If you think the Michigan baseball team has played an inconsistent season to this point, just wait until you look at Purdue.
The Wolverines are set to play a three-game series this upcoming weekend against the Boilermakers, and after winning five of six the last two weeks, Michigan needs to capitalize on its momentum and beat a strong Purdue team.
For the Wolverines, they appeared to be dominant in five of the six games against their rivals. After sweeping Michigan State on the road, Michigan came back home to beat Ohio State in the first two games of the series, scoring nine and 16 runs, respectively. In the third game of the series, however, the Wolverines blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning to allow the Buckeyes to win, 6-5. Nonetheless, the five games Michigan won put the Wolverines in fifth place in the Big Ten — up two spots from a week before.
While Michigan has been up and down throughout the season, The Boilermakers went from being at the top of the Big Ten through the first 19 games to sitting outside of the Big Ten tournament as of now. Purdue went 18-1 through its first 19 games of the season and was even ranked No. 21 in Collegiate Baseball’s weekly poll — the first time it was ranked since 2018.
Despite that hot start, however, the Boilermakers took a turn. After losing to Illinois-Chicago at home, they proceeded to get swept by the Illinois-Champaign and Belmont, lost to Indiana State and UIC again and dropped two out of three games to Penn State. Currently, Purdue’s record sits at 23-13, but it’s just 4-6 in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines’ pitching could define the series. Despite winning twice against Ohio State, the pitching struggled. Michigan went down 8-5 in the first game because of shaky play at the mound, and it had to work its way back to win the game. On Saturday, the Wolverines almost blew a 14-2 lead, giving up 11 runs in the final three innings. All those struggles culminated on Sunday, when they blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
“There was a bit of a wake-up call in this rivalry,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, nobody’s playing the score.
“…It’s a good lesson to learn and — luckily — we (didn’t) have to learn that lesson in a loss and we can learn that lesson in a win that we just can’t ever let up.”
If Michigan is going to defeat the Boilermakers, it needs to learn from those pitching woes because Purdue is a much better offensive team.
Purdue is led by infielder Evan Albrecht, who is currently batting .392 and is nearly perfect on the base paths, stealing 16 bases in 17 attempts. Behind him is infielder CJ Valdez who is batting .360 and just hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to rescue the Boilermakers from a five-game losing streak on Tuesday. Finally, redshirt outfielder Cam Thompson is batting .304 and leads the team with 10 home runs.
All three of those batters will bring their A-game against Michigan’s pitchers.
On the mound, the Wolverines can expect to face left-hander Jackson Smeltz (6-1, 2.83 ERA) on Friday. He has turned a lot of heads this season and is in a comfortable position to be a top left-handed MLB Draft prospect in July. Behind him, Michigan will face freshman left-hander Troy Wansing (2-3, 4.48 ERA) and junior right-hander Wyatt Wendell (3-2, 5.18).
As the season creeps into May, every game is looked at under a microscope. With three weeks left, every win is imperative. If the Wolverines can rely on their well-rested pitchers and tap into the offensive power they showed over the last two weeks, they should be able to take advantage of the struggling Purdue team that is badly in need of a conference win.