Spartans Visit Illinois For Weekend Set
Series gets underway at 7 p.m. Friday on BTN.
May 1, 2014
The Spartans are coming off a sweep of Northwestern and enter this weekend's series at Illinois with a four-game winning streak ... The Spartans currently stand alone in fourth place in the Big Ten with an 8-7 mark in conference play ... Illinois enters the series at 10-5 in Big Ten play, tied with Nebraska for the second-best league record.
Gibson has the team's longest hitting streak entering play this weekend at seven games.
Blaise Salter has been one of the Big Ten's best run-producers this season and currently ranks second in the conference with 41 RBIs ... The junior has produced seven RBIs over the Spartans' four-game winning streak.
As of Monday, Salter's 18 doubles ranked 10th in the country - just three shy of the nation's leader ... Salter's .346 batting average ranks fourth in the Big Ten and his 86 total bases are tied for third most.
MSU is 9-1 when scoring in the first inning and 18-2 when it scores first.
The Spartan offense has been its best during the middle innings this season, outscoring opponents, 72-28, in the fifth through seventh innings.
The Spartan bullpen enters Friday's game having allowed just seven earned runs over the past 21 games - a span of 66.1 innings ... On the season, the MSU bullpen has a 2.14 ERA in 134.1 total innings.
All three of the Spartans' weekend starters rank in the top five in the conference in opponent batting average: Cam Vieaux (.201, first), Justin Alleman (.202, second) and Mick VanVossen (.226, fourth) ... Vieaux's 2.06 ERA is the second lowest in the league, while Alleman's 2.53 ERA is ranks eighth and VanVossen's 2.72 ERA is ninth.
VanVossen leads the Big Ten in strikeouts with 60 ... Alleman's 45 Ks rank eighth and reliever Anthony Misiewicz`s 44 are ninth most.
The Spartans rank third in the conference in stolen bases with 60 ... Two of the six highest stolen base totals in the Big Ten belong to Spartans, including Anthony Cheky (21, second) and Jimmy Pickens (13, t-fifth).
MSU leads the Big Ten in conference play with a .982 fielding percentage, which is .016 higher than its overall season average.
After going 12-3 in one-run games last season, MSU has been good again in close games in 2014, going 8-2 in one-run affairs.
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.
Illinois enters the weekend series coming off a 10-1 victory over Southern Illinois on Wednesday ... The Illini are tied for the second-best record in the conference at 10-5 and share an identical overall record with MSU - 24-17 ... Illinois lost two of three to conference-leading Indiana last weekend at home ... As a team, Illinois is hitting .275, which ranks fifth in the conference ... Jason Goldstein leads the team with a .343 batting average and his 23 RBIs rank second behind Reid Roper's team-high 27 ... Illinois' pitching staff has a 3.22 team ERA, which ranks third in the conference ... Opponents are hitting .265 off Illinois pitchers ... Friday's starter Drasen Johnson leads the team in innings pitched (67.2) and strikeouts (52) ... Closer Tyler Jay has seven saves and a 1.63 ERA.
Salter Among the Best in the Conference
Junior Blaise Salter has been one of the Big Ten's most dangerous hitters this season and currently ranks in the top 10 in the league in seven offensive categories: first in doubles (18), second in RBIs (41), third in total bases (86), third in slugging percentage (.562), tied for fourth in home runs (five), fourth in batting average (.346) and tied for ninth in hits (53).
Salter has reached base safely in each of the last 12 games, producing a hit in 11 of those games. Over the 12-game span, Salter is hitting .422. He has had a hit in 32 of 41 games this season, which includes a career-long 12-game hitting streak that 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.
Quality Starts = Wins
Starting pitchers Mick VanVossen, Justin Alleman and Cam Vieaux have all demonstrated the ability to put together quality starts this season. The trio has combined for 19 quality starts, going 14-1 with four no-decisions in outings where they have gone at least six-complete innings and yielded three or fewer earned runs.
Both VanVossen and Alleman have registered quality starts in seven of their 11 this season.
Vieaux's last five starts have all met the quality start threshold. He has allowed a total of just six earned runs over his last five starts which have totaled 35.0 innings.
Gibson Heating Up
Sophomore left fielder Cam Gibson has been one of the Spartans' best hitters of late, as he has picked up a hit in 17 of the last 18 games. Over the 18-game stretch, in which Gibson has reached safely in each of the games, he is hitting .348.
In Big Ten play this season, he has a .324 batting average, which is fourth highest among all Spartans.
Bullpen Slamming the Door
The Spartan bullpen has been outstanding this season as it has given up just seven earned runs over the past 21 games - a total of 66.1 innings. The bullpen had a remarkable 11-game, 36.1-inning span from March 22 - April 9 where it did not allow an earned run. The Spartans have used nine different pitchers over the 21-game stretch, with relievers Anthony Misiewicz (two), Jake Lowery, Jeff Kinley and Joe Mockbee having picked up wins. Kinley also has three saves over the span.
Junior pitcher Mick VanVossen continues to shine as MSU's top starter, ranking in the top four in the conference in strikeouts (60, first), opponent batting average (.226, fourth) and innings pitched (72.2, third). In his last four starts, he has combined to throw 28.2 innings, allowed eight earned runs, racked up 30 strikeouts and walked just four batters.
Kinley Creeps Up Saves List
Redshirt junior closer Jeff Kinley picked up his eighth save of the season in MSU's 3-2 win over Northwestern, giving him a total of 13 for his career, which puts him alone in third place on MSU's all-time list. Kinley's eight saves this season are third most in the Big Ten and are the most since Tony Wieber had nine in 2012. The MSU record for saves in a season is 11, set by Mike Ericson in 1990.
Kinley saw action in just nine games last season after discovering a blood clot in mid-March that forced him to miss 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.
Alleman Adjusts Well to Starter Role
In his first year as a starter, sophomore Justin Alleman is 5-1 with a 2.53 ERA and is holding opponents to a .202 batting average, which is second best in the league. The Holt native has proved durable as well, ranking second in the conference in innings pitched (74.2)
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.
Vieaux Solidifies the Rotation
In starting each of the last six series finales, redshirt freshman walk-on Cam Vieaux has cemented his role as the Spartans' third starter. Vieaux leads the league in opponent batting average at .201 and his 2.06 ERA ranks second in the Big Ten.
In his last five outings, which have all been quality starts, Vieaux has thrown a total of 35.0 innings, allowing seven runs off 22 hits, while racking up 23 strikeouts compared to just seven walks.
Notes on the Staff
Michigan State has yielded 325 hits this season (7.9 per game), which is the fewest of any staff in the Big Ten ... The 157 runs and 115 earned runs yielded rank second and third, respectively, in the conference ... The pitching staff has an opponent batting average of .242, which leads the conference ... MSU has allowed three runs or fewer in 21 of 41 games this season, going 19-2 in such contests ... The team ERA of 2.85 ranks second in the Big Ten.
In the most recent RPI poll, released on April 29, Michigan State came in at 99 - up 22 spots from the previous week. Two of the Spartans' final three Big Ten series are against teams with higher RPIs in both Illinois (83) and Nebraska (43).
Cheky Leads The Spartans in Swipes
Junior Anthony Cheky ranks second the Big Ten with 21 stolen bases in a league-high 24 attempts. Last season he had 23 steals, which tied for the second highest single-season total in MSU history.