March 27, 2014
The Spartans (10-10, 1-2) head to Minnesota (13-7, 2-1) to meet the Gophers for the first time since April 21-22, 2012 ... The two teams were scheduled to meet April 19-21 in Minneapolis last season, but none of the games were played due to snow.
The series has been altered to begin on Saturday with a single game beginning at 3 p.m. ET and then the two teams will play a doubleheader on Sunday beginning at 12 p.m. ET.
MSU has won six of the last seven meetings with the Gophers dating back to 2011 ... In the last series between the teams April 21-22, 2011, the Spartans won a pair of one-run games in the opener (3-2) and the series finale (5-4), but dropped game two (4-2).
Three of the Spartans' 10 wins this season have come vs. top-25 teams (No. 1 Oregon State, No. 21 TCU - twice.)
Jimmy Pickens brings a team-leading nine-game hitting streak into this weekend ... Pickens is hitting .292 on the season and is second on the team in RBIs with 13.
Blaise Salter leads the way offensively for the Spartans, owing a team high in both batting average (.301) and RBIs (15) ... He is tied for third in the conference with seven doubles.
Cam Gibson's three triples are not only tied for the Big Ten lead, but also match his season total from 2013.
Starter Mick VanVossen is 4-0 this season and ranks in the top-10 in the conference in several categories, including second in opponent batting average (.190), third in innings pitched (38.0), tied for fifth in strikeouts (27) and ninth in ERA (2.37).
Led by Anthony Cheky's team-high nine stolen bases, MSU ranks fifth in the conference with a total of 25.
MSU is 4-1 when playing error-free baseball and is 8-0 when carrying a lead into the ninth inning.
The Spartans are 5-0 this season when recording at least 10 hits and are 4-1 when scoring at least four runs.
MSU is tied for third in the Big Ten with seven home runs.
After going 12-3 in one-run games last season, MSU is off to another good start in 2014, going 5-1 in one-run games so far this year.
The Spartans won at least 30 games for the fourth consecutive season last year ... Entering the season, MSU had more wins (140) than any other Big Ten team over the last four seasons.
The Gophers opened Big Ten play last weekend by going 2-1 against Northwestern in a series played in St. Charles, Ill. ... As a team, Minnesota is hitting .249 and has a team ERA of 3.27 ... Conor Schsefbauer leads the Gophers in at-bats (74), runs (16), hits (21), triples (2), and walks (15), and his batting average is fourth highest (.284)... Mark Tatera leads the team in RBIs (18), which also ranks sixth in the Big Ten ... Jake Bergren leads the team in fielding percentage, while also hitting .325 ... Friday's scheduled starter, Alec Crawford, has a 3.15 ERA and has yet to allow a home run ... Saturday's scheduled starter, Jordan Jess, has allowed 24 hits in 25.0 innings ... Sunday starting pitcher Ben Meyer is holding opponents to a .217 batting average, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten.
VanVossen Impresses Early
Junior starting pitcher Mick VanVossen has been the Spartans' strongest starting pitcher so far this season. Already 4-0 through six starts, VanVossen ranks second in opponent batting average (.190), third in innings pitched (38.0), tied for fifth in strikeouts (27) and ninth in ERA (2.37). VanVossen has won all four starts in which he has pitched at least six-complete innings.
Salter Paces The Offense
With a .301 batting average and 15 RBIs, junior Blaise Salter has been the Spartans' most dangerous hitter so far this season. Salter has had a hit in 16 of 20 games this season, which included a career-long 12-game hitting came to an end March 9 vs. TCU. The day prior, Salter belted a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth inning of the first game of the series to lift MSU to a 2-1 victory over No. 21 TCU.
Salter leads MSU with five-multi RBI games.
Pickens On a Roll
Junior Jimmy Pickens brings a team-high nine-game hitting streak into this weekend. Pickens is hitting .364 (12-for-33) over the nine-game span, raising his batting average by .061 to .292, which ranks second on team. Pickens' nine extra-base hits (six doubles, two triples, one home run) are tied with Blaise Salter for the team lead.
Notes on the Staff
Michigan State has yielded just 176 hits this season (8.8 per game), which is tops in the Big Ten. The 92 runs and 70 earned runs yielded both rank fourth in the conference. The Spartan pitching staff has lowered its opponent batting average by .021 over the past six games and now ranks fifth lowest in the league at .268.
Kinley Back Healthy
Redshirt junior closer Jeff Kinley is back healthy after a blood clot forced him to miss nearly the entire 2013 season. Kinley's five saves so far in 2014 rank first in the conference. His last save came in the Spartans' 1-0 win over Harvard where he tossed two scoreless innings.
Led by Kinley's Big Ten-best five saves, the Spartan bullpen has combined for seven saves this season, which is tied for second most in the conference. MSU had a total of 12 in 2013.
Kinley saw action in just nine games last season after discovering the blood clot in mid-March, he was unable to pitch the remainder of the season. In 2012, his last full season, Kinley posted a 2.47 ERA in 47.1 innings of work. He had a 6-5 record with two saves and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4-to-1.
Since Jake Boss took over the Spartan program in 2009, the Spartans have a 43-34 record in one-run games, including 5-1 this season. The Spartans were outstanding in one-run games last season, going 12-3.
Alleman Settling Into Starter Role
In his first year as a starter, sophomore Justin Alleman is 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA. In six starts this season, he has given up 13 earned runs in 37.0 innings. Opponents are hitting just .214 against the Holt native.
After making 22 appearances all out of the bullpen last season, Alleman won his first-career start on Feb. 16 in MSU's 2-1 victory over Wright State. Alleman threw six-complete scoreless innings and surrendered just four hits to earn in the victory.
Young Arms in the `Pen
Three freshmen relievers - Jake Lowery, Walter Borkovich and Josh Buchalski - have played big roles for the Spartans so far in 2014. The three have combined to pitch 20.2 innings in 20 appearances, giving up just five earned runs.
Lowery has made 10 appearances, which ranks second on the team. Lowery earned his first collegiate win by pitching a scoreless final 1.1 innings against No. 1 Oregon State. He has two saves, the last of which came on March 7 in the 2-1 victory over No. 21 TCU.
Borkovich was named the Big Ten Rookie of the Week on March 3 after tossing 4.2 innings of scoreless relief in the 18-13 win over Eastern Illinois. On the season, Borkovich is 1-0 and has made one start.
The Spartans have caught a Big Ten-best 19 runners stealing - six more than the next closest team, Indiana. Catcher Joel Fisher has thrown out more runners than any other catcher in the conference with 13, which is 11 shy of his total from 2013. The 16 stolen bases MSU has given up are tied for the fifth fewest in the league.
MSU has also turned 19 double plays this season, tied for third most in the conference.
The Spartans' 18 hits and 20 runs in the March 2 18-13 win over Eastern Illinois were their highest totals since producing 25 hits and 20 runs in a 20-10 win over Indiana on April 15, 2012. Jimmy Pickens went 4-for-4 with six RBIs in the win, marking the second time in his career the junior has recorded six RBIs in a game. Pickens' last had six RBIs on May 4, 2012 vs. Illinois.
MSU turned four double plays in the Mar. 1 loss to No. 15 Mississippi State, marking its most double plays in a game since March 10, 2011 when it also had four against Boston College.
The Spartans are currently tied for third in the conference in double plays with 19.
Change of Plans
Michigan State has had to modify two of its weekend series this season due to weather. The Spartans were forced to move their Big Ten-opening series vs. Ohio State from East Lansing to Columbus due to winter weather in East Lansing.
MSU opened the season by going 2-1 against Wright State at Vanderbilt's Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn. The Spartans were supposed to begin the 2014 campaign in Cary, N.C., at the USA Baseball Complex, but winter storms forced a change in plans. MSU and WSU were slated to meet once in North Carolina, but agreed to play at the neutral site due to the winter storms.
Experience in the Outfield
Michigan State returns all three of its starting outfielders from the 2013 campaign, highlighted by Big Ten Players to Watch Cam Gibson and Jimmy Pickens. Pickens was a second-team All-Conference selection last year, while Gibson earned a spot on the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team.
Gibson, a sophomore, spent much of the 2013 season as the team's leadoff hitter, compiling a .325 batting average, 34 runs and 12 steals. He started 40 games and his .325 average was the 12th best in the Big Ten and third on the team.
Pickens enters his third year as the starting right fielder for the Spartans and is coming off a season in which he was named the team's John Kobs Most Valuable Player. Pickens started all 50 games for MSU and led the team in runs scored (39), RBIs (42), total bases (103), slugging percentage (.528) and home runs (9).
Anthony Checky started 44 games last season and the junior enters his third season as the starting center fielder for MSU. Checky was the league-leader in stolen bases, swiping 23 bags on 25 tries, while his 34 runs were tied for the second most on the team.
Junior Ryan Krill and senior Joel Fisher will serve as co-captains for 2014. Krill, the starting first baseman, ranked in the top five on the team in hits (55), doubles (11), RBIs (25) and batting average (.288) a season ago. Krill made an appearance in all 50 games last year for MSU, starting at first base in 48 of those appearances.
Fisher is the lone senior in the Spartans' current lineup. The catcher threw out 17 runners last year as MSU allowed the second fewest stolen bases in the Big Ten (34). Fisher's efforts earned him the team's Danny Litwhiler Defensive Player of the Year. At the plate, he second on the team in home runs (5) and third in doubles (11), along with 27 RBIs.
Spartans Lead the Big Ten in Wins Over The Last Four Years
Michigan State posted its fourth consecutive 30-win season last year, going 33-17. The Spartans entered the 2014 campaign with a total of 140 wins over the past four years - more than any other team in the conference. Indiana ranked second with 139, while Purdue was third with 132.
MSU will play three midweek games coming up, headlined by the annual Crosstown Showdown exhibition game against the Lansing Lugnuts on April 3. The Spartans will head to Eastern Michigan to take on the Eagles on Tuesday and then host Oakland on Wednesday in the home-opener at 3:05 p.m.
Thursday's crosstown showdown at Cooley Law School Stadium will begin at 7:05 p.m.