Illini Head North to Take on Wildcats
April 26, 2012
Illini Team Notes
Illini Win 4 of Last 6: The Orange and Blue put together a four-game win streak last week before dropping the series finale to Ohio State on Sunday and losing at Indiana State on Tuesday. That gave Illinois its second Big Ten series victory as the Illini reached the halfway point of conference play. Last year, Illinois started Big Ten play 6-6 before putting together a remarkable 9-3 run over the second half of the season to share the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State.
Take 2, They're Small: Despite having a pair of new starters up the middle in shortstop Thomas Lindauer and second baseman Reid Roper, Illinois leads the nation in total double plays turned (52) and ranks second in double plays per game with 1.3. An interesting twist on the Lindauer/Roper combination is that they both are taking courses in American Sign Language and occasionally use it to communicate on the field. First baseman Jordan Parr has finished all but six of the Illini's twin killings and leads the Big Ten with 46 double plays, Lindauer is tied for second in the league (34) and Roper is tied for fifth (31).
Illini Offense Proves Consistent: Despite its recent struggles, the Illinois offense has been solid in 2012, averaging 6.3 runs and 9.9 hits per game. It has been a balanced attack, as seven regular starters have 40 or more hits and four have 30 or more runs. The Illini have scored five or more runs in 23 games and is 20-3 when reaching that threshold. Illinois has scored two or fewer runs only five times in 2012.
Defense Gets It Done: Illinois' defense has been solid for most of the season and stellar of late, making only six errors in the last 14 games to raise the team fielding percentage to .972, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten. In conference games, though, the Illini have picked it at a Big Ten-best .987 rate, committing only six errors in 12 games while also leading the league with 18 double plays. The school record for fielding percentage for a season is .973, which was set by the 2011 squad.
Young Arms Show Promise: The Illini have been bolstered by a crew of young pitchers in 2012, as true-freshmen John Kravetz has been Illinois' No. 2 starter all season and Josh Ferry made his sixth start against Indiana State on April 24. In addition, two sophomores and one redshirt-freshman have been solid in relief with Luke Joyce (3.75 ERA, 24.0 IP), Ronnie Muck (3.52 ERA, 23.0 IP), and Reid Roper (1.00 ERA, 9 IP as a reliever) providing solid bullpen work.
Pen Picks It Up: The Illinois bullpen has performed well lately, posting a 3.10 ERA in 16 games in April. Matt Milroy is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 24 strikeouts over 16 innings in April, and Drasen Johnson is 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings of work. Ronnie Muck also has pitched well, posting a 2.08 ERA with two saves and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings over nine appearances.
Leaving 'em Stranded: Three Illini relievers have shown an exceptional ability to strand inherited runners in 2012, with Drasen Johnson, Luke Joyce and Ronnie Muck taking over on the mound with 51 runners on base and allowing only 15 to score (.294). Muck has stranded 12-of-13 inherited runners, while Joyce is 11-for-18 and Johnson is 13-of-20. As a team, Illinois has stranded 65.1 percent of inherited runners (54-of-83).
Offense is Solid...Once It Gets Going: The Illini are scoring a solid 6.3 runs per game through 40 games, largely thanks to the fact that Illinois hitters have advanced runners at a .527 rate and are hitting .332 with runners in scoring position. But the Orange and Blue have run into some trouble getting innings started as they're hitting only .253 with the bases empty and reaching base when leading off an inning 33.1 percent of the time, compared to a .331 average with runners on base.
Two Down, None to Go: Illini pitchers have been highly successful with two outs in an inning, holding opponents to a .216 average in the situation. Illinois' bullpen has been even better, allowing only 34 hits in 179 at bats (.190 average) with two outs in an inning. Ronnie Muck has forced opponents into 3-for-29 (.103) hitting with two outs, Matt Milroy is 7-for-34 (.206) as a reliever, Drasen Johnson is 5-for-26 (.192), Anthony Milazzo is 3-for-15 (.200) and Reid Roper is 0-for-7 out of the pen. Conversely, the Illini are hitting .301 with two outs and have 96 two-out RBIs, 38.1 percent of their total RBIs.
Rally on Two: Illinois' two-out hitting has been such a key that it could be seen as a predictor of success. In the Illini's 22 wins, they are hitting .363 with two outs and 80 two-out RBIs. In their 18 losses, the Orange and Blue are hitting only .210 with 16 two-out RBIs.
Illini Player Notes
Argo Aims Higher: After breaking Illinois' career steals record, Argo has turned his sights to the Big Ten record book. He currently has 95 career steals, which ranks fifth in Big Ten history behind a third-place tie at 103 steals. His total marks the most career stolen bases by a Big Ten player since 1988, when Indiana's Mickey Morandini wrapped up his career with a conference-record 127 and Hoosier teammate Jeff Stout finished with 105 bags. While Morandini's record likely is out of reach, Argo could pass Stout for second place.
Roper Catches Fire: Redshirt-freshman Reid Roper has heated up lately, going 23-for-60 (.383) with six doubles and a triple in the last 17 games to raise his batting average 51 points. He has the third-most multiple-hit games on the team with 13, including eight in the last 17 games.
Illini Head North to Take on Wildcats
Northwestern stands at 14-23 overall and 5-10 in the Big Ten, tied with Michigan for 10th place. The Wildcats have scored the fewest runs in the Big Ten with 172 but have stayed in games with their pitching, as NU's 4.21 ERA ranks sixth in all games and its 3.74 ERA in Big Ten games ranks fifth. The 'Cats have allowed the highest opponent batting average in all games, though, at .306, but the second-worst fielding percentage (.962) has resulted in 45 unearned runs, second-most in the league.
But Northwestern has won four of its last five games, taking consecutive 11-inning contests over Milwaukee (4/17) and Michigan (4/21), earning a series victory over the Wolverines and beating Chicago State on Tuesday. The Wildcats entered this week with an official NCAA RPI of 241, while Illinois stood at 57 as of Monday.
Series History Against Northwestern
The Illini have won seven of the last 12 series, with the Wildcats earning series wins in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2010. But Illinois has won the last three series on the north side of Chicago. The last time Northwestern won a series against the Illini in Evanston was 2004 when the 'Cats took three of four games.