Minn. looking for consistent offense

The Gophers will have a good opportunity to steal a few wins this weekend.

Head coach John Anderson coupled the words “consistent offense” four times in less than a minute after his team’s loss to Northern Iowa on Wednesday.

The Gophers’ production has run the gamut lately – they’ve scored one, seven and 11 runs in their last three games – and they’ve lost six straight. They will have a chance to break their losing streak this weekend, traveling to Northwestern for a four-game series.

While Minnesota is averaging 5.9 runs per game – even that is good for just seventh in the offense-heavy Big Ten – they have scored one or zero runs five different times.

“We really need to start growing as an offense,” Anderson said.

Anderson pointed specifically to the bottom four spots of the order. The four most frequent players in these spots recently – Mike Kvasnicka, Kyle Knudson, Tom Steidl and Jeremy Chlan – have combined to hit just .239 in over 300 at-bats this season.

By comparison, the players frequenting the top five spots in the order – Matt Nohelty, Eric Decker, Nate Hanson, Jeff DeSmidt and Derek McCallum – have combined to hit .366; more than 50 percent better.

“Those are the guys we need to focus on,” Anderson said. “We need to get some offense out of the bottom of our lineup.”

All of this makes this weekend a good one to be in Evanston for the Gophers. Northwestern (8-14, 3-5 Big Ten) ranks dead last in the Big Ten in team ERA, giving up more than six earned runs per game.

Of course, the Gophers (13-15, 3-5 Big Ten) are second-to-last in the same category, but players still feel they have a good chance of winning the series against the weak Wildcats pitching staff.

“They’re young like we are, so those kinds of numbers are likely to be there. We have to go in there and kick them in the teeth,” DeSmidt said. The senior catcher is second on the team in hitting with a .398 average and a team-leading four homeruns.

Three of the four expected Northwestern starters have ERAs over five, including Friday starter David Jensen who is 0-2 with a 9.89 ERA.

“Obviously we have to be able to score some runs against that pitching staff,” Anderson said. “They have more experience in their hitters than they do on the mound, so it’s going to come down to generating some more offense than we have lately and knocking some of their pitchers out.”

“They hit the ball pretty good,” Chlan added, “but if we counteract with our hitting and how strong it is right now, I think we’ll pull out some wins this weekend.”

The Gophers, who are tied for fifth with four other teams in the Big Ten, including Northwestern, need to start winning three out of four games in series if they are going to make it into the Big Ten tournament, which accepts the top six finishers in the conference.

They’ve won just one out of their six series, which was a sweep of lowly South Dakota State. After this weekend, their next two series are against Illinois and Purdue, the top two teams in the Big Ten.