I did not make this headline up
5/30/08 (and 5/31/08) - Michigan 7, Kentucky 5
5/31/08 - Michigan 3, Arizona 4
6/1/08 - Michigan 6, Kentucky 12 - eliminated
Surely a college first baseman has to be amongst the least likely athletes in all of sports to be struck down with injury. You're somewhere between 18 and 22, which means you can take a gunshot and be relatively chipper the next day. Your top speed is "saunter." Every once in a very long while you have to bend over or dive or something, but only just frequently enough to prevent wholesale muscle atrophy.
If you are bound and determined to get injured your options are limited to 1) having a runner plow into your arm after a poor throw, 2) getting drilled with a line drive, or 3) spontaneously combusting. If you consider poker a sport, sitting around a table riffling chips is probably less dangerous. It's hard to come up with anything else. Golfing, I guess, but there's always the chance your caddy goes insane and beats you with your five-iron.
So, yeah, Michigan's first home regional in over twenty years didn't go quite as planned. As per usual, I blame Angry Michigan Baseball All American Hating God, who rudely interrupted Zach Putnam's start against Kentucky with a thunderous barrage of rain, then had the audacity to actually break some part of Nate Recknagel's anatomy as he was standing on first base. Despite another cosmic middle finger, the difference between Michigan and these other teams was wafer thin until Maloney's weird decisions at the beginning of the Kentucky elimination game, about which more can be found in the bullets at post's end.
Tweak Recknagel's freak injury or any number of other fateful moments -- Adam Abraham's run-scoring error, Jason Christian swinging at ball four during the first at-bat, Chris Fetter leaving the Jeremy Bonderman impression on the shelf -- and Michigan could have gone into the ninth inning against Arizona with a slight lead, held it, and been the team to batter a wearied pitching staff in the late game Saturday.
Do they say "that's baseball"? If so, that's baseball. If they don't, good for them for avoiding easy cliches.
All that was mildly depressing and something of a letdown after the storybook finish of last year's regional. But it didn't feel like it walking out of the stadium after the Arizona game Saturday.
This is what happened in the ninth inning: the somewhat rowdy young folks in front of me stood up. Since this is Michigan, within nanoseconds a crabby voice grumbled "down in front," and when it was joined by several others the somewhat rowdy young folks begrudgingly sat down. Then Ryan LaMarre fended off a pitch and squeezed it through a gap in the infield for a one-out single. Fisher Stadium stood, and this time the somewhat rowdy young folks turned around and urged everyone to get to their feet, arms waving like storks with their wings on backwards.
I turned around just in time to see a ponderous elderly couple glance at each other in resignation. They arose, joints grinding ponderously, and it seemed like the birth of a new thing as they craned their necks to glimpse what they could.
- About those weird decisions: I know he has single-handedly turned the Michigan program into something worth paying attention to, but starting a guy with 15 IP all season is weird. Following him with another guy who had the third-highest ERA on the team is also weird, and following him with Canadian Mike Wilson, who was valiant last year but sported a 8.73 ERA going into the UK game is super weird. Travis Smith and Tyler Burgoon were fresh and had better stats both traditional and peripheral. OTOH, it's not like you can extrapolate anything useful statistically from 30 or 40 IP.
- Said group of mildly rowdy young folk included in their number two guys who periodically burst into little baseball chatter songs like "hey whaddya say one-nine, gotta be smart, be smart one-nine, hey whaddya say hey" and it kind of felt like a time warp every time they did that.
- Michigan returned every major contributor aside from one starting pitcher and the catcher for 2008; next year looks like a bloodbath by comparison. Seniors: VanBuskirk, Recknagel, Mahler. Draft-eligible juniors: Putnam (sandwich pick or second-rounder, likely gone), Christian (4th to 8th round, possibly gone), Abraham (?), Fetter (?). I know less than zero about how Michigan's recruiting. Does anyone out there want to fill me in? Send me an email.
- I wonder if Michigan's sustained success will spur Ohio State to beef up their program? They've scraped into the NCAA tournament of late by winning the Big Ten tournament from somewhere between third and sixth place but are basically Just Another Northern Team. Much like Notre Dame hockey hiring Jeff Jackson, anything that makes the Big Ten a more legit place to play is good by me.
- Holy crap is there a lot of ridiculous sacrifice bunting in college baseball. During the first Kentucky game Michigan had men on first and second with no outs and the guy with the highest BA on the team, Kevin Cislo, at the plate. He bunted. Later it became apparent that this was probably not a sacrifice attempt, as Cislo's fast as hell and in the Arizona game the corner infielders were about halfway to the plate during a Cislo at bat with no one on base. But still, man... the guy hits .350. Kentucky did it all the time, including consecutive bunts when down six runs!
I just don't get it, man. Baseball statheads are fervently against bunting in the majors, where a .300 batting average is pretty dang good. In aluminumbatland a .300 BA means you hit eighth. How can bunting be anything other than violent stupidity?
- Section Six has my back on this with its "Sac Bunt Irk Level":
Removed FL RB Mike Gillislee (Florida), NC OL Xavier Nixon (dropped us), FL DT Antwan Lowery (dropped us).
Added MD DE Jason Ankrah, TN CB Marsalis Teague.
Editorial Opinion: Short week because last week's recruiting post came out Wednesday, and a crappy one. I don't know what happened with Xavier Nixon after this:
Despite the long list of suitors, Nixon already knows that he'd like to visit Notre Dame and Michigan. "Those are the only two that are set in stone, but I don't know beyond that."
Highly coveted offensive tackle Xavier Nixon is now only considering North Carolina, N.C. State, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Miami-FL, South Carolina, West Virginia and Notre Dame, the Fayetteville Observer reports.
...but whatever it was, it was lame. Meanwhile, a little darting RB who had nice things to say about M once commits to Florida, a FL CB Brandon McGee article passes with no mention of Michigan, and OH OL Marcus Hall reterates that three non-M schools lead for him. None of that except the Nixon thing is particularly surprising, but it's not good.
The one positive:
...according to these quotes, it appears as if [CA WR Shaquelle] Evans will visit one of his suitors, Notre Dame, in September. Plans are in the works for trips to LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee in the near future. UCLA and USC are among the other programs interested in Evans, who has said in the past that he'd like to make a verbal commitment before his senior season.
Evans is a big time recruit; it's nice to make a nominal top seven with him
Should have done this yesterday, but: have at it. Arizona pulled away from EMU in the eight inning yesterday and Michigan has just finished a 7-5 win over Kentucky after a rain suspension. EMU and Kentucky have an elimination game starting at 2; Michigan and Arizona play at seven.
Relevant pitching bits: Putnam had to leave after five innings due to the rain delay, leaving Eric Katzman (2.1 IP) and Michael Powers (1.2 IP) to finish the job. Neither is likely to be available for Arizona.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, saw their starter chased after just 4.1 innings and had to use all three of their big bullpen guys for more than an inning. It'll be interesting to see how effective they are.
One big downer for Michigan: Nate Recknagel left the Kentucky game with a hand injury; unconfirmed reports say it's a broken wrist and he's done for the year.
Update: M loses 4-3 to Arizona and will face Kentucky in an elimination game in a couple hours. The good news: Wildcat ace Chris Rusin, who got chased in the second inning of the Friday game and could hypothetically go again today since he had such a limited outing, is injured and won't be available. Also, with Chris Fetter going 8 full innings last night Michigan will have everyone except the two starters available. Game starts at 2.
In cool but not immediately relevant insider news: the Mets are planning on replacing their enormo-scoreboard sometime soon and Wilpon plans on donating it to Michigan if they can just figure how to move it cross-country.
Your warrior-poets were completely dominant against any team north of the Mason-Dixon line, setting a Big Ten record for most conference wins and sweeping through the conference tourney in three games. But college baseball being what it is, most of those teams suck hard. According to some guy named Boyd, Michigan's schedule ranked 114th -- actually not that bad since nearly 300 teams play D-I baseball. According to some guy named Warren, Michigan's schedule was #125 despite a challenging-ish nonconference schedule that featured four games against #1 seeds.
At this point, Michigan's program is the college baseball equivalent of Gonzaga in 2000. In 1999, Gonzaga's basketball team ignited by making a run to the Elite Eight; last year Michigan took out national #1 seed Vanderbilt and reached the super-regionals. Like Gonzaga, Michigan looks poised to totally dominate a mid-major conference, hover around the high teens in the polls with consistency, and totally rely on the NCAA tournament to validate its program as legitimate.
Michigan will trot out two excellent pitchers in second-team All-Americans Zach Putnam and Chris Fetter. Fetter had the slightly better year, going 10-1 with a 2.39 ERA and striking out 7.8 per nine innings. Putnam was slowed by injury early but recovered well, going 8-0 with a 2.64 ERA and striking out 9.4 per nine innings. Michael Powers also has a 2.64 ERA and is the primary reliever; expect to see a lot of him.
Past that, things get a little dicey. No Wolverine other than Putnam and Fetter started more than 9 games, and the nine game starter is Canadian Chris Wilson, who imploded this year after a promising 06-07. His 8.73 ERA is worst on the team. Eric Katzman (36 IP, 3.25 ERA) or Travis Smith (43 IP, 4.40 ERA) will probably get the starting not in a hypothetical third (or fourth) game as Michigan uses its bullpen liberally.
At the plate, first basemate Nate Recknagel is also a second-team All American; Kevin Cislo, Adam Abraham, and Putnam are the other big bats.
The baseball field is not strictly seeded like the basketball field, but if you extrapolate from Michigan's potential super-regional matchup with the winner of the Miami regional you can infer these things:
- Arizona is the last #1 seed (which is why they're the only one getting shipped).
- Michigan is the top #2 seed.
- Kentucky is the worst #3 seed.
I present the "worst #3": a 42-17 team that went 26-3 outside of the loaded SEC (which is so strong nine teams got bids this year). Yerk.
|Oakland||W 7-4||W 15-5, W 12-2|
|Eastern Michigan||W 5-3, W 20-5||W 18-5, W 8-6|
|Purdue||W 6-1, W 3-2||W 3-2, W 6-1, W 4-3|
Not much to choose from.
Michigan will be facing Friday night starter Chris Rusin, who's actually from Michigan. Baseball America on Rusin:
Rusin has a legit four-pitch mix highlighted by a plus curveball and a lively 88-89 mph fastball, and he gives Kentucky an experienced Saturday starter.
Rusin's 6-2 on the year with a 2.84 ERA, striking out 6.8 per nine innings; he sat out Kentucky's WLL performance in the SEC tournament and will be well rested for Friday's game. Read this if you want to be slightly depressed at both the vagaries of fate and the state of newspapers:
He'd grown up attending Michigan football games at The Big House, hailing the victors valiant. And when it came time to choose a college baseball program, the two-time All-State Dream Team member had hoped to sign with the Wolverines.
But, remember, things never actually work out the way you want them to.
There are two periods during which high school baseball players can sign national letters of intent.
Rusin was determined to sign with a university in the fall. The Wolverines, though, were in pursuit of a two-sport star who hadn't yet chosen between football and baseball scholarships.
Michigan asked Rusin to wait.
Even for the Wolverines, he couldn't bring himself to do it.
"(UK) was the next-best school I was ready to go to, so I got it done," Rusin said.
I'm pretty sure the article is in error and two-sport star Michigan was courting was Adam Abraham, who could have been a mid-round NHL draft pick if he chose to play hockey. Abraham did sign with Michigan and is currently hitting .342.
Two big bats in the outfield power Kentucky's lineup. Sawyer Carroll leads the SEC in batting average (.416) and RBIs (77). This is his OPS: 1.172. Zounds. Colin Cowgill, meanwhile, returned from an injury that cost him the entire 2006-2007 season and bashed 18 home runs whilst batting .362. Baseball America mentions that UK's numbers are inflated by their 17-0 start against terrible competition, FWIW.
Michigan's main advantage over UK is their heavy reliance on lefthanded pitching. Rusin, their second starter, and their main reliever are all lefties. Michigan's big bats are all righthanded.
Earlier in the week I was concerned that Arizona would throw out their #3 starter against Eastern and give themselves a huge advantage against the rest of the field for the remainder of the regional. Baseball America, however, indicates that Arizona might not have much of a distinction between their top three arms:
the starters have had their ups and downs this season. Of particular concern is ace righty Preston Guilmet (6-4, 3.89), who went 0-2, 10.29 in his final three conference starts. Lefthanders David Coulon (7-3, 3.54) and Eric Berger (7-3, 4.53) both pitched well in wins against ASU in the final weekend.
(If none of those ERAs looks intimidating in relation to Fetter and Putnam, please keep in mind that Arizona's SOS is an outstanding 21st.) Arizona can either keep the ace on the shelf if they're eying a potential matchup with Michigan's aforementioned right-handed sluggers or they can get his wobbly pitching out of the way against Eastern. Either way, it looks like Michigan will be facing a lot of quality:
Arizona's calling card is its pitching depth, and it has an unrivaled trio of power bullpen arms in lefthander Daniel Schlereth (2-0, 1.73 with 73 strikeouts in 52 innings) and righties Jason Stoffel (3-2, 3.51 with 67 strikeouts in 41 innings) and Ryan Perry (5-3, 3.21 with 63 strikeouts in 67 innings). All three have mid-90s fastballs and devastating breaking balls.
That kind of depth doesn't get called into play much during the season; in the regionals, however, it can be critical.
Offensively, Arizona goes deep. Four players have more than ten home runs, led by first baseman CJ Zeigler's 19. Bryce Ortega and Colt Sedbrook are both averaging better than .340, but many of the BAs are low for college baseball. If Michigan can keep the ball in the park they might have a shot.
|Notre Dame||W 15-12||W 16-0|
|Arizona State||L 4-15, L 4-8||L 5-6, L 13-6, W 4-3, W 7-4|
Herein is the reason Arizona got the #1 seed in this regional over Michigan: a season-ending series against power Arizona State during which they took two of three games (the 5-6 loss was much earlier in the year). Michigan, playing on the road early in the season, got housed twice.
...should be happy to be here. In four games against Kentucky and Michigan, the Eagles were outscored 51-19. They're under .500 for the season and are only in the tourney because someone had to win the MAC tournament. Baseball is a weird game, but if they do anything other than two-and-out it'll be a minor shock.
I think Michigan has a slight advantage against Kentucky because of their predominantly lefthanded pitching. They were basically a .500 SEC team, and much of their record outside the league was built on teams like... uh... Oakland and Eastern Michigan. When they played Purdue the results were basically the same as when Michigan played Purdue. Anyone who expects Michigan to advance is being foolish, but it might be 55% or 60% instead of a coin flip.
If they win their first game they might have a decent shot at Arizona, either getting AU's struggling "ace" or another lefty. I would pitch Fetter in game one with the hope of getting Putnam up against Arizona's HR-heavy lineup. Putnam's a ground-ball pitcher with a killer sinker; he's only given up four HRs all year. Win that game and you're forcing Arizona to play another game against UK and killing their pitching depth. Lose either of the first two, and you're looking at a long, tough road with dodgy pitching.
So: I think Michigan has a pretty decent chance as long as they stay out of the loser's bracket, but Wilson's implosion has really stressed the pitching depth and if they have to eat an extra game's worth of innings as Arizona eats cheeseburgers they'll be scratching and praying in the finale, assuming they get that far.
The Big Ten Network couldn't scramble trucks or whatever to get the regional on the BTN, even though it was expected well ahead of time that Michigan would get to host, and there is thus no TV. Big Ten Network: minus 450 points.
But! If you don't mind staring at your computer, MGoBlue.com will stream Michigan games live. if that doesn't work, you can listen to a radio call. It's better than nothing. Unless it doesn't work, in which case it's just taunting evil.
Baseball regional preview comin' up. But now...
I GOTTA LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE! THESE ARE THE PROBLEMS I HAVE WITH YOU PEOPLE!
1. Creepily Stalking Hotties. Cheesecake is one thing. Everybody loves cheesecake. But when every other post of yours contains a picture of the same celebrity accompanied with some caption that generally boils down to "I tell ya I tell ya I tell ya... boy would I like to bone her!" you have crossed the line and entered the sad, depressing parts of the internet.
I'm looking at you, Roll Bama Roll and Dawg Sports. And, like... could you have picked less hot hotties? Okay, Kristen Davis is the only cast member of Sex In The City I wouldn't taze on sight, but there are dozens of better choices. And who is Katherine McPhee and why would anyone care to look at her?
WITH THIS WOMAN THAT'S JUST HOW GODDAMN
HETEROSEXUAL I AM BOY HOWDY I TELL YA
Exceptions: Creepy stalking of Scarlett Johansson is still creepy, but somewhat forgivable.
2. Erin Andrews. I mean no offense to Ms. Andrews, who is among the least annoying sideline reporters on television. Truly, her ability to get names vaguely correct places her leaps and bounds beyond Stacey Dales-Schuman, Stacey Schuman-Dales, Stacey Dales, Stacey Schuman, and the rest of the oppressive flock of somewhat pretty ex-cheerleaders that scour the nation's sidelines looking for the opportunity to ask Michael Vick what sort of hot wings he's eating. I appreciate anyone of this ilk who doesn't make me want to throw my shoe at the TV.
No, it's the rest of you lonely, sad perverts taking screencaps every time they show her ass that I've got a problem with. Erin Andrews is doing the spelling bee! Erin Andrews is photographed! Or smoking hot! Or winning a "would you do" competition! Or has twelve pages of Ballhype hits!
Yeah, there's a reason she thinks the internet is a perv factory: it is.
Exceptions: None. Keep it your pants, bucko.
3. Picks Columns. Picks columns suck almost without exception. The general format:
Team A vs Team B (-3). Here is the first poorly thought out sentence that reveals nothing you did not already know. Here is the second poorly thought out sentence; this one probably contains some completely unsubstantiated assertion. End thorough and useful opinion.
Repeat this ad naseuem, then stick in your (horrible) record from last week and add it into your season record -- always five games below five hundred. Then make the world's most hackneyed joke and move on. Nobody really cares about your two-line opinion on Ole Miss-Arkansas unless you are a professional handicapper.
Exceptions: obviously anyone who's actually beating the vig on sportsbetting is permitted the arrogance of one of these. Also those articles where people make obviously meaningless picks based on shoe color.
4. "BLANK Nation." I blame the 2004 Red Sox and Kos for this. There is no Spartan Nation. There is no UAB Nation. There is no Badger Nation. Unless you are named Chad and everyone on your team is also named Chad, there is no nation for you. BLANK Nation jumped the shark two seconds after the 2004 ACLS. Shut up about it.
Exceptions: Red Sox Nation, and Red Sox Nation only, and even then you kinda sound like a prick. Or worse: Dan Shaugnessy.
5. Countdown posts. You know the sort: 99 days until the season, and then it's tomorrow and the site does the math for you and helpfully informs you that there are 98 days until the season. These posts invariably contain a single picture with a short caption, communicate nothing, and jam my RSS feed something wicked.
Exceptions: I could see a seven day countdown the week before the season or something. 100 is pure sandpaper to the groin.
Banner contest reminder: Entries are due on Monday. Due to the large number of entries we'll have a two-stage polling process. Stage one will whittle down the entries to four or five, and stage two will pick a winner.
It begins. With Hail to the Victors 2008 mostly put to bed, attention now turns to the other major project of the offseason: getting MGoBlog off Blogger and onto a platform that supports a bunch of other features I've wanted forever-ever. After evaluating a bunch of blogging platforms and CMSes, I've settled on Drupal.
After a few days pounding away at MGoBlog 3.0, my initial reaction is: this is going to be so cool if I don't go insane and do something rash like challenge Charlie Weis to deep-fried-butter-eating contest or try to dunk on Jason Maxiell. If you've got mad Drupal chops and can answer questions like "Images: wtf?" and "WYSIWIG editors: wtf?" and "am I going to kill performance by enabling like 600 modules, wtf?" please drop me a line.
It's on. Michigan did get its regional, but the vagaries of the seeding were pretty harsh to their chances. After losing their first seventeen games of the year, Eastern Michigan ran through the MAC tournament to earn an autobid. They're still below .500; they're one of the worst teams in the tournament. They get Arizona in the first round. This is bad in two ways:
- Eastern's unlikely to do Michigan the favor of knocking off Arizona, and
- Arizona's likely to throw their #3 starter out against the Eagles in the hopes they can get their #1 and #2 in favorable matchups against Michigan or Kentucky.
The winner of this regional draws national #1 seed Miami's regional in the super-regional next weekend, which means Arizona is the last #1 and Michigan the top #2; unfortunately their relative paths are nowhere near equal. At least the Fish will have a vested interest in seeing EMU win in the early game.
Maloney talks smack:
"Everybody else is saying we don't have any chance," Maloney told the players in their locker room. "So we've got to go out and show them. ... They're crying because they have to come here."
Ticket information is here; if you're in town you should try to make it out.
Bring the barf bags. I probably shouldn't even link this since it will cause an eruption in the comments, but Jesus, man:
A palate cleanser: