Coach Bakich, wearing a light blue shirt, walks up to the mound in the center of the baseball field towards a baseball player in uniform standing on the mound.
In Michigan's upcoming series against Ohio State, the Wolverines need to build upon last weekend's success. Jenna Hickey/Daily. Buy this photo.

For the Michigan baseball team, this season has been anything but easy.

Inconsistent pitching, sputtering offense and devastating upsets has been the storyline for the Wolverines’ disappointing season.

Despite the inconsistency, however, Michigan (20-15 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) is in a comfortable position for the Big Ten tournament at the end of May.

While the Wolverines approach every game with a winning mindset, there is no bigger series than this upcoming weekend against their greatest rival – Ohio State.

“When you play rivals, there’s an extra chip on your shoulder,” sophomore right-hander Chase Allen said.

Michigan has played midweek games since March 11 which has forced Bakich to use relief pitchers in starting roles to compensate for the extensive pitching needs. What is different about this week, though, is that the Wolverines did not have a midweek game. This fortuitous scheduling enables Michigan extra rest for their big series. 

“We still play a game, we will just play it against ourselves on Wednesday,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “All of the pitchers who didn’t throw this weekend still need to throw on Wednesday. We still need to bring those guys along. They still need game-type repetition. It’ll just be more in a scrimmage setting than against another jersey.”

Coming off of a sweep of its other rival, Michigan State, Bakich and his team are in good spirits as they return home for their upcoming weekend series against the Buckeyes.  

The advantage the Wolverines hold going into the weekend is that they’re not playing the typical fierce Ohio State baseball team. They are playing beaten-down 12-21 Buckeyes who have more losses — and worse ones — than Michigan. 

A few of the notable Ohio State losses this season include being swept by Texas State, Nebraska and Maryland, as well as losing three of four to UNC-Wilmington. 

This underwhelming performance puts the Buckeyes in 11th in the Big Ten standings — currently out of the Big Ten tournament all together. 

The key for Bakich and the Wolverines is to not underestimate their competition. Michigan have struggled this season against struggling teams, notably losing to Indiana State, Oakland and Purdue Fort Wayne. If Bakich wants to emerge victorious and prove to the baseball world that the Wolverines deserve a spot in the NCAA tournament, beating their rival is the first step to strengthening that narrative. 

Offensively, the Wolverines needs to continue its hot performance at the plate. In its series against the Spartans, Michigan notched 17 extra-base hits, including eight home runs.

Headlining the stellar offensive performance was junior right fielder Clark Elliott, who went 6-for-16 with a .500 on base percentage. As the lead-off hitter for the Wolverines, his production at the plate and ability to get on base has been instrumental in Michigan’s offensive surge. Right behind Elliott is graduate transfer Joe Stewart. The Michigan State transfer went 5-for-14 against his former team with two home runs. If the Wolverines wants to continue their high scoring affairs against the Buckeyes, production from their top two hitters is imperative. 

Despite Ohio State’s record, the Buckeyes have an impactful offensive punch. They are led by Marcus Ernst (.362), Trey Lipsey (.316) and Zach Dezenzo (.274) and supported by three other hitters with a batting average of .274 or higher. If Michigan wants to control the series, its pitchers will need to shut these hitters down.

“We’ve relied on our top five guys in O’Halloran, Weston, Renard, Allen and Denner,” Bakich said. “We still have confidence in Willie Weiss, and now we’re starting to see the emergence of some other guys who have pitched well with minimized damage.”

Sophomore right-hander Connor O’Halloran is expected to get the start on Friday to set the tone for the series. After him, though, the pitching will need to step up given the struggles other starters and the bullpen have faced this season.

Ohio State has faced even more challenges with its pitching staff, though. The Buckeyes have stuck with three struggling starters this season in Isaiah Coupet (2-3, 4.46 ERA), Wyatt Loncar (1-4, 5.46 ERA) and Nate Haberthier (0-3, 6.63 ERA). This will give Michigan ample opportunities to take advantage of weak pitching and put runs on the board. 

The Wolverines need to build upon last weekend’s success at Michigan State. If the offense can continue to produce run support and the pitching can keep the games from getting out of control, Michigan can come out of this weekend with another sweep as it approaches the heart of its Big Ten schedule.