- Tracy Ko/Daily
By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 4, 2014
The final opinion of Michigan baseball’s 2014 campaign is completely in the eye of the beholder.
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There was a second consecutive winning season, the first 30-win season since 2010 and an underclassmen core that looks to lead the program for years to come.
But there were also excruciating losses in every way imaginable, another season middling in the Big Ten and a sixth straight failure to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Daily makes sense of the highs and lows of the season, handing out final grades for the Wolverines.
The bats proved to be the Wolverines’ biggest weakness most of the season. Hitting only .256 as a team and scoring just 4.42 runs per game, the offense wasted many solid pitching efforts — nine of Michigan’s 29 losses came when the team allowed three runs or less.
There were highlights, of course, as the Wolverines tacked on 10 hits or more 16 times and piled on 18 runs against Northwestern on May 3, and ranked second in the Big Ten with 81 stolen bases. But when it came down to it, the inability to keep innings alive (Big Ten-leading 355 strikeouts) or score against top pitching (just 2.92 runs per game in series-opening games) led to Michigan’s demise.
Freshman outfielder Jackson Lamb made SportsCenter with his diving catches, sophomore Jacob Cronenworth flashed the leather all over and juniors Eric Jacobson and Kyle Jusick solidified the right side of the infield with zero errors in 439 chances. The Wolverines were solid on defense for much of the season, tying for fourth in the conference with a .972 fielding percentage.
But the errors Michigan did make proved to be costly. Five errors in its opening doubleheader Feb. 14 caused the Wolverines to blow leads in back-to-back losses. Three late-game errors cost Michigan a game against Minnesota April 4. And six errors committed against Notre Dame on April 9 marked infamy unlikely to be matched by any Wolverine team past or future.
Michigan’s greatest strength, the pitching staff, was third in the Big Ten with a 3.21 ERA and tallied 30 more strikeouts than any other team. Showing the ability to contain even top offenses, the Wolverine pitchers kept their team in many games they had no business being in.
The freshmen led the way, going 12-3 with 2.73 earned-run average in 112 innings. In total, Michigan will return its top nine pitchers in earned-run average next season, providing promise for another strong year on the mound.
This team was not expected to win a national title, nor was it expected to be below .500 until May 11. Consistency proved to be a major problem for the Wolverines, but the talent showed up frequently enough to tie for fourth in the Big Ten.
The expectations will be higher with another top-20 recruiting class and up to 27 of 32 players returning next season. But for now, being the fourth-best team in the Big Ten can only be seen as a minor disappointment.