If the rest of the conference season goes like this last week, I may be taking a mental health month by May.
Michigan went into Bloomington this weekend for a three game set to open conference play. The first two games were high intensity with plenty of drama, the last game was a huge let down. Despite that let down, Michigan currently sits tied for first place with 4 other Big Ten teams as we emerge 2-1 on the weekend. That's more important than how badly the team face planted on Sunday.
So for full recap, take the jump. My thoughts on the series come after the individual game recaps.
This game doesn't get my usual statistical emphasis, as the game story here is too much.
Game one of the series was packed with the action and drama that usually is reserved for late in the season. Michigan threw itself under the bus in the first five innings, committing 5 errors in route to 5 unearned runs and a 9-3 Hoosier lead. Alan Oaks was out after giving up 8 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits, 3 walks, 2 hit batsmen, and only 3 strikeouts. Indiana fans were their normal obnoxious selves, and Michigan appeared to be in a tailspin that it would never escape from.
But in the 7th inning, Michigan had it's first turn in fortune. After reliever Matt Gerbe finally calmed the Hoosier bats with 3.2 innings and only one run scoring, Michigan finally had their big inning at the plate. With Indiana closer Chris Squires temporarily removed from the pitching rubber (he would return), Michigan reeled off a 5 run inning that was sparked by a Mike Dufek lead off double. A hit batsman and walk later, Hoosier closer Squires would return to the mound (legal as long as you don't exit the lineup), and Mike Kittle came through with a sharp ball back up the middle for an RBI single. Dennis would make it back to back RBI singles, plating Lorenz and Urban. After a groundout to the first baseman to move up the runners, Toth would deliver a 2 RBI single of his own. All of a sudden, it's a one run ball game.
Katzman would come in for the bottom of the 7th, inducing easy ground outs by two of the best hitters in the Big Ten, Jerrud Sabourin and Alex Dickerson. After walking the next two batters, Tyler Burgoon shut the door on the Indiana rally with a deep fly ball to center.
In the 8th, Lorenz would reach base again, but be pinch run for by Ryan LaMarre, making his return to the team for the first time since the thumb was broken. LaMarre stole second and would later score on a Derek Dennis RBI single to tie the game. The atmosphere at Sembower was sucked out the moment the ball left the bat. Dennis would steal second before the Hoosiers intentionally walked Patrick Biondi. They'd both move over, how I can't remember anymore, I want to say wild pitch. It's not in the box score. That leaves Toth then singles to the pitcher for the suicide squeeze. Michigan takes the lead 10-9. Pandemonium.
The lead wouldn't last long though as Indiana's leadoff man Micah Johnson grounded one deep to shortstop, but Dennis threw the ball just out of the reach of Dufek allowing the runner to move to second. The next batter would plate the unearned run to tie the game at 10 a piece.
Michigan managed two base runners in the ninth, but couldn't push the run across. Then the drama was cranked up to max. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Indiana right fielder Michael Early hit a low liner to center field. Biondi misplayed it allowing it to go all the way to the wall. The race was on. Biondi chases, Early rounding second. The throw to Dennis, the perfect relay as Early just barely slips rounding third. Play at the plate… HE'S OUT. HE'S OUT! WE'RE GOING TO EXTRAS. Benches clear as there's pushing and shoving at the plate. The crowd is going nuts. To the tenth!
With one out, Biondi works the count to full and earns the walk. Toth would then line out to right field and the two out rally is on. Biondi steals second, so the Hoosiers give Berset the intentional walk to face Crank, who's been a quiet 1/6 on the day. That backfires as he is pitched around, walked on four pitches. This brings up white hot Mike Dufek. He pulls a hard one through the hole on the right side, two runs score. Michigan leads 12-10.
But it's not over. Urban was hit by a pitch to load the bases again. With Garrett Stephens up, pull out the rye bread and mustard, grandma, it's GRAND SALAMI TIME! A towering bomb to center field, a monster flip of the bat, and a couple of "primal rage screams" from Garrett Stephens and Michigan has a 16-10 lead. Benches clear again this time as the Hoosiers feel Stephens was showing them up. The crowd is ecstatic again.
In the tenth, the Hoosiers get a lead off double, a glimmer of hope peers in for Indiana. The next batter singles, runners at first and second. Pressure is starting to build on Burgoon. A pinch hitter comes in, Burgoon Ks him looking by painting the corner. The next batter flails at a slider and then the high heat. A ground out from the lead off hitter to second seals it. Michigan wins. Huge sigh of relief from the Maize and Blue hopeful. Your's truly is going nuts from the emotional rollercoaster that was the last four hours and twenty-six minutes, by far Michigan's longest game of the season.
Great day to be a Michigan baseball fan.
W- Brosnahan(3-2)… Save- Burgoon(3)
For as high scoring and high theatrics as game one was, coming into game two, you had to expect more of the same. Michigan was starting Bobby Brosnahan in his first conference game on the road. He's been a bit sporadic on control as it is, and he gets pretty emotional, something easily tested in a park with fans as – we'll say vocal – as those in Bloomington. On the flip side, Indiana was throwing Matt Igel who had an ERA over 7 to start the game.
So yeah, if you wanted offense, you'd be genuinely disappointed with this game. Both pitchers pitched extremely well. Michigan jumped out early following back-to-back walks to Biondi and Toth, when Crank singled sharply through the hole on the left side to score Biondi. Dufek would follow that up with a soft grounder to short that went off the end of his bat. Urban would follow that with a chopper through the hole to plate two runs. Michigan would finish with 3 runs with no ball being hit considerably hard.
The game went quietly from then until the 3rd when Crank would work a one out walk and Urban would triple to right center on the hardest hit ball of the day for Michigan. Crank would score just ahead of the throw. Kittle would follow that up with a suicide squeeze to score Urban. Man do I love small ball. This gave Michigan a 5-0 advantage, with the game deciding run.
Indiana would get one run back in the 3rd. Brosnahan got two quick outs before giving up a single through the left side, a walk, and a single to center for an RBI. Luckily, it what had been a recurring theme this weekend, Indiana's base runners were incompetent for much of the first two games. On the cut off to the play at home, Dufek threw to third to get the runner way off the base. He'd been out had Lorenz corralled the throw. Instead the ball got a little bit away from him, but not nearly as far as the base runner thought. He was gunned out at the plate to end the threat.
The Indiana 4th was a near mirror to the Indiana 3rd. Two quick outs were followed by a single through the left side, a walk, and a single to center. After a Brosnahan wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Johnson singled up the middle for two more IU runs.
The Indiana 5th was where I thought Brosnahan's day was going to end. After giving up back to back singles and a walk to lead off the inning, a coaching visit to the mound sized up Brosnahan. The coaches left him in to face the top hitter in the league Jerrud Sabourin as to keep the lefty on lefty match up. Sabourin would pop out to Lorenz on a great defensive play reaching over the railing for out number one. The next hitter was a pinch hitter, who knocked one right at Lorenz. John cushioned the ball to his belly, took a step and delivered the strike to home to get the force out and keep the run from scoring. Two great defensive plays from the sophomore. Brosnahan then struck out the final Indiana batter to get out of the inning unscathed. Huge inning for the team.
Brosnahan kept the fans and the Hoosiers on their heels the next two innings. Just when he would get in trouble, with a hitter reaching base in the 6th, or the heart of the lineup in the 7th, it seemed like this would be the inning that he'd let the damn break. But no, he made it through both innings easily, providing Michigan's bullpen the break they needed after game one. Brosnahan went 7 innings giving up 10 hits and 3 walks, but only giving up 4 runs and striking out 7. Great game for the kid.
Sinnery would get the 8th for Michigan, where he uncharacteristically hit two batters, but managed to get out without giving up a run. Berset made a great play picking a ball out of the dirt to catch a runner hoping the ball would get away from the catcher. The play was close, but the umpires made the out call.
The bottom of the ninth brought the drama again in game two. Sinnery gave up a single to start the frame, and Maloney went with the lefty versus lefty match up as Sabourin and Dickerson were due up. So in comes Katzman, and man was he electric. He had Sabourin on the ropes before inducing a desperation swing and pop up to Lorenz. Dickerson had even less of a chance as he swang wildly through Katzman's pitches. Two huge outs for Katzman, hopefully signaling his return as a solid contributor or even better. Burgoon came in to close the door after that, giving up a single and then a line out to right field to seal the win.
As you can tell by the recap, lots of pitching:
As I write this, Michigan is down 20-3 in the 7th inning. While there is no definite way that this game will end, I'm well within the realm of confidence that Michigan will still end up blown out. This game was ugly from the start. Sure, Michigan grabbed that one run lead to start the game, but the bottom of the first was a sure fire sign of impeding doom.
The bottom of the first could have been much different. The guys on the call for the Hoosiers radio were quite confused with several pitches that appeared to be strikes to them. Eric Katzman, making his third appearance of the weekend, the other two both being 0.2 IP, just couldn't buy a strike from the home plate umpire. With that frustration, his alter ego, Evil Katzman came through.
It would end fairly quickly for Katzman, yet another 0.2 IP, but this time facing 7 batters, giving up 3 hits and 2 hit batsmen for 5 runs. This set a bad tone for the rest of the game, which to this point has included 7 pitchers so far as Travis Smith enters as I type. It's been one hell of a bummer. Wood struggled. Sinnery struggled. Maloney gambled on going back to a lefty, and big surprise, DeCarlo gives up a hit, a walk, and a grand slam. Indiana scored 11 in a 34 minute bottom of the 5th.
Offensively, Michigan never could get a good inning going. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that Michigan's gets a hit from pitcher Travis Smith as I type this. It's one of only 8 hits so far in this game as compared to Indiana's 26. The rest of this game is just garbage time, so let's just move one.
Needless to say, Sunday's finale was nothing short of a huge let down after the excitement in games one and two. I somewhat wonder if Maloney didn't play to the lefty versus lefty match up this weekend. Katzman made an appearance in 3 games, including the start in game 3.
Numbers Game - Lefties vs Lefties
I'm not sure if this was because Maloney sees him as a member of the starting rotation permanently or if he was just trying to get the lefty in against the heavy left handed lineup of the Hoosiers. If it was the latter, Maloney might have struck lucky with Brosnahan and Katzman in game two, but he was burned in game three.
Not being able to see Katzman outside of games, I still feel like this was Miller's game to start. He's been about as good as Katzman was last season, and he's got the innings logged to show he can make a decent start. For Katzman to make his first real start on the road in the Big Ten was dicey in my opinion, and it came back to bite the team. I can see the logic, it just didn't play out.
The Rotation – Worries
I'm getting somewhat concerned with the starting rotation, particularly the Sunday starter, as alluded to in the lefty versus lefty section above, and Alan Oaks. While I don't need to spell out some of the inconsistency of the back end of the weekend rotation, Oaks has been slipping a bit in the last two to three weeks. Sure, he's had solid outings, but he's not dominating lineups like he was to start the season, even against the good teams. I'm worried he's either wearing down under his first year as a starter or just going through a funk. I'm inclined to say the latter as his innings haven't been excessive.
Michigan really needs him to dig deep and put up some better numbers moving forward. He shouldn't have to face another lineup as good as Indiana's any time soon, so that may bode well.
Indiana – Better than I thought
Indiana is a much better team than I gave them credit for going into the weekend. I think Matt Igel threw well beyond his normal potential, but the big surprise was just how good the IU bats were. Sabourin and Dickerson are the best 3-4 hitters in the league, hands down. Both are batting well over .430, and both are capable sluggers.
Their bullpen after Squires is very suspect, but if they can get a quality start out of someone other than Leininger, they'll be a tough series win for any team in the Big Ten. Michigan's talent gap wasn't enough to win two games, it also took a bit of luck.
Michigan faces Central Michigan on Wednesday. No idea who pitches that game as nearly the entire team pitched today. We might see Ballantine as he was the lone guy not to go this weekend. We need a good start out of him, or whoever starts, to get some guys rested.
Next weekend is Purdue. The Boilermakers stole one game from Minnesota, and had another victory in the bag before imploding in the ninth inning on Sunday. We'll look at them more later this week.
If the rest of the conference season goes like this last week, I may be taking a mental health month by May.
ARGH! ARGH! ARGH!
We'll try to get over for part of the game against the Chips. As I recall from last year, they have a ... colorful ... fanbase attending in ann Arbor.
Yes and yes. I forgot to mention errors in the series thoughts. Horrible defense this weekend. Go figure the game we win "easiest" was the one with clean fielding.
And yes, CMU travels well in the state. They are also - we'll call it "vocal" - to say the least. I'll have a quick overview Wednesday before the game.
I'd give the football team gloves, but how many interceptions did Robinson's defense drop?