Halfway through the Big Ten season, the Ohio State baseball team is in hot pursuit of a second-consecutive Big Ten title. The Buckeyes are tied for first place and confident the crown is theirs for the taking.
Behind the arm of Alex Wimmers and the Buckeyes’ potent offense — which is ranked first in the conference — the defending Big Ten champions look impressive. However, there is one facet of the game in which the Buckeyes are struggling: the defense.
The team is ranked sixth in the Big Ten defensively, having committed 58 errors in its first 35 games.
“Knowing the experience we have, I didn’t expect us to be sixth in the Big Ten,” center fielder Michael Stephens said. “I’d expect us to throw the glove at it a little bit more.”
Coach Bob Todd — who is leading one of the most veteran teams he’s had in his 23 years at the helm — has acknowledged the Buckeyes’ struggles. But he says there are some external forces that might be partly to blame.
“We just have not been able to practice enough on the field in my opinion,” Todd said. “The weather has not cooperated and it has hurt our consistency. And defensively it’s showed up more than what we would like.”
Todd identified repetition as one of the keys to improvement for his team. Having lost much of their spring practice time to rain, the Buckeyes have been making the most of their practices and mid-week games to see more reps.
“It’s the same old story,” Todd said. “Like I tell our players, we can practice and practice and practice, but in a game when you’re called upon to make a play you’ve got to make it.”
Stephens believes the defense has been holding the Buckeyes back, saying “I think this last series [against Penn State] really put us in a bind. Especially on Sunday when Dean [Wolosiansky] was throwing a gem and we had three errors, that really killed us.”
The Buckeyes had played error-free baseball in Friday night’s win, but their three errors in Sunday’s finale proved to be costly. The Buckeyes dropped two of three to the last-place Nittany Lions for their first series loss of the season.
But if there is one team in the Big Ten that can overcome mediocre defensive play, it’s the Buckeyes. Last year, the Scarlet and Gray finished seventh in the Big Ten defensively and managed to win the conference. Also, the team’s .335 batting average is best in the Big Ten and has the Buckeyes averaging more than six and a half runs per game.
Stephens said that the team’s ability to hit helps to mask some of their defensive deficiencies.
“Knowing the type of offensive power we posses, we know we’re going to be able to hit,” Stephens said. “We’re in a situation where our hitting needs to take over and we need to continue to lead the Big Ten.”
But with four teams tied atop the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will have to improve defensively to win a second-consecutive conference championship.