Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich believes the next best thing is about to happen, and that could mean winning a series against in-state rival Michigan State.
“If you haven’t noticed this about me already, I always expect good things are about to happen,” Bakich said last week. “I am a positive thinker. It’s not always going to be pretty, but that’s how it goes.”
The No. 16 Michigan baseball team will be hosting two of the three games for this weekend’s series. Both games Friday and Sunday will be at Ray Fisher Stadium, while Saturday’s game will be held in East Lansing. The Wolverines (8-3 Big Ten, 28-10 overall) are well aware that the last time they met the Spartans (8-4, 27-10), they were crushed, 11-5, despite matching the rivals hit for hit. This time, though, the series will count as a conference match-up.
Michigan rose significantly in the ranks after its victories against Iowa last weekend, and now sits at No. 16 in Baseball America’s top 25, while coming in at No. 21 in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll.
The Wolverines also rank 25th in the country with a batting average of .307, good for second best in the Big Ten.
Leading the team is senior center fielder Cody Bruder, who boasts a .386 batting average and is on an 18-game hitting streak. Bruder, who has tallied 59 hits, 35 RBI, 10 doubles and one triple, is one of four Wolverines hitting over .300.
This weekend’s series coincides with Michigan’s graduation ceremonies, and Bruder — an anthropology major — will be missing the ceremony to play ball.
“We’ve got a very good academic GPA,” Bakich said. “I don’t worry about them, academically. I know they take pride in their academics and it’s a standard of our program. This team is about being the best man, student and player you can be.”
Along with Bruder, junior catcher Harrison Wenson has been hot at the plate with a .561 slugging percentage and a total of five home runs. Michigan also has six players with an on-base percentage over .400.
The Wolverines offense has been explosive lately, but it will be going up against a Spartan squad equipped to quiet Michigan’s bats. Michigan State possesses an earned-run average of 2.37, good for second best in the country. To date, it has tossed six shutouts en route to the best start in program history since 1971.
But the Wolverines also have a very capable pitching staff and bullpen. Left-handers Brett Adcock and Evan Hill rank eighth and 13th, respectively, in Michigan’s all-time strikeout history. Adcock, a junior, threw 5.1 innings against Iowa and will probably start at some point over the weekend. Sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie should also be in line to start against the Spartans.
Another notable Wolverine is junior Carmen Benedetti, who is used everywhere on the field, including the mound.
“He came in as a freshman and didn’t pitch, but last year we realized he could and had a good arm,” Bakich said. “He was more of a thrower, though, so now the natural progression is to go from a thrower to a pitcher.”
The key for the Michigan pitching staff will be to quiet the bat of Michigan State first baseman Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman ranks in the top five within the conference in batting average (.403), hits (60), slugging percentage (.617) and runs scored (37).
Michigan will have its work cut out for it against a team that has outscored opponents 226-118 this year, but Bakich and his Wolverines will look to continue their recent hot streak in this weekend’s pivotal conference matchup.