Opponent Record (rank): 7-1 (#13 in CBI's composite poll)
Michigan Record (rank): 4-4 (unranked)
All Time Series: 7-3 (Last game – W 1-0, neutral site, 3/6/2005)
Chapel Hill, NC
This weekend, Michigan takes on the University of North Carolina as an underdog. The Tarheels enter the series ranked as high as #12 in the coaches' and writers' poll. The lowest ranking they have is #20 in the BaseballAmerica poll. They've got a 7-1 record over nobody of importance and a loss to Maine.
UNC is one of the more talented teams Michigan will face this season, coming off a College World Series berth and one of their best teams ever. The good news is they lost the anchors to last years team, including pitcher Alex White and hitter Dustin Ackley, the #15 and #2 overall picks in the last MLB draft. They also lose their second starter and their second and fourth best hitters. This isn't the same Tarheel team.
As such, this year's UNC team has struggled despite their pretty record. Like Michigan, they've had games with big offensive numbers, but decent to good pitching spells trouble. They aren't scoring as few runs as Michigan, but they aren't blowing out the teams they've played. Given their quality, they probably should have. In their loss to an unusually solid Maine pitching staff, the Tarheels managed 11 hits, but scored only 3 runs and stranded 9 base runners.
They sound, not only from the Maine loss but their entire season, like a team reminiscent of Michigan last year. A type of team where a pitching duel would leave them in some hot water. That's exactly what Michigan wants to do this weekend.
Plus, recent history is on our side. In our last game against UNC in 1995, Michigan won in a pitchers duel by a score of 1-0. Michigan registered a game winning double in the top of the 9th to secure an upset of #10 UNC at a tournament in Greenville, NC. [Continued after the jump.]
Looks good so far. Winds are a little strong on Friday. The field faces predominantly south, but slightly to the west. I wouldn't even call it south by southwest it's so little. That means winds are going to be blowing almost straight out to left. The left field line is 335' and the gap is 370'. That's pretty good distance, but not out of reach even without the wind.
Like Michigan, UNC has three solid starters who have performed admirably this season. Friday night starter Matt Harvey was their third best starter last season posting a less than awesome 5.40 ERA in 21 appearances (13 starts). The right hander's 7-2 record was fourth best on the team. Over 75 innings last season, Harvey struck out 81 and walked 42 while giving up 88 hits, 21 for extra bases. This season, Harvey is looking better at 1-0 in 2 starts, averaging 6.2 innings pitched and giving up just 4 runs. His strikeout rate is good at just under 1 per-inning.
Saturday's starter has been the best by the numbers this season. Patrick Johnson is another right handed junior who sports a 1-1 record and a 1.38 ERA. He's struck out 12 in 12 innings of work this season, and was the recipient of some bad defensive play in the loss to Maine. His defense gave up two unearned runs, the difference in the game. It's also worth noting that Johnson already has 3 pick-offs to his name this year. Someone learned a thing or two about pick-offs from Alex White.
On Sunday the Wolverines will face redshirt junior and righty Colin Bates. Bates was the one of the primary relievers out of the bullpen for UNC last season, posting a 4-4 record in 34 appearances. His 6 saves was a team high. This season has been a little bit rougher with a 4.50 ERA, but he has a team leading two wins in his record and has struck out 12 in 12 innings of work.
UNC, being a southern baseball powerhouse, has quite a bit of depth behind their starters. So far, Michael Morin, a freshman, has seen the most time out of the bullpen with 5 innings over 3 appearances. He's given up 1 run while striking out 4 and walking two. Jimmy Messer is a sophomore with limited time as a starter and reliever last season. He's thrown 4 innings over 3 appearances, striking out 4 and giving up 2 runs (1 earned).
Most of their bullpen seems to be freshmen and sophomores with little experience. While that may sound all well and good for Michigan, they're almost all some of the top pitchers from their respective states, and they've all done well in their limited time pitching this season.
As much as I've downplayed UNC's offense in trying to inspire hope, it's still a very good squad overall. Their second leading hitter from last year, Ben Bunting, returns this season and has picked up where he left off last season. Last season Bunting held a .336 batting average and a .854 OPS. He was a solid average hitter with just a little bit of power. This season looks to be much the same. The lead off batter is hitting .444 in 27 at bats with a .559 on base percentage. He's still been predominately a singles hitter, knocking in only 3 RBI and scoring 4 runs.
The big hitter for UNC has been Dillon Hazlett. Hazlett is a JUCO transfer who was a 2nd Team All-American at the junior college level. So far this season, he's batted .458 with a team high 10 RBI while slugging only .583. He's been in the bottom of the order so far for the Tarheels, but I have to imagine he might get moved around a bit.
Speaking of moving around the lineup a little bit, I think that might just be in the cards for the Tarheels based on how this season has been going. Their 2-hole hitter Tommy Coyle is performing this season. The freshman isn't really putting the ball in play much, although he has managed to walk 7 times already this season. His current slugging percentage is just .174. He's made the most of his walks, scoring 8 times this season, tied for the team lead.
Behind him in the 3-hole, there hasn't been a ton of production either, but third baseman Levi Michael has performed when pitched to. He's walked 11 times this season for an on base percentage of .576. He may not be hitting them in (6 RBI), but he is scoring (tied for a team high with 8 runs).
As per usual, I'll provide links that might not have come out late for my last update or relevant other media links here.
- Baseball America interviews Alan Oaks. Good stuff about pitching mentality, but my personal favorite is his description of the 2007 home run off Pitcher of the Year David Price to secure the greatest upset in college baseball in the recent era:
I was just a freshman and wasn't really expecting to be in the game. Then coach yelled at me because of the matchup we had—we had another freshman in who hadn't really hit much, so I pinch-hit for him. I got to a 3-1 count, and I was just sitting dead-red. I knew he was going to try and throw it by me—he throws 95. So I hit it and I didn't really know what happened at first, and then I saw it go out. I was just on cloud nine for about a week until we went to Oregon (for super regionals against Oregon State).
- Tarheels.com does their pre-weekend preview remembering back to UNC's defeat of Michigan in the 1978 College World Series. They didn't win it, obviously, as no ACC team has won the CWS since 1955. Michigan's won a CWS since then. Minnesota has won 3. And people call the ACC a baseball power. Yes, that's a bit of sarcasm.
As positive as I'm trying to be, it's tough going into a series like this. If Michigan wins one, I think it's a victory of a series. I think we have the chance to win two, most likely Friday and Sunday, assuming our rotation stays the same as last weekend. I think the ability to throw Oaks and Sinnery as well as Burgoon and Sinnery is a great combination that will make any team struggle. Saturday will come down to how well Miller performs and if we can save as much of the bullpen as we can from throwing in the Friday game.
Also as a note, Burgoon is the tentative Sunday starter, but if we need him to secure a victory on Friday, or possibly even Saturday, he may come in to help clinch a game. That's the idea of the TBA for Sunday each of the last two weeks.
I'm encouraged by the way the offense started to at least show signs of life against USF, and Florida Gulf Coast could be a big sign of things to come.
To throw a definite prediction out there, I think Michigan wins the Sunday game, drops Friday in the last inning, and Saturday loses in a slugfest.