Wolverines host Spartans for non-conference matchup
The No. 13 Michigan baseball team (6-3 Big Ten, 29-7 overall) will face in-state rival Michigan State in a midweek matchup Tuesday. While this contest is considered a non-conference game — a full Big Ten series will be played later in the season — it will provide a strong test for the surging Wolverines.
Michigan is coming off a sweep of No. 18 Oklahoma, while the Spartans (5-4, 20-12) dropped their series finale Sunday against Ohio State after taking the first two games.
Tuesday’s game figures to produce a high number of hits and runs, with both teams leading the Big Ten in batting average — the Wolverines are first with a .294 average and the Spartans come in a close second at .293.
Michigan’s current hot hitters include sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas, batting .350, and sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier, batting .324, sitting in the first and seventh slot of the lineup, respectively. The Wolverines’ squad is deep, something Michigan State is no stranger to.
Outfielder Brandon Hughes leads the Spartans with a .336 average, and it doesn’t get much worse from there — catcher Matt Byars rounds out the team with the lowest batting average of the starters, yet still bats .263.
Michigan’s offense sputtered during last Tuesday’s matchup against Eastern Michigan, but fortunately for the Wolverines, their defense was as sharp as ever. This has become a common theme for Michigan, as it leads the Big Ten with a .984 fielding percentage.
But after the Wolverines’ impressive win over the Sooners on Sunday — when Michigan recorded 17 hits — it may be back to top offensive performance.
Getting a lot of hits will be no easy task against a strong Michigan State pitching staff, though. The Spartans sit third in the Big Ten with a team 3.43 earned-run average. Right-hander Mike Mokma will most likely be on the bump for Tuesday’s game and he enters the game with a 2.77 ERA.
On the hill for the Wolverines will be junior left-hander Michael Hendrickson. He is the normal Sunday starter for Michigan, but after he suffered a broken nose last week, junior right-hander Alec Rennard had to step in. Hendrickson needed the extra couple of days to rest, but Michigan coach Erik Bakich assured he will be ready for Tuesday’s game.
While Hendrickson has a 4.25 ERA, he has the experience of a weekend starter and has played against the Wolverines’ toughest opponents.
And for the most part, the Michigan’s toughest opponents are Michigan State’s as well. The Wolverines and Spartans have many common foes, the most recent being Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. Michigan defeated all three, whereas Michigan State fell to each, with all of the games being midweek matchups. The Spartans have not been strong in midweek games as of late, dropping their last three by one run each.
The Wolverines on the other hand have proven they can win the close games, as their last two midweek games were both won by one run each. If Tuesday’s game is close, the Wolverines’ prowess in close games seem to give them the advantage.