That has to be what everyone was saying when Aaron Marsden went out of game one of the three-game series with the Jayhawks. Having only pitched 11/3 innings, Marsden left the game with something that appeared to be similar to what Brian Duensing had. I don't know about you, but if I was coach Childress, I would have literally seen the season flash before my eyes as without Marsden and Duensing, this was going to be a long road ahead.
Turns out that it was just a little tightness, Marsden is already, ready to go and the doom that shadowed the future for the NU team this year can take a backseat for now. There can be little doubt that when it comes to pitchers, Aaron Marsden is the most indispensable asset that the Huskers have at this time.
Pitching still tough
The absence of Shane Komine last year was definitely a negative, but the bonus that NU would get out of that is that so many other pitchers got to get in there and show what they could do. Also, it meant some earlier than expected opportunities to develop depth for this season.
In some cases, that hasn't materialized, simply because the contributions have been coming from guys that either weren't even here last season or were injured and couldn't play. Zach Kroenke and Tim Schoeninger being the best illustrations of that.
Zach having fought so many injury problems and getting just his first win last week, improved considerably against the very good bats of Kansas as he shut out the Jayhawks in the second game of the double-dip to finish of the series. Zach's 6 innings of 2-hit ball was huge and impressive as NU actually run-ruled KU, 13-0 in the 7th. Zach also sported a strikeout to walk ratio on the day of 3 to 1. If Kroenke keeps improving like this, it makes him the odds-on candidate to fill that starting spot vacated by the injured Duensing.
Tim, well all Tim did was take an arm meant for saves, came in, in the 2nd inning for the ailing Marsden and he went 6 and two-thirds, giving up only 2 earned runs. For a guy that was initially set as the main one to two inning guy in the latter stages of games, to come in and contribute like this in such a big situation, it has to be a major boost for Tim as well as for Childress, knowing that Tim has this kind of stamina.
Again, the overall pitching was pretty solid, only Quinton Robertson struggling some, but still managed a decent game as he went a full seven, giving up three earned-runs. The fact that the relief pitching has been so solid and the starters have been fairly solid as well makes this glare a little at you, but it's 3 earned-runs and for any pitcher to have that kind of ERA over a season, that's pretty darn good and to be honest, in most cases, that would be a win. This time however and it would be unique to this game in this series, the NU bats weren't clicking and it would appear to be sheer irony that NU also managed to post one of it's smallest totals all year in regards to men stranded on base. Sometimes it's your day and though Quinton didn't have a bad day, the NU bats were for the most part stifled.
For the series though, people should be pretty darn impressed as KU came into this game hitting extremely well as a team, posting a .317 batting average for the year. In this series, KU hit just .245, against a pitching staff who's ERA over the three-game spread was 2.33. No matter how you look at that, NU did an extremely good job as a whole.
Hits, hits and more hits
Even if you include the second game of the series, NU was just on fire at the plate this last weekend. You can't even summarize all that players that were able to deliver some major impacts in putting runs on the board over the series. If it wasn't John Grose and Daniel Bruce belting in 4 ribbies a piece in game one, it was Alex Gordon knocking in a Grand Slam in game three. Everyone was chipping in over the series. Ironically enough, it was probably one of NU's most consistent hitters in Jeff Leise that had the worst weekend, posting a series .250 average, so you can see just how much everyone was chipping in.
But, don't let me tell you, just take a look at some of the batting averages over this last weekend.
Joe Simokaitis - .385 w/ 3 RBI
Matt Hopper - .417 w/ 5 RBI
Alex Gordon - .500 w/ 6 RBI
Curtis Ledbetter - .385 w/ 2 RBI
Daniel Bruce - .333 w/ 7 RBI
Jake Mullinax - .714 w/ 2 RBI
As a team, Nebraska hit .348, getting a whopping 39 hits and scoring 33 runs. No, that didn't mean an undefeated series, but it let you know just how good those NU bats can be.
Better and better
Alex Gordon came into this season with more than a little pressure. Had he not made every pro team out there know that he wasn't going to be going to the majors out of high school, Gordon was considered a sure-fire draft pick. He instead opted for Nebraska.
That decision has kept him in the limelight with scrutiny on his every performance very high. To be honest, I have to give some credit for Alex's steady improvement to his competition at 3rd base, Chase Odenreider. "Odie" has proven himself to be a very good third basemen and had Gordon not came to NU, that position would have been in solid hands.
As it is though, Gordon has done nothing but get better every single day and his most recent performance you see listed above just accentuates some of the potential people saw as he came into his first year with the Huskers. Considered to be a great fielder, good hitter and strong, Alex is putting the package together nicely. Just to get an idea of his improvement, you need only to look at his batting average the first twelve games and those since. For the first twelve, Alex still managed a solid effort, batting .314, but since that time, he has managed almost a .400 batting average, topped off impressively with a grand slam in his most recent game, contest number 3 against the Jayhawks.
Just to be ridiculous about it, should Alex continue this rate of improvement, by the end of the season, he will be batting right around .420 on the year.
I'm Going Home!!!
In that dreaded stat, Left On Base, Nebraska actually improved this last weekend against KU. Proportionately though, it's an even better improvement than usual as the two games where NU won, they had a ton of guys on base, thus more opportunities to strand batters. Just to get a perspective on that, if you take the total number of hits (minus home runs), add that to batters hit by pitches and batters that were walked, you get a fair idea of the total number of opportunities NU had to score. You then divide that into the actual amount of runs and get a percentage of the total opportunities actually taken advantage of.
For example: On the season, Nebraska has managed to get players that were on the pads home around 50% of the time. For this last series, Nebraska was getting them across the plate almost 72% of the time. I don't know what the standard is for NU coaches, but this would have to be considered the extreme in positive achievement. That's just nuts!!
You know what? Yeah, NU lost that one game and for coaches, I am sure there are a lot of things they can harp on as to what went wrong in that one loss. However, NU had a pretty solid series overall from the mound and from the plate. It's hard to see how these kinds of averages and percentages lose you many games, so for what it's worth, if NU could do this every 3-game series, chances are, there wouldn't be many losses at all.
Consistency is the main thing and NU seems to be doing well in most aspects of the game. If you can remember last year, there were a variety of times where pitching, defense and offense never seemed to find each other for more than a few games at a time. You just haven't seen those kind of drop-offs where one is really good and another is really bad. It's been a pretty decent effort overall and at times, flat out good.
Wichita State has always been a good baseball team. Sometimes, they are much better than that. This year, it's a bit of revenge as NU is looking to avenge one of it's few home losses last year as they dropped their only game against WSU, 9-4. This game is on the road and will be a stern test as though Wichita State might not be ranked at this time, it's still Wichita State.
After that, it's home sweet home for a stretch that is the most important stretch NU has for the season as they host Missouri, they host Creighton, they host McNeese State and within all that, the biggest series of the year as the defending national champion Texas Longhorns come calling.
It's never good to look too far ahead, but hey, I'm not playing, so I can do whatever I want and it just doesn't get any bigger than this stretch at Hawks Field. For the baseball fan, it's a plethora of games that you just don't want to hear about, you want to see in person.
Until then though, Wichita State looms on Tuesday and then, it's Hawks Field for eight out of the next nine games, one of those games (Texas) being played at the home of the College World Series, Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. Maybe the outcome of that game could be prophetic, eh?
I can't wait to find out.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619