Consistency is key. But in its absence, balance can prove just as important.
Despite its ability to dominate, the Michigan baseball team’s offense has struggled with consistency — evident in last season’s early end after a promising 20-game win streak, as well as its sporadic performances against mid-major opponents this year. In light of this, Michigan’s pitching and defense have been essential in holding opponents to few runs and securing wins even when the offense can’t pull through.
With big-name matchups coming up against offensively-strong Minnesota and Ohio State over the next two weeks, this dynamic could prove quite helpful.
The defense’s utility was on display in last Wednesday’s low-scoring doubleheader wins (1-0 and 2-0) against San Jose State. While the offense couldn’t always produce, solid performances such as sophomore left-hander Angelo Smith’s pitching during the second game and the quick fielding that forced several 1-2-3 innings during the first game ensured that the Spartans never capitalized on Michigan’s difficulty at the plate.
Over the weekend against Michigan State, the defense even balanced itself out as the Wolverines’ fielding strengths bailed out some difficulties in pitching. When junior right-hander Karl Kauffman and freshman left-hand reliever Walker Cleveland, frustrated by the persistent rain, allowed several runs and walks, clutch fielding — such as Jordan Brewer’s double play in the second inning that stifled the Spartans’ scoring opportunity — ensured the margin never narrowed beyond comfort.
Indeed, even with efforts to create a more balanced squad, Michigan fundamentally remains a defensive team.
“We’re built on pitching and defense,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We’ve had good defense when we needed to and when we didn’t have much going on offensively.”
With so much reliance on defense, it can get ugly when things don’t go the Wolverines’ way — especially against strong opponents. A disappointing sweep at the hands of No. 17 Texas Tech two weekends ago saw the Wolverines stuck in the low singles in terms of runs while the Red Raiders scored many more and capitalized on numerous errors.
“We couldn’t hold (Texas Tech) down with our bullpen,” Bakich said after the difficult series last month. “They hit against us like they knew every pitch that was coming.
“… What stood out is that we were right there with them for about half of each game. But they were able to separate thanks to some costly mistakes of ours.”
When the team’s offensive and defensive strengths combine, the Wolverines can be dominant: They scored 23 runs against Manhattan, 12 over Western Michigan and 16 runs against Michigan State over the weekend.
Of course, a strong offense is equally as, if not more, important on the diamond than defense. But they do complement one another, and Michigan stands to benefit from continued investment in a clutch defense that can step in and save the day against tough opponents.
Minnesota and Ohio State will be far more formidable if they don’t.