Guess who's back? Courtesy of Illinois Baseball Report
Michigan (22-12) went into Champaign looking to keep pace with the league leaders and came out with a 2-1 series victory over the Illini to keep a hold of their first place tie with the Buckeyes at 6-3 in conference. The series definitely had some wild moments, including a Michigan offensive explosion on Friday accompanied by a sterling start from Oaks. That was followed up with a Michigan collapse on Saturday and a hard fought but ugly game on Sunday.
Full Recap after the jump:
So who expected to blow the Illini out of the water to start the game? Not this guy. Who expected Alan Oaks to return to the pitching prowess he started the season with? Not this guy either. Wow was that a ridiculous first few innings, with Michigan coming out and announcing their presence to start the series with back to back doubles to the right center wall. It's not worth going over all of the offense due to the outburst by the entire team and the real story here being Alan Oaks.
Alan Oaks was masterful this game. He went 8 full innings on just 101 pitches, 61 of those for strikes, allowing only seven batters to reach base. He spread out the 5 hits and 2 walks, and managed to give up the only Illini run on a solo home run that meant nothing. He was just on. It's good to see that, especially given his recent slide. If he can do it again next week against Iowa, I think it's safe to say the last few weeks have been more of a fluke.
- Alan Oaks – 8 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K, W
- Mike Dufek – 4/5, 4 RBI, 3 R, HR, 2 2B. First homer of the season to break the slump
- Patrick Biondi – 3/5, 3 R, 1 RBI, SB
- Theme of the weekend: ERRORS. Lorenz and Dennis with one a piece. No harm done, though.
The Opposition Rundown
I forgot to do this for Indiana, but I like to link out to the opposition blog on their game caps. It's good to keep up with the opposition's take for the full picture. Not to mention the other great pictures IBR posts up.
L- Brosnahan (4-3)
And the bats went to sleep. For all the offensive fireworks that Michigan had on Friday night, Saturday was a showcase in ineptitude. Following a lead off home run by Patrick Biondi on the second pitch of the day (seen on his trot above), Michigan went into hibernation, registering just 2 hits over the next 7 innings. Illini starter Kevin Johnson had a stellar game, keeping the Wolverines totally off balance, and worse, just watching strike three float past them. At least three times Michigan players had words for umpires on what they thought weren't strikes. Michigan players were wrong.
Meanwhile, Bobby Brosnahan may have gotten the short end of the stick on the loss. He was his usual sporadic self for the first 4 innings of the game, escaping time and again. That luck ran out though in the 5th inning. The Illini lead off with a bunt single. The ensuing sacrifice bunt was thrown too far off the bag for Dufek to be able to stretch (E: Brosnahan). Lorenz followed that up by dropping the next sacrifice bunt attempt when trying to rush his scoop (E: Lorenz). That loaded the bases on three straight bunt attempts. Then the wheels fell off. A base clearing triple from Illini centerfielder Will Argo gave the Illini the lead, and a sac fly to center, which would have been the third out of the inning, lead to a 4 run lead. That's 3 unearned runs for those counting. Three singles later and Brosnahan was removed for Kolby Wood and Michigan was down 5-1.
There was some fun in the 8th inning. Biondi lead off with a bunt and was called out at first. The call was close, but first base coach Matt Husted let the umpire know what he thought of the call. Husted left the game after that, giving high fives to some of the Michigan fans in the stands as he left the complex to go wait on the bus. The antics did spark some offense though, as Michigan managed three straight singles to plate a run. It was just too little, too late. The Illini would get the run back in the bottom half of the inning and the game was pretty much over.
- Patrick Biondi – 1/4 HR
- LaMarre&Berset – Both 2/4, LaMarre with a run scored
- Theme of the week: ERRORS. Back to back on the bunts by Brosnahan and Lorenz. Caused the wheels to fall off. 4 unearned runs.
- 6-9 holes – 0/14, 5 K
W- Burgoon (5-1)
For the first three innings, this game came about as ugly as they come. The Illini missed three fly outs to left field, both lost in the sun and wind. One was an error that saw Mike Dufek reach second base despite the ball landing maybe 30 feet from the bag. The other was ruled a triple for LaMarre as the towering fly ball to the warning track in left missed hitting the Illini outfielder on his head by about a foot. Both lead off innings, and both lead to easy runs for Michigan.
On the flip side of things, Michigan wasn't that much better on defense. Toth misplayed two balls on the turf, expecting higher bounces than what came of it. The first one cost a run. On the second, the video crew zoomed in on Toth with his glove over his face, probably repeating a bunch of words not suitable for children. As Mark Twain once said, "Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer." I'm not going to lie, I felt the same way as Toth after that play. Luckily, it didn't lead to any more trouble, and Toth finished the game with excellent defense.
Just as disappointing as the early defense was the starting pitching for both teams. The Illini starter had absolutely no control of his fastball, releasing it way inside on right handed batters. That cause quite a panic as Nick Urban had one of those hit him square in the helmet. Nick was down for a minute or two before sitting up and he had to be assisted by trainers to walk off the field. He seemed like he was capable of walking, but definitely looked a bit discombobulated. I've heard from the SID that he's "fine." We'll see if he doesn't take it easy this mid-week against a bad Notre Dame team.
Brandon Sinnery was also pretty disappointing. He had no control on his fastball either. At one point in the 2nd inning, I think he threw 10 curveballs in 11 pitches. It was just the only thing working for him, and the Illini knew it. They just sat back and started hitting him hard. The game was just ugly.
But then came Tyler Burgoon. I don't know if I can describe the presence he brings to the mound. His fastball was sharp. His slider was hit and miss, but only so much to keep the Illini flailing their bats at it. Burgoon is just business up there.
I think I can describe him on the mound best by describing one of only three hits against him. The ball bounded back up the middle quickly enough where Burgoon had no play on it. As soon as the ball passed him, he was already cleaning off the rubber ready to go again, as if perhaps he was just cleaning up his work area after a strikeout. Nothing phases him. He just works. It was beautiful.
Tyler went 5.1 innings, giving up just 3 hits and no runs on 2 walks and a strikeout. He threw 84 pitches, including 51 strikes. Of those 33 balls, half were borderline or purpose pitches (sliders in the dirt). The game totally changed with him on the mound as the Illini were held at bay and the pace of the game turned lightning fast, going from a pace of 3 hours 30 minutes to just 2 hours 55 minutes.
Michigan also managed the big inning while Burgoon was on the mound. With LaMarre reaching on a throwing error by the third baseman, Berset singled to get the runs scoring. Dufek would later reach on a catcher's interference call, followed by a Kittle single and a 2-RBI double by Lorenz that screamed down the LF line and into the corner. A sac fly was then followed by a Biondi triple and a LaMarre single to end up posting a 7 spot.
The rest was just garbage time, mostly me cackling with glee as the Illiniois students on the broadcast lamented "why, why why?" and gave praise to our players.
- Tyler Burgoon – I'll miss you next year.
- Patrick Biondi – 3/3, 3R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2B, 3B. His speed on defense also stood out
- Ryan LaMarre – 3/6, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2B, 3B.
- Theme of the Weekend: Errors. Toth 2x (one for a run). Lorenz 1x.
- Ryan LaMarre – Dove for a ball in foul territory causing me to have flashbacks to Texas Tech.
- Sinnery's fastball – couldn't throw it for a strike without it being slammed to the outfield
This was a good series win and it was enough to keep pace with Ohio State. We're both tied at 6-3, sitting one game ahead of 4 teams tied for third. That series two weeks from now with OSU in Ann Arbor looms large.
But looking at the current, there's only one thing on my mind right now. I was somewhat disappointed with Doug Pickens's finish in the Johnny Bench Award polling a few years ago, but if Chris Berset isn't in the final three for the award this year, this space will turn into the largest anti-Coleman's and anti-Papa John's (sponsors of the award) mouthpiece on the internet. A look at his stats this season:
This weekend, he quashed any semblance of a running game for Illinois. That back door pick to kill the Illini rally in the third inning might have been the turning point in the game. Semi-finalist are going to be selected in a month. Berset better be on that list. I'm starting my email campaign to Kendall Rogers tomorrow to see Berset on his "Position Power Rankings". His absence has been insulting long enough.
The other main point on my mind is may we never play a game on turf again. That's a bit facetious to blame the carpet for the errors, but this was one ugly weekend for Michigan's defense. Michigan committed 7 errors and dropped 2 points in team fielding, which is pretty sizeable jump this late in the season. At this point, I'm about willing to just accept it as being what it is. We're not a great fielding team. I'll just hope that the errors don't cost us a game come Big Ten Tournament time.
On a minor side note, now that Oaks has had a solid performance, my attention to someone struggling moves to Coley Crank. Why you might ask?
That slugging percentage he padded to start the season has fallen pretty drastically. He's down to just .559 slugging, although his average/on-base have stayed fairly constant, slipping just a little bit. His power has dropped quite a bit, registering only 3 doubles in his last 15 games (59 at-bats). Hopefully with Dufek breaking the ice by knocking his first homer of the year will help make up for the power while Crank goes through a slow period.
Michigan has a home and home this midweek with the hated Irish of Notre Dame. The Irish are usually a RPI booster for the Wolverines, but this year's ND team has been horrible, boasting an RPI of only 205 out of 301. Michigan hosts the Tuesday game at 3:05pm at the Fish. Wednesday is in South Bend. Despite the clear weather in the forecast, this series has had a pattern over the last few years of being rained out on Tuesday and forcing a double header at ND. Hopefully we get them at home this year so the Fish faithful can witness the carnage in person.
Next weekend bring Iowa to Ann Arbor, including dangerous lefty Jarred Hippen. No Iowa blog exists, so it's back to my weekend preview this weekend.
Special thanks to Illinois Baseball Report's Thomas Nelshoppen for the great pictures.