Behind Enemy Lines: Penn State beat writer assesses upcoming weekend series
The Michigan baseball team (8-0 Big Ten, 21-11 overall) is on a roll. Ever since their mid-March loss to Lawrence Tech, which Michigan coach Erik Bakich dubbed “the most embarassing in program history,” the Wolverines have won 17 straight and now sit atop the Big Ten standings.
Their opponent this weekend, Penn State (1-10 Big Ten, 7-22 overall), has fared substantially worse. The Nittany Lions currently sit at the bottom of the Big Ten and have lost their last 11 games. In anticipation of a weekend matchup between the two Big Ten opponents, the Daily sat down with Penn State baseball team beat writer Caleb Wilfinger of the Daily Collegian to get his take on the series.
The Michigan Daily: What would you say is the biggest storyline surrounding the Penn State team this season?
Caleb Wilfinger: The biggest storyline so far has been the team’s inability to produce on offense. For the most part, the starting pitching has been solid enough to get the job done and put Penn State in a position to win games. However, the team has struggled immensely at the plate all season long, especially with runners in scoring position.
TMD: Would you say a 7-22 overall record accurately represents the team at this point?
CW: I think that a 7-22 record doesn’t necessarily represent the talent level of the roster, but it does accurately sum up the season at this point. This is a team that has lost nine games decided by one run, so some of those results could have turned out in Penn State’s favor. But, a big part of the reason why the Nittany Lions have lost those games is due to their own struggles more than bad luck.
TMD: What would need to go right for you guys to win the series?
CW: Penn State would need quality outings from its starters and key contributions at the plate with runners on base to have any chance.
TMD: Who are the most dangerous offensive players on the team?
CW: Ryan Sloniger and Connor Klemann are the most dangerous hitters on the team. They usually hit somewhere in the 3-5 range in the batting order and have hit back to back on a number of occasions. Sloniger leads the team in multiple offensive categories, including RBIs and runs scored.
TMD: Would you say the offense is more predicated on small ball or power hitting?
CW: Definitely predicated on getting the big hits. A lot of times, Penn State has no trouble getting on base with singles, but there’s not too much power in the lineup. It’s not often that the Nittany Lions get extra-base hits or hit home runs.
TMD: Will Hagenman or Lehman start on the mound Friday afternoon? What are the strengths of each?
CW: It will likely be Hagenman, depending on Wednesday’s game. Hagenman is very consistent, and he has the better “stuff” of the two, while Lehman is a tall left-hander who is really effective at getting opposing hitters to hit ground balls for easy outs.
TMD: How would you rate the bullpen’s performance so far?
CW: The bullpen has been mediocre overall. Guys like Mason Mellott and Jeff Taylor have been sturdy, while others have struggle mightily with their command and velocity.
TMD: Prediction time, what do you think the outcome will be?
CW: Michigan will sweep. Penn State is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten and has one of the worst offenses in the NCAA so far this season. Outside of maybe Friday night, I don’t expect the series to be close.