Last year, the Michigan baseball team lived and died by its offense.
In the first 15 games of the season, a stretch over which the Wolverines went 4-11, the offense averaged just 4.5 runs per game; in eight of those games, Michigan scored three runs or fewer. Over the next 20 games — in which the Wolverines went undefeated — they almost doubled that, averaging 8.4 runs per game and scoring 168 runs total over that stretch.
When the offense struggled with consistency over the last third of the season and into the postseason, Michigan’s success cooled off, too, leading the Wolverines to a disappointing early exit in the Big Ten Tournament.
But this season, Michigan coach Erik Bakich is confident in his team’s offense.
“We have a lot of individual hitters that did a very good job of adding some size, some strength, and some explosiveness in the weight room, and that has translated with more bat speed and exit velocity amongst our hitters,” Bakich said. “It’s a little bit of an older team, so I see a group of kids who’ve had another birthday, who’ve gotten stronger, who’ve become more physical. So I would like to think we’re capable of hitting for more power this year.”
Now, his team, sitting at 19-7 and 2-0 in the Big Ten, is starting to show why.
Though the Wolverines’ offense struggled with consistency throughout much of the first third of the season, they showed flashes of potential recently: a 12-2 win over Binghamton, a 9-1 victory over the Citadel and a 7-5 defeat of No. 1 UCLA.
But as the team heads into Big Ten play, it looks like Michigan’s offense is coming into its own. It exploded for 23 runs over Manhattan, scored 12 against Western Michigan and scored 16 runs against both Stetson and Michigan State.
“We’ve had a lot of great offensive performances,” Bakich said. “It’s great to see the contributions up and down the lineup and off the bench.”
The team’s rivalry series against the Spartans this weekend embodies the rhythm this offense is starting to find. In Friday’s game in East Lansing, Michigan cruised past Michigan State to a 6-3 win in its Big Ten opener. The Wolverines got on the board first with two runs in the third inning and added one more run in the fourth. Michigan State answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth, but Michigan was unshaken, adding two runs in the fifth and another in the eighth on its way to a comfortable victory.
Saturday’s contest was in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines certainly seemed to channel the energy of the home crowd despite the steady rain as the offense erupted for 16 runs. Senior infielder Jimmy Kerr led the team, going 5-for-5 with two home runs, two doubles and a long single to right field.
“When you get a senior captain go 5-for-5 with two doubles and two home runs like that — it really just sparked our offense,” Bakich said.
As the Wolverines head into some of their tougher matchups of the year — next weekend’s home series against Minnesota and an away series at rival Ohio State the following weekend — the offense is beginning to settle in at exactly the right time.
If it can stay consistent in this rhythm, Michigan may not die by its offense anytime soon.