There were some troubling aspects of Nebraska's 0-3 showing at Michigan last weekend, particularly for a lineup that had previously carried NU to a promising first-half start.
As the Huskers' search for willing and able strike-throwers continues, it has become increasingly clear that Nebraska's postseason chances will hinge on its ability to produce at the plate. The offense must lead the way – which had been the blueprint until lately.
NU's first 27 games: 19-8 record | 6.7 runs per game | 30 HR | .303 batting avg | .382 on-base | .469 slugging
NU's last 9 games: 3-6 record | 4.3 runs per game | 1 HR | .253 batting avg | .345 on-base | .336 slugging
Last weekend at Michigan was especially disappointing at the plate for Nebraska. NU scored just nine total runs in three defeats — but its struggles were defined largely by the opportunities that the Huskers couldn't cash in on (a fact magnified by the efficient and clutch-hitting performance of the Wolverine lineup).
Take a look at these comparisons...
>> NU had four hits in 23 at-bats (.174) with runners in scoring position. U-M went 6-for-16 (.375)
>> NU scored just two runs with two outs. U-M had 11.
>> Only one of the 14 NU batters who reached base with a walk ended up scoring. Nine of U-M's 18 walks produced runs.
>> NU's leadoff man reached to begin 12 different innings — and scored just four times. U-M's leadoff men scored five of the eight times they reached.
Furthermore... Here are the results of the inning's second at-bat after a leadoff man got on base (all caps indicates an eventual run scored in the inning):
For Nebraska: SINGLE, FLYOUT (runner advanced), strikeout, DOUBLE, foulout, HOME RUN, fielder's choice, fielder's choice, strikeout, double play, double play, reached on error
For Michigan: SINGLE, WALK, strikeout, GROUNDOUT (runner advanced), DOUBLE, flyout, SINGLE, strikeout
Why is this concerning?
It was the defining trait of last year's season-ending slump. NU lacked productive outs, timely hits and consistent aggression on the basepaths (hit-and-runs, stolen base attempts, firsts-to-thirds, etc).
At about this same time in 2015, the Huskers were swept at mighty Maryland, a team that eventually advanced to a super regional and produced nine MLB draft picks a few weeks later. They went 2-of-24 with runners in scoring position that weekend. They blew a five-run lead in Sunday's finale.
That was the turning point. A promising postseason hopeful wilted into an average ball club — a transformation that was triggered (and eventually perpetuated) by its inability to come through against the best teams on its schedule.
It seemed like NU had convinced itself that winning games would require a near-flawless performances. And when the (inevitable) mistakes came, the Huskers' confidence evaporated. They finished 5-12 on the year — losing 10 of those games by three runs or fewer (six were one-run games).
Nebraska would prefer not to experience a sequel to that epic 2015 collapse.
To do so, its hitters must battle their way out of this funk.
They have an early round MLB draft pick leading off (Ryan Boldt). They have one of the country's top walk leaders batting second (Jake Placzek). Then it's a veteran run-producer (Ben Miller), an emerging power hitter (Scott Schreiber) and a feisty speedster whose six triples rank him near the top of the national chart (Jake Meyers).
The Huskers have the talent. They just can't allow themselves to be inhibited by past failures or the pressure of the moment.
They only have a few days to figure it out. Because they'll need a strong finish to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. And they can't afford many more blemishes to their postseason resume. NU's final five weekends series: vs. Nicholls State (RPI 226), at Rutgers (61), at Michigan State (46), vs. Penn State (92), vs. Indiana (152).
|2016 Big Ten Baseball Standings|
|Teams||Conf. Record||Pct.||Overall Record||Pct.|
|4. Ohio State||14-9||.609||37-17-1||.682|
|6. Michigan State||13-10||.565||34-17||.667|
|t-8. Penn State||12-12||.500||28-27||.509|
» Updated through 11:45 p.m. on May 20