Michigan baseball (8-12-1) begins Big Ten play this weekend on the road against the preseason conference favorite and defending conference champion Indiana (10-8). Today's game is about to start; the Saturday game is scheduled for 2:05 pm; and the Sunday game, which will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network, starts at 1:05 pm.
By RPI ratings (see Pseudo-RIPs), Indiana is a significant favorite, with the Wolverines at #162 and the Hoosiers #21. But Michigan has shown improvement since a rough start to the season, especially in their pitching, and their team ERA of 3.43 is third in the Big Ten (Indiana is first at 2.69). Michigan's record is somewhat deceiving because they've been in a bunch of close games, most of which they lost. Their record in one-run games is 3-7, and they also lost one game by two runs that went into extra innings. A number of the close losses came early in the season when closer Jacob Cronenworth was unable to pitch because he was still recovering from off-season labrum surgery. The team lost more than one game in which they had gone into the late innings with a lead. Cronenworth has proved how vital he is to the team since returning to the mound as he's appeared in five games and earned 1 win and 4 saves.
In regard to the starters, fifth-year senior Ben Ballantine (2-0, 2.08 ERA) has performed so well that he's been moved into the #1/Friday pitching spot and will start today's game. With 27 strikeouts, he's tied for the Big Ten lead in that category. Pitching for Indiana today is southpaw Joey DeNato, who's 3-1 on the season with a 1.95 ERA.
Erik Bakich said on his WTKA interview this week that he expects the team to be back at full strength for this series. That includes Jackson Lamb, who's been in and out of the lineup the last few weekends because of a back injury. Lamb is back in the starting lineup today, and hopefully he can help bolster the Wolverines' offense. Michigan ranks eighth in the Big Ten in batting average at .240. Jackson Glines has been stellar all year, Kyle Jusick has been consistently good, and Travis Maezes broke out of his slump last weekend and is now batting over .300—but they could use a couple more players getting some timely hits.