Baseball: Three takeaways from Northwestern’s surprising start

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Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Junior catcher Michael Trautwein awaits the pitch. Trautwein has been one of several prolific offensive contributors in the Cats’ 9-5 start.

John Riker, Senior Staffer


Baseball


After splitting its opening series against Penn State, Northwestern baseball is taking off.

Picked in the preseason coaches’ poll to finish outside of the top six in the Big Ten, the Wildcats are surpassing expectations. NU is 7-3 across its last ten games and has won each of its past series against Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois. The Cats currently rank fourth in the Big Ten with a 9-5 record, and are off to their best start to conference play in coach Spencer Allen’s six years at the helm. 

Through the first month of the season, the Cats are forging a new identity around power hitting and have a penchant for close victories. Here are three takeaways from their past three series.

  1. NU can hit the long ball

By every metric, the Cats’ offense has been electric. The team’s successes include Big Ten-leading marks in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. But the most notable lead is a conference-high 29 home runs, which averages out to just over two home runs per game. NU’s bats first exploded in historic fashion against Michigan State on Mar. 12 as the Cats hit grand slams in each of the first three innings in a 14-2 blowout win. While the grand slam pace would eventually prove unsustainable, the power hasn’t. In the most recent series against in-state rival Illinois, the Cats hit at least six home runs in each of their two victories and enjoyed a three-homer outing from junior first baseman Anthony Calarco. NU’s high-scoring offense has compensated for a mediocre opening month from its pitching staff to help elevate the team to the top tier of the Big Ten.

  1. Shawn Goosenberg is having a breakout year

There is no shortage of candidates for the Cats’ best player over their hot streak, as two NU players stand atop the Big Ten with batting averages over .440 and junior catcher Michael Trautwein ranks in the top three for home runs and runs batted in in the conference. Even so, junior infielder Shawn Goosenberg has to be at the forefront of the discussion. An All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection in 2019, Goosenberg has hit five home runs in his last seven games after hitting just one across his first two seasons in Evanston. Goosenberg is also making consistent contact and is currently tied for second in the Big Ten with 21 hits. Those hits have come at opportune times — Goosenberg hit a walk-off three-run shot to seal a series win against Michigan State on Mar. 14 and parlayed a four-hit, 5-RBI performance against Illinois on Mar. 28 into Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

  1. The pitching staff and defense have room for improvement

NU has talent in its pitching staff with two Big Ten Preseason Honorees in juniors Mike Doherty and Tyler Uberstine, but the Cats have struggled to limit opposing offenses. In its last three losses, NU has surrendered an average of 10.3 runs per game and the Cats rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten in runs and hits allowed. NU’s defense also deserves a share of the blame with a conference-high 25 errors. With Big Ten powerhouse Michigan on the docket for this weekend and contenders Rutgers and Indiana looming, the Cats’ pitching staff and defense will need to pick up their performances to keep their spot in the conference standings.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @john__riker

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