Baseball: Northwestern hopes to turn season around in home series versus Rutgers


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Junior pitcher Matt McClure throws a pitch. For NU to be successful this weekend over Rutgers, its pitching staff will need to string together multiple scoreless frames.

Aayushya Agarwal, Senior Staffer

After suffering a series sweep last weekend, Northwestern (6-25, 3-6 Big Ten) rebounded with a much-needed 16-5 victory over Northern Illinois on Tuesday. The Wildcats will now return home to start a four-game homestand as they host Rutgers (21-16, 4-5 Big Ten) this weekend. 

With its conference schedule in full force, NU will need to start winning series if they want to make the Big Ten Tournament. The Cats will especially need to ensure they continue to capitalize on home matchups. Entering this weekend, NU is 3-2 at home, 19 games better than its dismal 3-21 road record. 

The Cats currently sit tied for 10th place in the Big Ten standings. As NU enters the stretch run of the season, here are three storylines that will be essential for a successful weekend series against the Scarlet Knights.

  1. Can NU continue to find an offensive identity? 

The Cats have been inconsistent offensively this season. While NU’s offense put up 20 and 16 runs to Illinois-Chicago and NIU, respectively, this month, it also only scored 10 total runs in this past weekend’s sweep to Nebraska. The lack of stable production from the team’s bats makes it difficult tostring together victories. 

NU’s offense sits toward the statistical bottom of the Big Ten. With the team batting average of .252, which ranks second-worst, and 270 total hits, which ranks worst, the Cats have had difficulties matching over conference momentums on the offensive side. NU also struggles hitting the ball for power, having blasted only 24 total home runs — second-worst in the Big Ten.

Thankfully for the Cats, Rutgers’ pitching staff has had its share of struggles this season. The Scarlet Knights have surrendered 195 walks and hit 60 batters, both of which are second-highest in the conference. If NU’s offense wants to build consistency this weekend, it will need to have patient at-bats and work the count. 

  1. Will the Cats mitigate their fielding struggles? 

It is no secret that errors cost games, and they have plagued the Cats all season. Through regular defensive miscues, NU has forced its pitchers to face extra batters and struggle to record scoreless innings. The Cats’ fielders have committed a Big Ten-worst 49 errors, which is five more than the next-worst team. 

Facing off against a Rutgers offense that has scored 43 runs in its past five games, NU’s fielders must reduce the number of miscues they make. The Cats will need to make it easier for their pitching staff and ensure additional Scarlet Knights hitters do not come to the plate. 

That being said, NU has done a much better job reducing the number of errors it commits lately. Earlier this week against NIU, Cats fielders only committed one error. Despite suffering a sweep to the Cornhuskers this past weekend, NU only had 2 total errors. While the reduction in errors hasn’t necessarily led to better results, it will increase the chances for a turnaround this season. 

  1. Can NU’s pitchers limit the damage? 

NU’s struggles on the mound have been its most-substantial weakness this season. While the team’s offense has kept it in games, the pitching staff’s inability to limit the number of high-scoring innings has been a clear obstacle. The team’s pitching staff has a Big Ten-worst 9.33, which is three runs higher than second-worst Maryland. Cats pitchers have also faced difficulties keeping the ball in the park, surrendering a conference second-worst 57 home runs.

For the season as a whole, the Cats pitching staff has allowed 310 total runs, which is also a Big Ten-worst and also 52 runs more than the next-worst team. In last week’s loss to UIC, the Cats surrendered a season-high 24 runs, and in this past weekend’s series sweep to Nebraska, NU allowed 35 total runs. 

Facing off against a Rutgers offense that ranks second in the conference with 387 hits and fourth in batting average and homeruns with .301 and 43, respectively, the Cats pitching staff will have its work cut out for them. At the same time, Rutgers hitters strike out the least of any team in the conference, having only struck out 226 times — 19 fewer than the next-best Big Ten offense. The Cats pitchers will need to ensure they do not play toward their opponent’s strengths and string together multiple scoreless frames if they want to secure a home series victory. 

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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