In a year of ups and downs, the Michigan baseball team is gearing up for one last ride: the playoff push.
Throughout the regular season, the Wolverines have been a disappointment. Even if they win the last three games of the season, this year’s winning percentage will be Michigan’s worst for a full season since 2014. In order to make the NCAA tournament, the Wolverines need a miracle. Unless Michigan can come out of nowhere and win the Big Ten Tournament, this season will go down as a failure.
But before the overall sentiments for this season can be determined, the focus must remain set on the final regular season series against Rutgers.
“We understand it’s kind of a bottom of the ninth mentality,” graduate center fielder Joe Stewart said. “We’re gonna battle. Obviously, the goal is to win the series and get the sweep. We just want to finish strong and get some momentum going into the Big Ten tournament feeling good. Every game here on out is playoff mentality.”
Before the Wolverines can even think about the Big Ten tournament, they need to qualify as one of the top eight teams. Tied at sixth place in the conference with Indiana, they are only two games ahead of Northwestern and Nebraska, who are tied for ninth.
Following the disastrous series at Maryland, it is evident that winning just one more game is no guarantee. Michigan faces the Scarlet Knights — the second best team in the conference — for its final series of the regular season. Rutgers boasts a 40-12 overall record with a 16-5 record within the Big Ten.
The Scarlet Knights are statistically superior to the Wolverines in every aspect of the game. Their .321 batting average ranks second in the entire country and their .541 slugging percentage stands at ninth. Rutgers’ bats are just as potent as the Terrapins’ — if not more. And after the hitting Maryland showcased last week, hanging 43 runs in just three games, Michigan should be worried.
However, unlike the Terrapins, the Scarlet Knights’ pitching is also among the best in the country — ranking in the top 20 — and leading the Big Ten with a 3.87 team ERA The Wolverines don’t have a single pitcher on their staff with a sub-four ERA who’s pitched more than one inning.
Michigan has the odds stacked against them, but the program is not unfamiliar with Cinderella runs.
Back in 2019, the Wolverines made it all the way to the College World Series as just a 3 seed in their own region. They were significant underdogs in almost every single game. Many of the players and coaches from that run are still on the team, so it’s too early to completely count them out.
“We play hard,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “Our record may not be indicative of the type of team that we are or what our potential is. We’ve had our share of setbacks on what’s been a roller coaster of a season but we still play hard, and we’re not going to stop playing hard. And that’s just embedded in our foundation. All of our teams play hard and all of our teams hustle and this one does too, and I’m proud of the way they fight.”
Potential is a funny thing. Anyone can say that their team would be great if they could play up to their potential. It’s one thing to talk about how good you can be, but for the Wolverines, they need to do more than talk — they need to prove it. With their toughest battles ahead, the Wolverines have a chance to either rewrite the story of the season or miss out on the last chapter all together.
It’s time to see how hard this team can really fight.