About halfway through the St. John's game, I had come to the conclusion that Michigan 2010 (minus Ryan LaMarre) is Michigan State of 2009. Last year, the Spartans were a dark horse contender in the Big Ten with a couple good batters but were unable to score runs. They relied on their pitching to an extreme, winning several games of the 2-0 variety but also losing games 4-1. Each game was a test of patience for Spartan fans as they hoped and prayed that their offense might give their pitchers just enough support. They finished the Big Ten season at 13-11, good for fifth in the conference.
by Mike James, Four Seam Images
So now we look at Michigan. A team that, since the LaMarre injury, is averaging 4 hits per nine innings and 1.88 runs per nine innings. That's not going to have us competing in the Big Ten, at least from a championship perspective.
Let's take a broad perspective of the weekend in an attempt to stay positive. It's still early in the season. We're still tinkering with the lineup. Our pitching has been spectacular. Our offense showed signs of life by Sunday. We were never completely out of any game; everything was a pitchers' duel. Despite the struggles, it isn't all doom and gloom for Michigan right now. As a matter of fact, Baseball America's Aaron Fitt has some good things to say after catching parts of each of our games this weekend:
the Wolverines have enough pitching to keep them afloat. Michigan went just 1-2 this weekend, but it allowed just two runs in each of its three games. Righties Alan Oaks, Matt Miller and Tyler Burgoon all turned in strong starts this weekend and showed good stuff. Oaks sat at 90-92 and showed a good 80 mph slider and a 78 changeup […] A scout I talked to said Miller was up to 92 and showing a good four-pitch mix Saturday, and Burgoon racked up seven strikeouts over six innings Sunday thanks to an 87-91 mph fastball, a big-breaking slurve and a decent changeup. And sophomore righty Brandon Sinnery will be a rock in the bullpen thanks to a nasty 74-76 breaking ball.
So with that, a recap of the weekend's games, the left field situation, and the pitching staff: [Ed: after the jump.]
vs. Louisville, L 0-2
For all the press that Thomas Royse of Louisville is getting for this game, Alan Oaks (right from mgoblue) was just as impressive. After a shaky first inning that would plate a run on a sacrifice fly, Oaksie settled in and mowed through the Louisville lineup. His 7 inning, 2 run performance was Michigan's first "quality start" of the season, and might have just solidified Oaks's spot at the top of the rotation. He would strikeout 7 and walk only 1, giving up one solo homer as his only blemish after the first inning. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt is planning something special on Alan going into next weekends games.
Brandon Sinnery, who we'll talk more about later, came in and closed down Louisville over the last two innings giving up just one hit, facing the minimum 6 batters. But despite giving up only two runs, Michigan couldn't plate a single run.
In fact, Michigan could only muster two hits all game long. Those were registered by Patrick Biondi and Anthony Toth, unfortunately they couldn't come in the same inning.
What plagued Michigan most was their lack of aggressiveness at the plate. Home plate umpire Mike Gillis had a strike zone that was from the ground up. The catcher for the Cardinals was routinely dropping to his knees anticipating the need to block a ball in the dirt. They were called strikes in critical times of the count more than not. It was crushing. Michigan ended up striking out 12 times on the night.
I will point out that Gillis's strike zone was actually consistent for the entire game. Louisville made the adjustment to paint the low pitch with their pitcher and swing at them when on offense. Michigan watched several strike two's slide in just above the dirt, give a look back to the umpire in surprise, and then swing wildly at a similar pitch out of their zone. It was tough to deal with I'm sure, but Louisville managed to at least put the balls in play, whether they amounted to hits or not.
vs. St. John's, L 1-2
So everything I said about the Louisville game about good pitching but no offense… you can re-paste that here. Matt Miller threw a great 6 innings of baseball, giving up 7 hits but managing to escape with only 2 runs scored against on 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. He looked really good, working out of a couple innings with runners on base and not surrendering the big inning.
Behind him, Bobby Brosnahan and Kolby Wood pitched a scoreless 3 innings. It was good to see Brosnahan bounce back after his rough second appearance last weekend. He went 2IP with 2 hits, a walk, and 2 strikeouts. Wood threw a perfect 9th with three straight ground ball outs.
I guess you could say our offense progressed in this game, but that's not saying very much. The team registered 5 hits, two of them by Chris Berset (above left from mgoblue), one of which was a double off the wall. Berset also claimed our only run scored on a Nick Urban sacrifice fly.
The best news was the cut down in strikeouts. Only 4 came in this game as the strike zone was a little bit closer to normal for most of the game. There were a few that fooled the announcers, particularly late in the game, but nothing like Friday night.
Finally, a victory. Finally, run support. It's amazing how things work when you score more runs than the opponent.
This game featured more great pitching from Michigan, again only allowing 2 runs from another solid offensive unit. Tyler Burgoon (right from mgoblue) started this game, giving up 3 hits and 2 runs in 6 innings of work. His walk to strikeout ratio was 0 to 7. That's always a good day. He also registered 4 straight 1-2-3 innings in the middle of his outing. Great start.
Behind Burgoon, Brandon Sinnery got his second appearance of the weekend throwing 3 perfect innings, striking out 5. Sinnery earned himself the only mention of Michigan in the All Tournament Team as an honorable mention from his work in this game. Not that our starters weren't deserving of credit, there were just quite a few other pitching gems this weekend.
Offensively, we got to see some fireworks in this game. John Lorenz knocked his first home run of the year, a solo shot to left aided by the wind. Chris Berset added one as well. In all, Michigan registered 9 hits, including multi-hit games by Berset, Lorenz, Biondi, and Toth. We still struck out an a ridiculous rate, 12 Ks in the game, but we managed to string in a few hits between them this time around. So while I'm not happy with the 12 strikeouts, they guys did enough to win.
Left Field Situation
With LaMarre sidelined and Biondi moved to center, we've had 3 different left fielders in the mean time. Those three are backup first baseman Garrett Stephens, backup third baseman Kevin Krantz, and backup catcher/designated hitter Coley Crank (right from mgoblue). Stephens has yet to produce too much in the outfield, with a lone hit and RBI coming from Stephens. Krantz is 0-for-the-two games he's played, but did make a great defensive play to gun a runner at second. Coley Crank was the latest starter, getting in some time against South Florida. It's nice to have the bat in the outfield, but I have this feeling that Michigan is lucky he hasn't been tested defensively yet.
Even with Coley filling in the left field slot, that only opens up another spot in the lineup for a designated hitter. In the game with Crank in left, Maloney tried the freshman Cam Luther, a kid with the potential to be the next big basher a la Dufek. That didn't quite pan out, but it was just the kid's first game. There's still a big question in who can produce in the lineup. It's up for grabs between any of the names mentioned here, and I can't see it being taken by anyone else.
If there's one thing to really make me feel good about this season, it's our depth at starting pitcher. Oaks looks like he'll be a workhorse, Miller looks like he'll dominate with power, and Burgoon can dominate with control. That combination is tops in the BigTen, hands down. It was the top staff out of all the teams I watched this weekend. That's got me smiling.
What has me just as excited is Brandon Sinnery (left from mgoblue). I've been pretty high on this kid since his first starts last season, probably a bit too high some would argue. It's great to see him dominating like this. I feel like he's taking the spot Ben Jenzen would have occupied the year before, or even 2009 had he been healthy. He's a guy capable of going a couple innings and dominating you all the way through. If there is one hope against the Angry Michigan Pitcher Hating God this year, Sinnery will be it.
Around the BigTen
I wanted to include something a bit different in my weekend recaps this season, particularly a look around the BigTen to gauge how our competition is doing. Unlike football, it's easy to miss college baseball happenings around the country, or this weekend, around the corner from us.
It ended up being a pretty bad weekend for the upper echelon of the BigTen, specifically Minnesota being swept and OSU losing one to Cincinnati 4-12. Minnesota was widely considered to be a near lock for making the NCAA tournament this season. So far they've lost 1 to Akron and lost three straight to UCONN, St. John's, and Louisville. While all of their games were VERY close, they just couldn't manage to get a run across when it mattered most, like a good team should.
OSU, on the other hand, notched two solid victories over USF (and BigEast preseason Pitcher of the Year Randy Fontanez) and a Notre Dame team that doesn't appear half as good as preseason expectations. The latter of those games was a blowout. The Buckeyes loss was somewhat disappointing, but also gives you an idea of the depth of their pitching. They've got Wimmers and Wolosiansky as their 1-2, after that, it gets thin quickly.
Michigan State and Iowa both had solid tournaments, logging a pair of wins each. The biggest surprise might have been Northwestern winning two. For the rest of the conferences, it was a pretty disappointing showing to say the least. Illinois won just one game. Purdue got swept by the bottom of the BigEast. Indiana managed one win against a decent WVU team, but they subsequently fell to two from the BigEast cellar.
- Maine took one of three from North Carolina this weekend. The only reason that's important is because guess where we're headed to next weekend… That's right, North Carolina. The Tarheels are also in an offensive quagmire right now, and the word on the street is that good pitching could steal us a win… or two according to Baseball America's college podcast today.
- The Tuesday game against Flordia Gulf Coast was listed at 7pm. The correct time is 6pm. I may not get a preview up before the game, so know they aren't some pushover team. While we won't be seeing Chris Sale, their ace and one who is widely regarded as one of the top 3 pitching prospects in the NCAA, their team is very good.
- Chris Berset was listed in the Johnny Bench Watch List. I doubt he beats out OSU's Burkhart in the conference, but being listed is great.