At the start of the season, Michigan coach Erik Bakich had a feeling.
“I do like this group,” Bakich said. “I think this group has a lot of potential. On paper, at least, the pieces are there to have a special, magical type of season.”
Now, the No. 23 Michigan baseball team is validating that feeling. It has quality pitching and elite defense. A cohesive team chemistry and the drive to prove itself. It’s only missing one thing — a consistent offense.
Starting off the year in Florida, the bats looked red-hot, averaging nine runs per game over the three-game series, leaving Binghamton in the dust. The next week, The Wolverines’ bats showed the first signs of slowing down — averaging just over five runs per game as they rode their impressive pitching to comfortable victories.
In California, the problems were aired out for the whole country to see. Junior infielder Jordan Brewer and junior outfielder Jordan Nwogu were tied with Michigan’s highest batting average at just .285. The team eked out an average of just over three runs per game against the team’s toughest competition all year — USC, Oklahoma State and then No. 2 UCLA.
Beyond hitting, the Wolverines’ other offensive weaknesses were exposed. In the Dodgertown Classic, five times Michigan’s baserunners were caught stealing or put out. The team’s aggressive mindset was being pushed too far, it had crossed the fine line of positive mistakes it was treading earlier in the season — aggressive defensive plays and forcing opposition to make tough choices — to bad mistakes.
“We had a lot of outs on the bases from this trip,” Bakich said. “Whether it be caught stealing or pick-offs, those are very costly mistakes against really good teams. We can get away with it against lesser teams, you can’t get away with it against UCLA, USC, Oklahoma State, some of these west coast teams that are playing outside all year long”
The Wolverines’ 3-4 run over Spring Break sent them tumbling down most rankings. The only poll that kept them in the top 25 was Baseball America, dropping them to No. 23.
“All of the games were close because of our pitching and our defense in the losses,” Bakich said. “That’s how we’re built, and we are not even close to firing on all cylinders offensively.”
Bakich predicted an offensive storm following the trip, but not even the most optimistic fan could have predicted the onslaught to come on Michigan’s five-game homestand. With 50 runs, the Wolverines blew past their two opponents — Manhattan and Western Michigan.
But Michigan’s ability to score against struggling teams isn’t a question. The question is if it can keep a productive offense throughout the season against good teams — the same question that was asked last year.
After an awful start to 2018, the Wolverines went on a 20-game win streak that ended shortly before the postseason. Their offense couldn’t show up — only averaging two runs over the last six games — and they crashed out of the Big Ten Tournament after two games.
Bakich, though, has a feeling this year is different.
“It feels like a championship team,” Bakich said.
First, they’ll need to prove it.