A team hovering around .500. A pitching staff with big arms, but prone to costly mistakes. A lineup that has the talent to score an absurd amount of runs, but never enough to mount a truly safe lead.
Shockingly, I’m not talking about the Michigan baseball team. I’m talking about their opponents this past weekend Dayton.
You’d be excused for thinking I was. The Wolverines and Flyers are remarkably similar teams, just with different names and jersey colors. In a sense, Michigan was given an opportunity very few teams ever get — a chance to play a team so much of a mirror, it was almost like playing themselves.
“They’ve got a lot of good players,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said Thursday. “They’re a regional caliber opponent, we saw that in the fall. They always give us a tough game when we play.”
To their credit, the Wolverines took the opportunity and ran with it, sweeping the weekend series with three of their best performances to date. Each game highlighted a different aspect of the team: pitching on Thursday, hitting on Friday and fielding on Sunday — and Bakich even went so far as to say that his team had “one bad inning” in the entire series.
In contrast, the Flyers’ weekend was filled with a litany of miscues and poorly controlled pitches. Scoring plays that should’ve been one run for Michigan became two or three. In other words, it was exactly the kind of performance that has haunted the Wolverines time and time again this season.
“You’re either feeling pressure or applying pressure,” Bakich said on Sunday. “We’re trying to apply as much pressure as possible, and if we can do that consistently, we should have a chance every game.”
Bakich’s comments speak to in-game pressure, but the reality is Michigan is already under the gun in terms of postseason aspirations. Against current Top 25 competition, the Wolverines sit at a dismal 2-4.
That record is made more complicated by the fact that they could very well have a 4-2 record — and quite possibly be ranked themselves — had it not been for dramatic ninth-inning implosions against No. 1 Vanderbilt and No. 11 Texas Tech.
In both of those games, the primary architect of their downfall was senior right hander Willie Weiss. Against Texas Tech, Weiss saw two innings of solid work before falling apart in the bottom of the ninth with a hit batter and a four-pitch walk to set up the walk-off single. Against Vanderbilt, Weiss gave up the game-winning run on a fatal wild pitch.
To make the Big Ten Tournament — which only 8 of 13 teams qualify for — Michigan will have an uphill battle. The Wolverines have a regular season conference schedule that includes facing No. 22 Maryland for one more series, along with a pair of always dangerous foes in Nebraska and Indiana. If — or when — they need to pad their resume for an NCAA bid, they’ll have at least one chance to via a showdown with No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend.
For the Wolverines, it’s clear the real show begins now. The Dayton series was both a boon and a warning; either keep ramping up their newfound pressure or regress back to the inconsistent team that started the year, like the Flyers team they faced this weekend.
It’s up to them to decide which team they truly are.