Ball State and Central Michigan both go 3-1 in their respective series as the 1.5 games that separate them look larger with every weekend that goes by. Ball State remains on top and the teams just below them in the standings finally create some separation.
With two weekends left, a three game lead can feel insurmountable, and that’s what Ohio has to protect themselves from Eastern Michigan, Miami, and Kent State.
|Team||Conf W.||Conf L||Conf W%||GB||Change|
The conference tournament field is starting to solidify as Ball State and Central Michigan punch their tickets. Home field advantage for the tournament is still undecided, but neither the Cardinals nor the Chippewas can finish below fourth place.
Toledo and Ohio played went a combined 6-2 this weekend to create space between themselves and fifth place. Ohio swept Akron a week before playing Ball State. That three game cushion is very important going into that series. Toledo earned a split with Bowling Green and maintained their third place spot.
The gap between fourth place and fifth place is wider than it’s been all season, and it’s as safe as it’s been as well. Run differential is a good, broad strokes indicator of team quality. It can be fooled for short stretches of time but generally evens itself out.
Ohio and three other teams are still somewhat in the mix for the last spot. Ohio is +24 in run differential, Eastern Michigan is -12, Miami is +6, and Kent State is +10. The raw runs for and runs against can be used to get the Pythagorean record and Ohio should be 15-13 based on their run differential and each other team should be .500.
In short, each of the chasing teams are .500 record teams that have caught some bad luck and randomly uneven run distribution. If that is to correct itself, which it certainly doesn’t have to, EMU, Kent State and Miami each need to win some games.
Ohio has the toughest remaining schedule with Ball State and Western Michigan. The Broncos have been almost impossible to sweep in the conference despite their record.
The hope that a tough schedule presents is quickly squashed for Eastern Michigan and Miami. Eastern has the second toughest remaining schedule and Miami has the fourth.
Kent State, however, has a much easier road. They have Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. EMU may be out after their weekend against CMU, so it’s anyone’s guess where they will be mentally during the final weekend.
If Ohio gets swept by Ball State the door could be wide open for any of these teams to make a strong run right at the end and steal the fourth spot from the Bobcats.
Hitter of the Week: Drew Lechnir, Left Field, Central Michigan
Drew Lechnir had three hits in each of the first three games and two hits in game four in the series with Western Michigan. The Broncos could not keep him off the bases and he reached 12 times in 18 plate appearances.
In total for the series, he had 11 hits in 17 at bats, scored nine runs, drove in six, walked once and stole a base.
He is finishing his sophomore season, his third due to COVID eligibility, and has come on strong down the stretch, with his batting average surging to .400. He was a spot starter early in the season but has been a regular in the lineup since early April.
Best Start of the Week: Tyler Schweitzer, Ball State
Tyler Schweitzer completely shut down the Golden Flashes in game one of their series. He pitched a complete game shutout and allowed two hits. That’s it.
He allowed a single up the middle to the leadoff hitter Collin Mathews in the first inning and a single to right field to the second to last hitter, Justin Miknis. Schweitzer got a strikeout to finish the game, but in between those hits is nothing but outs.
Schweitzer finished the game with nine strikeouts, a .29 WHIP, and allowed a .087 batting average. Pure dominance in a 12-0 win.
Reliever of the Week: Braxton Kelly, Ohio
Braxton Kelly pitched the final four innings of a seven inning win against Akron and almost didn’t need a defense behind him.
In his four innings, he struck out nine batters while giving up one run on one hit, two walks, and a hit by pitch. There are only 12 outs to get in four innings and he got nine with his arm. The remaining three outs were all flyouts, two of them to center field. The last was in foul territory to the shortstop.
Akron could not get anything going off of Kelly.
Akron (13-35, 11-25) at Ohio (24-19, 16-12)
|ERA starter||10.68||ERA starter||3.00|
Ohio capitalized on an important opportunity late in the season to add some wins. The Bobcats swept the Akron Zips to improve from 12-12 to four games over .500. They are looking like a team that should be playing in the conference tournament.
Ohio used some impressive rallies to put the Zips away. During the series, the Bobcats had innings of four runs, eight runs, five runs and six runs. It takes an entire lineup to score eight runs in an inning. Every Ohio hitter was hitting line drives.
The Ohio pitchers limited Akron to five extra base hits over the four game series. They also had the league’s best strikeout to walk ratio.
Ohio has to play Ball State in Muncie next weekend. They need to find a way to survive that, and Akron is heading home to Miami.
Ball State (32-15, 26-5) at Kent State (18-26, 13-17)
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|ERA starter||3.71||ERA starter||9.50|
Ball State pitchers are proving to be just as much of a force as the Central Michigan pitching staff. Kent State leads the league in home runs this season and Ball State gave them one this past weekend.
Kent State only hit .180 over the weekend and averaged 4.25 runs per game. Even with those anemic numbers, they managed to win the series finale and avoid the sweep. The Flashes won game four on a walk-off single to answer after Ball State tied the game in the top of the ninth.
In the three games that Ball State won, they bludgeoned the Kent State pitchers. The Cardinals scored 12, 9, and 9 runs with four triples.
Zach Cole hit two home runs in game two and Ryan Peltier hit two doubles, a triple and a single in game three. Game three was a hit parade and Ball State scored runs in more innings than they didn’t.
Kent State heads to Western Michigan to play the Broncos and Ball State hosts Ohio.
Toledo (28-19, 19-13) at Bowling Green (15-30, 12-22)
|ERA starter||7.11||ERA starter||5.71|
The Battle of I-75 series ends in a split after Toledo and Bowling Green traded games.
There is a surprising amount of symmetry in this series. Each team won a game by five runs or more and each team had a one run win. Toledo hit .248 and BGSU hit .265 for the series. The difference in the two team’s OPS is 25 points.
Kyle Jones pitches a six inning gem in game one while Gage Schenk left after 1.1 innings for the Falcons. Schenk had only thrown 30 pitches and he wasn’t struggling like a pitcher usually does to get pulled that early.
The Falcons used a six run fourth inning in game two to win, and the second leg of the doubleheader was won by Toledo 1-0. John Servello hit a fourth inning home run.
Toledo plays NIU at home and it will be available to be watched on ESPN3, and Bowling Green gets their non-conference weekend and plays at Rutgers.
Western Michigan (16-29, 13-18) at Central Michigan (31-15, 24-6)
|ERA starter||18.25||ERA starter||3.71|
The Central Michigan steam roller is back. The Chippewas used big innings to put the games away.
Game one was a close game through six and a half innings. The Broncos had just scored three runs to make it a 6-4 game. CMU responded with a five run inning and sealed the game.
WMU started game two with a group of singles to score a run in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first Western used three pitchers to get three outs and Central scored 14 runs.
The dam broke in the bottom of the fifth in game three. After four innings the score was 3-0 Central Michigan but Western had gotten runners on base in each inning to that point. CMU dropped nine runs in the bottom of the fifth to put a fork in game three.
The Broncos have not been swept in the MAC this season and kept that streak alive with an 11-2 game four win. Now that CMU is chasing, they wanted that to make up some ground on Ball State, but three of four is a good weekend.
WMU will recover at home against Kent State and CMU will pay a visit to the other Michigan directional, Eastern Michigan.
Eastern Michigan (21-27, 15-17) at Northern Illinois (11-35, 10-20)
|ERA starter||12.34||ERA starter||6.35|
Eastern Michigan almost gave their season away against NIU. The Eagles entered the weekend after taking three of four from BGSU and a game out of fourth place.
They promptly dropped the first two games in very painful losses.
The Huskies scored seven runs in the second inning of a 9-5 win and two came across as a result of wild pitches. Thirteen of the fourteen runs were scored in the first four innings as Justin Reinkall for the Eagles and Nick Bonk for NIU quieted the game down from the bullpen.
In game two, Eastern Michigan opened up a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning. The Huskies scored seven in the seventh. Eastern fought back to a tie game twice over the next three innings but ultimately gave up a walk-off grand slam to Eric Erato. The game was tied at eight and the bottom of the tenth went: strikeout, fly out, hit by pitch, walk, walk, grand slam. The Eagles were one out away from extending and possibly winning but couldn’t close it out.
Those games hurt. Ohio was busy sweeping Akron and now the Eagles are three games out with eight left.
The cherry on top is Central Michigan is up next for the Eagles, and NIU plays Toledo at Toledo.
Miami (19-29, 14-18) at Illinois (26-19)
|ERA starter||4.50||ERA starter||1.23|
The Illinois pitching staff took the bats out of the hands of the RedHawks hitters and allowed them to score three runs over three games.
All three games in the series were close but Miami couldn’t get their bats going until game three. Miami got ten hits after combining for four in the previous two in that game. They stranded eight of those base runners and could only push two runs across.
For all of the difficulty the batters had, the pitchers for Miami didn’t have a bad weekend. They gave up two runs in game one, which should be a winning performance, and six and five runs given up are far from unwinnable scores.
At this point in the season, this result is not going to stress anyone at Miami at all. The break from MAC play is over and they are back to it on the road at Akron.