Mike Lantry, 1972
Baseball Regional Preview
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.