The No. 25 Michigan baseball team entered this season with relatively high expectations regarding its ability to win the Big Ten and compete in the College World Series. Now, exactly halfway through the regular season, The Daily looks at the Wolverines’ performance thus far, and what the team will need to do to accomplish their preseason goals.
Strong Opener, Transfers Shine
Michigan opened its season in Round Rock, Texas — taking three-of-four games against Iowa. This series was the first indication of the Wolverines’ strength on the mound, as redshirt sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar notched eight strikeouts and yielded just two runs as Michigan’s starter. Sophomore left-hander Jacob Denner also added another seven strikeouts en route to a shutout win in the second-to-last game against the Hawkeyes.
In retrospect, this series was also the coming-out party for the Wolverines’ fifth-year transfer players: Shortstop Benjamin Sems, catcher Griffin Mazur, third baseman Christian Molfetta along with sophomore outfielder Jake Marti each put on strong displays.
“They’re here to fill some holes and plug some gaps,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said.
Since this series, these players have done exactly that, contributing both on the field and in the dugout to maintain the Wolverines’ competitive mindset.
Home Opener With Mixed Results
It had been nearly two years since Michigan played in Ray Fisher Stadium prior to its two-game series against Illinois. In the first game, an underwhelming offensive performance resulted in a defeat, leaving many questions about the Wolverines’ placement among the top-five teams in the Big Ten.
Despite this, one silver lining for Michigan was the emergence of sophomore infielder Jimmy Obertop, and his ability to put on a hitting clinic when the Wolverines need it most.
“(Obertop)’s a dangerous hitter,” Bakich said. “He’s a good hitter, and he’s got good play discipline.”
Balance and consistency describe most of the Wolverines’ victories this season, and Michigan will need to maintain both in order to have any success in its quest for a Big Ten title.
All Nine Innings
Perhaps the highlight of the Wolverines’ season so far, and the strongest testament to their ability to perform in the clutch on both sides of the ball, was the eight-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth to win against Michigan State.
Michigan’s offense came to life with strong hitting and calculated approaches to each at-bat, and Obertop’s walk-off homer was a fitting end to a nail-biting matchup between the rivals.
“What happened in the ninth, I don’t even know if I could put that into words to accurately describe the feeling,” Bakich said.
While the Wolverines’ ability to produce runs in dramatic situations highlights their offensive capabilities, Michigan puts itself into deficits quite often, a trend it will need to avoid through the rest of the season.
The Wolverines recently took two-of-three from Ohio State to maintain a 15-7 record, putting them right behind Nebraska in the Big Ten. With several quality wins and a strong showing on the mound and at the plate, there’s no doubt Michigan is among the top-three teams capable of winning the Big Ten.
But what do the Wolverines need to do in order to reach that goal?
The Wolverines have a bevy of strengths, including depth on the mound, big innings that fuel offensive production and stellar individual performances that can come in any given game. The ability is there — the key will be leaning into those strengths at the right moments.
Bakich characterizes Michigan as a group that cares about winning more than personal accolades. Such apparent camaraderie should assist in making those strengths consistent throughout the rest of the season.
In reality, the biggest test for the Wolverines won’t come until mid-to-late May, when they play other Big Ten contenders like Indiana and Nebraska. Considering Michigan’s recent routs over Ohio State, there’s no reason to believe these games won’t fall in its favor, but it’s still yet to be seen how the team performs against the very best in the conference.