Last season, the Michigan baseball team got off to a horrid 4-11 start.
It lost a three-game series to Lipscomb — which had just a .444 win percentage last season. The Wolverines were outscored by an average of 1.2 runs in the first 15 games and posted a batting average of .230 while their opponents maintained an average of .255.
Michigan had its worst moment, though, in its home opener, when they lost 8-3 to Lawrence Tech, an NAIA school that lost its final game by a score of 28-0 to the Indiana Institute of Technology.
Yet, after that 8-3 loss to the Blue Devils, the Wolverines won their next 20 games, outscoring opponents by an average of five runs.
During that win streak, Michigan found itself brandishing a team batting average of .317. Its defense also found its groove. Its pitchers held opposing hitters to a .197 batting average and the team averaged just 1.05 errors per game — at one point going four straight games without an error.
“Just the consistency of the approach and the mindset,” said Wolverines coach Erik Bakich. “It’s one thing to get up for Big Ten play, it’s one thing to be able to have a lot of energy when the team is winning or has the lead in the game. It’s another to be able to bring it to training days, to be able to take care of the little things, keeping the locker room clean, going into the weight room and really getting after it and just competing in everything.”
Then Michigan lost, and kept losing. The Wolverines ended the season having won only one of their last six regular season games. Their batting average dropped to .205, while its opponents managed a .251 average, eventually leading to them being outscored 35-16.
The slump couldn’t have come at a worse time, as they quickly crashed out of the Big Ten tournament after three days, only winning one game: a tournament-opening 2-1 victory over Iowa.
Last year, most of the core players on the rollercoaster team were underclassmen, having lost 11 juniors to the MLB draft in the previous offseason. This year, the team returns eight defensive starters and 10 pitchers, as well as most of its offensive production.
“I see a group of kids who’ve had another birthday, who’ve gotten stronger, who’ve become more physical,” Bakich said. “So I would like to think we’re capable of hitting for more power this year and I like to think some of our pitchers are going to be stronger, more durable. We’ve seen some bumps in velocity from some of our pitchers, and they look more physical on the mound as well.”
Stronger hitters and more durable pitchers should benefit this team, but if Michigan wishes to make as far of a run as its talent allows, it’ll also need to learn how to lessen the slumps and stay consistent.
“I think this group has a lot of potential,” said Bakich. “On paper, at least, the pieces are there to have a special, magical type of season. We’ve got our goals set as high as you can set them, and in terms of how we’ve prepared and being around these guys every day, it feels like a championship team.”
This season, the growth of their breakout freshmen and sophomores will need to not only come physically but also mentally. If they can translate their experience from last year into taming the waves they go through, and finding a way to get hot towards the end of the season, perhaps the team can meet Bakich’s lofty expectations.