2014 baseball season
The Michigan baseball team continues to be involved in close ball games, losing a 3-2 game to Iowa yesterday (see recap) before beating the Hawkeyes 4-2 today (recap). Out of the 27 games they've played, 19 have been decided by two runs or fewer. Today's win improved their overall record to 11-15-1 and their Big Ten record to 2-3.
Today's game was highlighted by another terrific catch by freshman right fielder Jackson Lamb (see this thread for a look at the one from last weekend):
Lamb's latest defensive gem occurred in the ninth inning, after the Wolverines had rallied in the bottom of the eighth with three runs to take a 4-2 lead. Freshman Trey Miller came through that inning with a two-out, two-run single, recording his first career hit in the process.
Jacob Cronenworth (2-0) ended up getting the win, although he had shifted to the mound in the eighth when Michigan held a 1-0 lead, looking to pick up a two-inning save and then promptly gave up two runs. He nevertheless has now pitched in seven games and been credited with two wins and five saves.
Evan Hill had a good start today, going 5.2 innings and not allowing a run. He was taken out after being hit on the leg by a line drive.
Michigan and Iowa play the rubber match of their series tomorrow at 1 pm at Ray Fisher Stadium.
Michigan baseball (8-12-1) begins Big Ten play this weekend on the road against the preseason conference favorite and defending conference champion Indiana (10-8). Today's game is about to start; the Saturday game is scheduled for 2:05 pm; and the Sunday game, which will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network, starts at 1:05 pm.
By RPI ratings (see Pseudo-RIPs), Indiana is a significant favorite, with the Wolverines at #162 and the Hoosiers #21. But Michigan has shown improvement since a rough start to the season, especially in their pitching, and their team ERA of 3.43 is third in the Big Ten (Indiana is first at 2.69). Michigan's record is somewhat deceiving because they've been in a bunch of close games, most of which they lost. Their record in one-run games is 3-7, and they also lost one game by two runs that went into extra innings. A number of the close losses came early in the season when closer Jacob Cronenworth was unable to pitch because he was still recovering from off-season labrum surgery. The team lost more than one game in which they had gone into the late innings with a lead. Cronenworth has proved how vital he is to the team since returning to the mound as he's appeared in five games and earned 1 win and 4 saves.
In regard to the starters, fifth-year senior Ben Ballantine (2-0, 2.08 ERA) has performed so well that he's been moved into the #1/Friday pitching spot and will start today's game. With 27 strikeouts, he's tied for the Big Ten lead in that category. Pitching for Indiana today is southpaw Joey DeNato, who's 3-1 on the season with a 1.95 ERA.
Erik Bakich said on his WTKA interview this week that he expects the team to be back at full strength for this series. That includes Jackson Lamb, who's been in and out of the lineup the last few weekends because of a back injury. Lamb is back in the starting lineup today, and hopefully he can help bolster the Wolverines' offense. Michigan ranks eighth in the Big Ten in batting average at .240. Jackson Glines has been stellar all year, Kyle Jusick has been consistently good, and Travis Maezes broke out of his slump last weekend and is now batting over .300—but they could use a couple more players getting some timely hits.
One of the youngest head coaches in college baseball, Erik Bakich picked up the 100th win of his career last night as Michigan beat Air Force 8-2 in the third game of their four-game Texas State Tournament opener in San Marcos, Texas. Fifth-year senior Ben Ballantine made an outstanding return from the gruesome ankle injury that ended his senior year prematurely, giving up just one hit and no earned runs in seven innings of work—and earning the win. (See also mgoblue.com recap.)
The victory followed a disappointing opening day that saw the Wolverines drop two games, both in 10 innings, 8-7 to Texas State and 8-6 to Washington. In both contests, Michigan went into the late innings with a decent lead—7-3 after six in the opener, 6-3 after seven in the nightcap—but the bullpen was unable to hold the advantages and the Wolverines batters failed to tack on any insurance runs.
Some hitting highlights from the first three games:
- Junior DH Kyle Jusick is hitting .455 (5-for-11), with 3 runs and 2 RBI
- Senior catcher Cole Martin's solid start includes a 3-run homer
- Juco transfer Jackson Glines has done well stepping into the large void left by Pat Biondi's graduation; batting leadoff, Glines is hitting .400 (6-for-15), with 3 runs, 3 RBI, and 1 stolen base
- Freshman Jackson Lamb is living up to the hype so far, going 4-for-6, with 3 doubles and 4 RBI
Michigan plays Washington again today at 1pm ET in their final game in this tournament. The Wolverines will send sophomore Evan Hill to the mound as they try to even their season and tourney record at 2-2.
Erik Bakich made the first of his weekly appearances on WTKA for the 2014 season this morning (podcast), providing a good preview of the upcoming Michigan baseball campaign, which begins Friday down in Texas.
The focus here is on who's playing which position. In addition to what Bakich said, this overview is also based on the current game notes.
Starting pitchers: Every starter returns from last year—fifth-year seniors Logan McAnallen and Ben Ballantine, juniors James Bourque and Trent Szkutnik, and sophomore Evan Hill. They'll get the bulk of the innings. The game notes have probable starters for this weekend as Bourque and Szkutnik for games 1 and 2 on Friday, Ballantine on Saturday, and Hill on Sunday. Bakich talked about the importance of his hurlers being able to consistently throw multiple types of pitches for strikes. McAnallen and Ballantine had shown this ability in the past; the other three have made tremendous improvement in this area since last season.
Bullpen: Bakich didn't discuss the bullpen extensively, but sophomore Jacob Cronenworth will be the closer. In his freshman year, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, he had a 1.93 ERA and seven saves in 15 appearances; yesterday, he was named to the Stopper of the Year watch list. Michigan returns two other players who had extensive bullpen duties last season, senior Alex Lakatos and junior Matt Ogden. Bakich mentioned that freshman Jackson Lamb will be a two-way player, seeing time in the outfield and pitching in relief. He'll be brought along slowly, with his role likely increasing as the season progresses. The game notes mention two other freshman who are expected to have roles as relievers—Brett Adcock and Keith Lehmann.
Outfield: The biggest losses on the team from last year are starting outfielders Patrick Biondi and Michael O'Neill, both now playing professional ball. Zach Zott returns and will continue to be the starting left fielder. Bakich talked about how much more depth his team has this year than last year, and this is evident in the outfield, where he expects at least three players to see action in center and right—juco transfer Jackson Glines and two freshmen, Lamb and Johnny Slater. The game notes show the probable starters as Zott in left, Glines in center, and Slater in right. Bakich also mentioned that juniors Kyle Jusick and Kevin White might see some action in the outfield.
Infield: Coming off his stellar freshman season, sophomore Travis Maezes will continue to be the starting shortstop. Also anchoring the infield will be Cronenworth. But while he split time last season at second and third, this season Cronenworth will be the starter at either third or first, depending on whether the opposing team is starting a right-handed pitcher or a southpaw. Also playing some first will be juco transfer Kendall Patrick. Three freshmen will see action at second and third—Hector Gutierrez, Ramsey Romano, and Trey Miller. The game notes show the probable starters as Cronenworth at first, Gutierrez at second, Maezes at short, and Romano at third.
Catcher: Senior Cole Martin returns as the starter; he was named third-team All-Big Ten last year. He'll be helped out by Patrick and freshman Harrison Wenson.
Offense in general: Strategy will remain the same as last season, with the aim to play fast, be very aggressive both at the plate and on the bases, and put pressure on the opposing team. Many of the newcomers have speed and athleticism.
With all the starting pitchers back from last season, along with some key position players, as well as a raft of talented newcomers, Michigan is expected to improve on their 5th place finish in the Big Ten last season when their record was 14-10 in the conference and 29-27 overall. So far, the conference previews have picked them to finish third or fourth.
You are looking live at a post by some guy that used to be here all the time, but since has disappeared into the wilderness and thus returned only to probably disappear again!
Anyway, UM's baseball season is nigh upon us! In just one week, Coach Bakich continues his crusade "to catch that softball program" and return Michigan to the NCAA tournament. This year's edition of the team is very similar to that of last year's, but now with more experience!
Eric Sorenson, my former idol and still current holder of my most coveted job I will never try to get, has posted his "Top 302 Teams of 2014" post for this year, and yes, he does rank and blurb each of the 302 teams in Division 1, and he has Michigan at #71:
71- MICHIGAN (29-27, 14-10)
2013 ISR: 138
Starters Returning: 7
Weekend Starters: 3
Mid-Week Starters: 1
Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4
Coach Erik Bakich was right, “a bunch of pissed-off Wolverines” turned the program around last year. Could be even more this year as 55 of the 56 starts on the mound come back, as does two-way talent Jacob Cronenworth (.320, 12SBs & 0-3, 1.93, 7svs). Plus, the future is sparkling for the Maize & Blue as the 20th-ranked recruiting class comes to campus.
For those interested, his B1G teams are ranked as such:
48. Nebraska (*fixed after comment)
75. Michigan State
105. Ohio State
226. Penn State
Indiana is the clear favorite after making it all the way to the College World Series Last year. They return plenty and their coach is fantastic. After that, it gets all B1G Baseball-y with any team from Illinois to probably Ohio State having a decent shot at being pretty good, but no one is really sure because this is 1) college baseball and 2) mid-major college baseball.
As for this year's schedule, it looks to have quite a few solid names on the docket. The team starts with a Texas tour starting with a tournament in San Marcos with games against 2 of Sorenson's top 100 in Texas State and Washington. Then it's a 3 game set at my current graduate school, the University of Houston. Needless to say I will be attending at least one game in my Michigan jersey. Not that I'll be in UH jerseys for the other three, but my mother and wife have the audacity to both have birthdays that weekend, so I won't have much time to enjoy the old ball field.
From there is't a tournament hosted by Notre Dame in Cary, N.C. Which... yeah, sure. But top 5 North Carolina State and top 20 UCLA will both be there, along with a double header with Appalachian State and Notre Dame sandwiched between the big two. After that its a swing through Florida for our nearly annual FGCU match up, a game at UCF, and a 4 game set against a probably hapless Princeton.
We finish the southern tour in Charleston to take on Appalachain State again, followed by two against College of Charleston ad Kent State.
That's a pretty solid opening stanza. Of those teams, only Air Force and Princeton are terrible. The rest are at least top 120-ish teams.
As for the B1G season, we start it in the hardest way possible, a 3 game set at Indiana. Then its home against Iowa and Minnestoa, away to Illinois and Purdue, home against Nebraska, away to Northwestern, and then finish the season home against Ohio State. Lastly, we have a bye week with a pair of games against Kansas, who projects to be a meh Big12 team.
B1G tournament is in Omaha this year, probably as a favor to Indiana. Give them an extra couple practice games on their CWS warm up tour.
I have no particular idea myself on how the season will go down. I somewhat gave up following the team 3-4 years ago with school and work and wife and globe-trotting recently, so that's probably all I'll have on the team for a while. I may post a summary of the game from Houston if I do make it out there. Maybe I'll even catch you out there.