Central Michigan (15-10)
|Wednesday 2:30pm ET, Ray Fisher Stadium|
|TBA||vs||Bryce Morrow (1-0, 7.71 ERA)|
|Stats||Audio (WBCN)||Video ($2.99)|| |
|Notes: 32-27-2 All-Time vs CMU, Last meeting a 2-10 L in 2009. |
Game time has been updated to avoid rain.
Michigan and Central Michigan have quite the heated rivalry over their all time series, as adequately reflected in the all time series being so close. This isn't even due to decades old scores either, Michigan hasn't beaten CMU since 2007 (13-3), being beat pretty bad 10-2 in 2009 and 3-7 in 2008. Go a couple years back and you'll find the barn burner of 2004 played in Mt. Pleasant. Michigan escaped with a 14-13 win in the most back and forth games in recent memory. The series has been a great one, and all indications are that this year's installment will be just as awesome.
Central Michigan comes in with an RPI just under 200, and a strength of schedule rated 192 in the country. The Chippewas have a solid series win over Miami in MAC play, but not a lot else to write home about in terms of quality wins. They've played two other Big Ten teams this season, Indiana who shut them out 9-0, and Michigan State, who won by a score of 13-10.
The offense is lead by Nate Theunissen, who, as of Tuesday pre-UIC* is batting .409 with 13 doubles, 3 homers, and 24 RBI. He's by far their leading slugger with a .659 slugging percentage, and leads the team in on base percentage with a .459. Also worth noting is Dale Cornstubble. He's batting .357 with 20 RBI and .488 slugging percentage, 2nd only to Theunissen. Billy Anderson is their next top hitter with a .354 batting average and a .485 slugging percentage, but he's also their stolen base threat with 11 on the year. His 15 attempts are about 40% of the teams attempts, so don't expect too much from anyone else. All three of those hitters have about the same on base percentage, mostly in the .450-.460 range. That's quality, especially for the MAC.
*All these stats were before the UIC game on Tuesday.
Pitching profile, weather, and thoughts after a jump.
So I was planning on interviewing Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney tomorrow, but this morning's Michigan Insider with Sam Webb had their time with Rich Maloney this morning and they more than asked pretty much all of my same questions. So I'll summarize Maloney's comments here (full audio):
- The rotation is still up in the air. Oaks and Brosnahan appear to have solidified their spot in the weekend. Burgoon is going back to the closer role for now, but if Miller continues to struggle, Burgoon will be the third guy. If for some reason we don't have to use Burgoon in a Friday and Saturday, we could see him on Sunday as well.
- Ryan LaMarre is due to have the pins out of his thumb tomorrow (Wednesday). It should be at least a week of rehab to build up strength. Maloney expects LaMarre to battle to get in quicker against Indiana, but "but that might be a bit of a reach."
- Coley Crank has been a surprise to Maloney. They knew he'd one day be an offensive force, but his explosion this early was surprising. He's also greatly improved his defense.
- "Chris Berset is playing at an unbelievable level right now. He's truly one of the best catchers in the country right now."
- "Dufek hasn't been hitting them out of the park, but he's been starting to come alive with the bat." We'll have some more on this later in the week here at mgoblog.
- We're playing at Stanford next year, at LSU in 2012.
- Rain delays in Atlanta pushed back getting into Ann Arbor from 10pm Sunday via airplane to 2pm Monday (with a 12 hour bus trip).
- WTKA will broadcast 10 games this season between WTKA and WLBY
So it sounds like LaMarre is still on schedule. I wouldn't be surprised to see Ryan get a few at bats against Indiana, at least in a DH or pinch hitter role, most likely the latter.
Baseball America is reporting that the injury is indeed a broken thumb:
Michigan junior outfielder Ryan LaMarre, a third-team preseason All-American, will miss four to five weeks with a broken thumb, Wolverines coach Rich Maloney told Baseball America this afternoon. LaMarre suffered the injury saturday, when he dove for a ball in the outfield and landed funny. Maloney said it was a clean fracture, so LaMarre should not be affected long-term.
"It's a tough blow for everybody," Maloney said. "It's not fun having your star player out when you're playing the toughest schedule you've ever played—you can't replace what he brings. It is what it is; we'll go back in and claw and battle and fight, and he'll be back for Big Ten play."
This, well, this sucks. It goes on to discuss the same left field by committee I've mentioned previously, with primary backup first baseman Garrett Stephens looking like the first option so far.
The loss will be huge with the BigTen/BigEast Challenge, the UNC series, and the Coastal tournament over the next three weekends.If the five week schedule holds in place, that makes him available for the opening weekend of BigTen play. From there, it's a question on how effective he'll be after that long of a time off.
For those of you who paid attention last year, this is quite similar to the Berset injury suffered sliding head first into second base. Berset broke his thumb in the second weekend of the season at Jacksonville (March 1) and would not return until April 15. That's close to what we're looking at right now.
(Both screen grabs taken from Texas Tech's stream of the game)
Bring back those crutches. As a matter of fact, bring them back and then give me one hell of a dong punch to the soul. That's the way this weekend ended.
After taking the first two games from Jacksonville State by scoring an average of 16.5 runs per game, Michigan started the season in much the same way as last year, a chance injury to a star player. This year, it's Preseason All-American Ryan LaMarre.
After diving for a ball in left center, Ryan got up slowly. Reports had him holding either his hand or arm. I've heard everything from hand to wrist to arm to shoulder. The specifics of the injury are still a mystery, but in today's Daily, we hear that the only thing definite is that LaMarre will be out:
He left the game, and his status remains unclear until further evaluation in Ann Arbor today. Michigan coach Rich Maloney, though, thinks that he may miss "an extended period of time."
“Obviously, that’s going to hurt,” Maloney said of the loss of LaMarre. “Someone else is going to have to step up. Injuries happen to all teams. It’s unfortunate that it’s our star player, but in the same token, we’re a team. Somebody else is going to have to pick up the slack.”
This isn't what we needed. We'll know more as the week progresses, but for now, I'm elevating the Curse of 2009-2010 alert to Orange. There is a High Risk of the Angry Michigan Hating God intervening this season.
Continuing the baseball previews in a build up to opening day this Friday, I'll look at how the team's outfield and catchers look this season.. Previous preview posts: Initial Schedule Reaction, Maloney Podcast, A Look Back, The Infield.
There is no more valuable person on our team than Chris Berset. Sure, there's a guy at this end of this post that most of you will say is more important. I would counter that with asking who touches the ball the most on the team? Who is the rock that holds the pitching staff on his shoulder? Who played for the
prestigious Great Britian National Team this summer? No, not that guy, Chris Berset.
Berset is now entering his third year as one of the full time catchers (I consider two catchers being full time), after splitting his freshman year with Doug Pickens, commanding the plate virtually to himself his sophomore year, and missing about 20 games last year due to a broken finger. Over his career, Berset owns a .277 batting average, with one particularly bad sophomore slump season at .244 and two other seasons right around .300. Berset quietly is a solid 6 or 7 hole hitter, providing decent power and decent average.
Behind the plate, Chris's arm is only average at best. Berset has caught 33 of 119 attempts on him, giving opponents a .723 stolen base percentage, but where Chris excels is on blocking. There has been an apparent difference in our pitching staff's confidence when Berset is behind the plate compared to his replacements the last two years. Sliders look sharper, fastballs have a little more cut on them. Look no farther than Berset's 2 passed balls last year. In about a third as much playing time, Tim Kalczynski had 11. Berset has a trust level with our pitchers that allows them to be more aggressive, something invaluable.
I've been pretty sold on the idea that Berset was the missing piece last season that cost us just as much as the depth. His broken finger left us void the leader on the field and with the pitchers. Without him, pitchers lost confidence in themselves and the season went down the drain.
Our backup catcher again this year is Coley Crank. As a freshman last year, Crank had quite a bit of playing time, mainly due to Berset's injury. Coley, like Lorenz, didn't appear totally ready for college pitching last year. It'll be interesting to see how he improved over the off season. His stats in the Alaska Summer League didn't look particularly good, but such is baseball when you're out there with wood bats.
Crank didn't have quite the repertoire with his battery mates last year, posting 8 passed balls and not catching any of the 8 runners that tested his arm. I'm hoping he shows improvement this season as he appears to be slated the starter next year. We definitely need him to give Berset days off, and he'll get playing time fairly often. From what I understand, he's shown improvement at the plate and will vie for the DH spot as well.
This year's team is probably the fastest outfield we've had at Michigan in years, and if there is one player on this year's team that epitomizes speed, it's freshman Patrick Biondi. Biondi was drafted by the Tigers in the 35th round but opted to go to Michigan and improve his draft stock. Biondi was clocked with a 60 yard dash time of 6.44 seconds. That's "special speed" as Rich Maloney calls it. That's four out of five fakes for all you football recruitniks.
Biondi will be a force on the basepaths, but getting on base will be the adventure. Maloney plans to lead off with Biondi right out of the gate. This is a tough spot for any freshman, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. The current plan is the "Willy Tavares circa 2005" play. Biondi will be bunting and slow-roller-to-the-infield his way to a record setting number of infield base hits. At least that's the hope. I'm pretty skeptical about this to start the season, but I guess I'll have to see him play first.
As I mentioned in the Preview: The Infielders, I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop to the 8 or 9 hole if he struggles and Lorenz or Dennis can really light it up to start the season. Anything could happen, though.
In right field, Nick Urban will be holding on to his starting spot he earned last season. Nick came to Michigan as primarily a middle infielder, but after falling behind the depth chart to Cislo and Toth, he made the move to the outfield where he has been one of our best defenders. He started the season just filling in for Alan Oaks, but Oaks became a liability defensively and never found his swing on offense. Urban is quite a bit quicker than Oaks in the field and was only a bit behind Oaks in terms of arm strength.
Offensively, Urban never really tore the cover off the ball, but he was quietly efficient. He hit .288 over last season with a .418 slugging percentage (.366 on base). Those numbers will work in the 6 or 7 hole, but I'd like to see him boost both of those this season.
Saving the best hitter on the team for last, Ryan LaMarre will probably be making his last hurrah at Michigan this season and playing center field. Ryan is a special talent and has gained Pre-season All-American 3rd Team honors at a laundry list of websites and magazines that hand out such honors. Between his dominant last season, hitting .344 with 12 home runs, 55 runs scored, 62 RBI, and a .599 slugging percentage, and his solid season in the Cape Cod League, Ryan definitely could go pro. Like some of you, I've heard his plan was to go to the show after his junior year for quite some time now. I've got no inside knowledge, so take it FWIW.
LaMarre is definitely poised to be a 1st Team All BigTen again this season, and will be anchoring the 3-hole in the lineup. LaMarre doesn't really have any holes in his college game. He is a solid college outfielder with a great bat and great work ethic. There isn't much else to say about him. The kid is a player and he'll probably be drafted in the first 10 rounds of the draft this next year. Here's hoping he might just stay.
For those interested in stats:
Coming Up Next
I'm hoping to get a look at the conference and the schedule one more time before the season starts, but life is getting busy at just the right time.
With baseball season officially starting Friday, I'm going to make several sporadic posts over this week in order to preview the team. For starters, I may suggest going back to my previous podcast with Rich Maloney or my initial reaction to our schedule, which I will probably update my outlook after completing my previews.
Last year's record came in at a less than sterling 30-25, the lowest win total since Rich Maloney stepped on campus. The 9-15 BigTen record is tied for the 6th worst conference record in Michigan history (102 seasons), and the worst since 2000 when the team went 10-18. Obviously last year was a disappointment. So much like football, hockey, basketball, or most other sports that get coverage around these parts, baseball was just as involved in the recent so called "curse of 09-10" as Brian put it in mgo.licio.us.
Michigan came into the season with the usual high expectations, but something was different than years past. After losing 4 players to the draft early, Michigan wasn't able to reload with talent it usually would have (how can you when they get drafted 4 months after signing day and less than 3 months before school starts?). Michigan was starting a true freshman at third base, a key middle reliever's career was cut short by surgery, our right field spot was wide open, our designated hitter came out of nowhere in the form of unknown little brother of MLB player Nate McLouth, and our off the field narrative in the media was "walk-ons lead the team." I think the Ann Arbor News really hit the spot last year in their preseason article:
Many of the would-be run producers are tenured but inexperienced, including corner outfielders Kenny Fellows (fifth-year senior) and Nick Urban (fourth-year junior).
"We have a lot of guys with some potential, but they don't have bios yet," Maloney said. "It's kind of a wild card."
Oh, and what a wild card it was. Consistency was never something Michigan could grasp. Eric Katzman earned the alternate persona of Evil Katzman at least once every two weeks. McLouth fluctuated wildly in terms of plate production. Third base was a carousel between John Lorenz and Tim Kalczynski. Right field was Urban, Oaks, Urban again. Burgoon was injured and the bullpen went by committee. We lost Kevin Cislo and Chris Berset for stretches of the season. Nothing seemed to go right.
Well, almost nothing. Chris Fetter, our senior ace was the one consistent bright spot. Fetter carried the team for most of the season, eating up innings and mowing down line ups. He is responsible for our BigTen best team ERA of 4.80. But there was a lack of depth behind him. Before the season ever started, we lost Ben Jenzen, one of our top relievers from the season before. Left handed freshman Bobby Brosnahan, the pitching gem of the incoming class, was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. For a period of 6 weeks, we lost our closer, Tyler Burgoon with a shoulder bruise suffered trying to make a play on a bunt.
So while Fetter could carry us through a Friday game, Saturday and Sunday became an adventure in the bullpen. Like clockwork, you could set an implosion coming every three weeks. The weeks of Evil Katzman meant the bullpen was routinely called in during the third or fourth inning, sometimes earlier. Our Sunday starting position during the first half of the season was just as inconsistent. Travis Smith struggled, as did Kolby Wood and Brandon Sinnery.
Not until Alan Oaks re-entered the rotation did we gain any extra consistency. By then, Fetter was already showing signs of fatigue from his highest inning total ever.
Dear Ryan, please don't leave us after this season, attrition hurts.
(Photo by Jeremy Cho, Michigan Daily)
On offense and defense, preseason depth hurt here, too. Adam Abraham left for the majors after his junior year leaving a HUGE void at third base. John Lorenz would have had time to red shirt and prepare for the college game. Instead, he and walk on senior Tim Kalczynski ended up playing third base by committee. Timmy Kal had been a catcher previous to this move. That's how bad we were hurting at depth. Neither player was that great offensively, especially not compared to the great player that Abraham was.
Joining these two on the left side of the infield was a first year starter in Anthony Toth. While his size would lead most people to think of Toth as a second baseman, he was given the keys to short stop with no real back up available. Toth did alright at the plate, eventually giving a decent hitter in the 9-hole. On the field, he was about average. He committed quite a few errors, always at the worst time, but he wasn't horrible.
In right field, Alan Oaks began the season sick, missing the first two weeks of the season. This opened the door for a previous back up middle infielder Nick Urban to get the starting nod. This actually worked out well for Michigan. Urban was the better defensive outfielder with great speed. Upon Oaks' return to the lineup, he hadn't regained his swing yet either.
In all, we were missing at least four veteran players from the draft, and another 2-3 players at any particular point of the season depending who were injured.
To complicate things, Michigan's hitters really loved the strikeout this year. Mike Dufek struck out once in every 3.8 at bats, Most players average about 4 at-bats per game for a reference. That's killer for an offense when the clean-up hitter strikes out that much. He wasn't alone, however, as Toth and Oaks were nearly as bad with a strikeout every 5 at bats. Michigan finished second in the conference in team strikeouts, one behind Minnesota. The problem was that Michigan only bat .294 while the Gophers hit .314. That was the difference between a 7th place finish and a 2nd place finish.
On the whole, an outsider looking at our team would have seen one great pitcher, and depending on the weekend, either a couple of average pitchers or several really bad pitchers. On offense, they'd seen a bunch of walk on players, some better than others, and a rotating cast of fill ins.
In the next installment of the previews, I'll examine how our depth has adjusted in the last year after getting a full recruiting class, some players healthy, and some more experience.