As the Michigan baseball team (11-0 Big Ten, 24-11 overall) has racked up an astounding 20 straight wins, all eyes have shifted on the Wolverines.
Every fan of Big Ten baseball is not just glancing at Michigan, rather, they are intently staring it down, waiting for it to finally crack and relent a loss to a Big Ten opponent. So far, the Wolverines remain perfect in conference play and have used a confluence of elite pitching, consistent offense and lockdown defense to stifle any and all opponents.
However, this glorified streak — the longest under Michigan coach Erik Bakich — is in jeopardy, as the Wolverines are set to face Iowa (7-6, 24-13) in a weekend series.
All of the Big Ten teams Michigan has faced currently slumber in the basement of the conference standings while Iowa’s record comfortably posits them in the top half. Iowa’s roster contains the most talent the Wolverines have seen over their streak and threatens the team with an a strange, yet familiar situation — a loss.
To gain some insight into the Hawkeye lineup, the Michigan Daily sat down with Anthony Osnacz, a student scout at the University of Iowa for the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network.
The Michigan Daily: What would you say is the biggest storyline for the Hawkeyes right now?
Anthony Osnacz: I would probably say Tyler Cropley right now. He’s having a fantastic season, hitting .365 and he’s got somewhere around 5 or 6 bombs. He’s just having an outstanding year and it’s his senior year so it really does mean something. He’s just been tremendous for this team. He’s really elevated us in a sense. So I’d say he’s one of the biggest storylines. Then you also have Chris Whelan, and this guy’s coming off Tommy John surgery. He came back about 2 or 3 weeks ago and he’s been DHing for us. He’s been a huge player for us, he’s hitting .330 in the games he’s been back, he’s got some nice pop, he’s great at getting on base. He’s been a really good story — he actually got cut from his last college team so just a good resiliency story. He walked on to the team, had Tommy John surgery, missed a lot of last year, came back this year, and he’s been great.
TMD: How has the team been playing recently?
AO: They looked pretty sharp this week. We dropped two last weekend to Minnesota but they’re #25 in the country right now. I’d say we’re just kind of holding steady but all in all it’s been a pretty good season except for the series last week. It’s an interesting team, there’s a lot of youth too, we’ve got a lot of underclassmen who we’re kind of relying on. Guys like Kyle Crowl, Justin Jenkins, guys like that.
TMD: How does the pitching situation set up for this weekend?
AO: We have a pretty good rotation. Our number one is Nick Allgeyer. He’s a guy who is also coming off Tommy John, he’s been huge for us this year. He’s pretty much your prototypical Big Ten ace. He’s just 90-92 (with the fastball), he’s got a big 12-6 curveball. He’s just been a real reliable guy for us, pounds the zone, gets a lot of Ks actually for what his stuff is. Then you got Brady Schanuel, who’s got probably the best stuff on the team, but he’s been struggling mightily with his command of late, so he’s the wild card. The guy can strikeout 12 or walk 10 and blow up on you. But he’s an interesting guy for sure. And then we got Cole McDonald, who’s been super hot of late. I don’t know what clicked for him but the past two or three weeks — he’s really been on fire. He’ll sit 90-92, he’s got a pretty good curveball that gets a lot of swings and misses. He’s an interesting pitcher and our number three guy.
TMD: What are the weaknesses for the Iowa team?
AO: There’s a little bit of a lack of power. We’ve got (Tyler) Cropley and (Robert) Neustrom and then it kind of tails off. In addition to that, I would say our offense as a whole is kind of weak right now. We just came off a 12 run game but it was against UW-Milwaukee. Relief pitching is definitely an area of weakness. We rely heavily on some of our younger guys. We’ve got three guys that they’ll lean on and then it’s up to the freshmen and that’s always hit or miss. Some guys just don’t have any command right now so it’s kind of rough at times. So I’d say the bullpen and then getting extra base hits.
TMD: What needs to go right this weekend for Iowa?
AO: I would say what’s really key is probably Brady Schanuel. If he can get his command together and piece together a real nice game, I could see McDonald or Allgeyer getting a win too and if we can get Schanuel to pitch a good game, I think we could come away with the series. Having our starters go deep into games would also be huge so we don’t have to rely so heavily on the iffy bullpen situation.
TMD: Finally, what’s your prediction for the weekend?
AO: I think it’s in my best interest to say I see us taking the series 2-1. But it should be a fun one, I’m excited. Looking forward to it.