaux’s Sunday outing against Iowa was plagued by three defensive errors by the Spartans. Nonetheless, something needs to be fixed with his mechanics.
Frankly, MSU has shown an inability to compete with the top teams in the conference. For a team seeking their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012, first regular season Big Ten title since 2011, and first Big Ten tournament championship ever, it seems their true colors are starting to bleed through revealing they were pretenders and not contenders after getting off to a record start. They have not proven to win the big games, and with the biggest games coming up, there doesn’t seem to be much momentum to carry them to where they want to be.
Making the Big Ten tournament is goal number one. With a key series against Maryland, who is hot on their tails, coming up this weekend at home, it is imperative for them to lock down one of the eight spots. Not only that, but to get some kind of momentum going into the postseason. If the Spartans can catch some heat against Maryland and use that in the tournament that could be great for their NCAA Regionals resume. A strong out of conference record helps with said resume, but this team needs to take it one step at a time. That starts with proving you can win a crucial Big Ten series.