Two weeks ago, Michigan faced a fork in the road: Build off its sweep of the Dayton Flyers and in turn stake a claim as a tournament team, or regress to the inconsistent program that it had been prior this year to that series.
With the Wolverines’ latest loss to Purdue Fort Wayne, a team that currently sits at 5-22 overall, it turns out there was a third option in that road — regressing fully into a slump. Following the game, though, Michigan coach Erik Bakich insisted there is nothing wrong with his club.
“I’ll be the first to tell you when we play poorly,” Bakich said. “I will be the very first to tell you when we play bad. We have made as hard of contact as we had all year. We didn’t get the ball to fall and that’s all it was. We got unlucky.”
If judging this team solely off this game, Bakich may have a point. But this is just the latest in a nine-game stretch where the Wolverines have been outscored 66 to 42, outbatted .285 to .237 and recorded more strikeouts than hits. The pitching has been even worse in that stretch, posting a team earned run average of 7.04 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 0.91.
All of this against teams that had an average win percentage below .500 at game time.
To call it a matter of one team’s flyballs finding open space and the other’s ending up in gloves is patently and demonstrably false. Top to bottom, this team is having holes in their efforts either ripped open or exposed even further.
“I think we’re fine, I think we’re fine.” Bakich repeated before continuing. “We’re not going to panic. If you’re just basing it off results, then, then, but that’s just not how — we’re not basing it off results.
I thought the guys were keeping loose, I thought they were having fun and I thought they hit the ball hard — really hard.”
Whether or not the guys are having fun in spite of the results is something I cannot in good faith argue for or against. I’m not in the clubhouse or on the team buses, nor am I embedded in the team culture when the players are away from the park. However, in recent games it has become clear that if they’re still having fun, the Wolverines certainly aren’t showing it the way they once did.
While attending games in Greenville, N.C., I frequently noticed the team whipping themselves into a frenzy for any eventful play, often to the annoyance of the home plate umpires that ordered them back to their dugout. It reached such a point that Clark-LeClair Stadium — a venue known for being a ‘jungle’ to opposing teams — seemed at times to be the second home of Michigan baseball.
These days, it’s hard to tell if Ray Fisher Stadium is even the first home of Michigan baseball.
While the Wolverines still have their moments of excitement, they are few and far between. For the large part, the Michigan dugout is silent, in contrast to the running commentary of chirping and yelling coming from the opposing side.
Erik Bakich can claim that nothing has changed between the team playing now and the team playing in February. The reality is that simply isn’t true. With the brunt of their schedule still ahead of them, the Wolverines are in a place they cannot afford to be.
Forget the NCAA Tournament — Michigan is fighting to qualify for any postseason appearances. And unless the Wolverines find a way to translate their ‘hard contact’ and ‘loose mentality’ to a turnaround in their play, it’s just a matter of time before they’re on the outside looking in.
Daily Sports Writer David Woelkers can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @dawjr98