Rightfully, the story of the weekend was the dramatic ninth-inning comeback that the No. 19 Michigan baseball team staged to beat its rival, Michigan State, on Sunday. But an overlooked part of the story is how it came about; with their offense sputtering, the Wolverines trailed 7-0 entering the ninth inning.
In the next game against Michigan State, too, Michigan struggled to score runs, and no ninth-inning heroics saved them this time. The Wolverines fell to their rival, 3-0, and the enthusiastic celebrations from the Spartans painted a picture reminiscent of a team celebrating a win in the College World Series.
Yet, their performance was on par with the one the day before; this time, they had merely prevented a second miraculous comeback. For all the attention given to Michigan’s comeback, the weekend as a whole was decidedly subpar for a team that led the Big Ten standings entering the weekend.
Earlier in the weekend, against Illinois, the bats quietly led Michigan to a 7-4 loss. The game was locked at three from the fourth inning on before Illinois exploded for four runs in the eighth, after which the Wolverines were unable to come back. Michigan scored its four runs on just seven hits.
This is an explosive offense capable of big innings, but Michigan had just three hits going into the ninth inning during Sunday’s game against Michigan State’s third starter. The Wolverines sport an offense that should light up the pitching it faced this weekend, yet it struggled mightily for much of it, including the first eight innings on Sunday.
“The pitcher was mixing it up pretty well, just throwing strikes, staying away from our barrel,” Fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur said. “I think some of our hitters were just trying to do a little bit too much early, but obviously it worked out in the end. He was able to throw a pretty good changeup and mix speeds and mix location with his fastball, it was definitely keeping us off balance a little bit.”
In the next game, the team recorded just five hits and was shutout by the back-half of the Spartans’ rotation.
“He wasn’t overpowering, but it was just enough command, three pitches and command of three pitches that just had us off balance a little bit. We didn’t strike out a lot, we just didn’t make great contact,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “The stuff our pitchers were throwing was much more overpowering-type stuff. … Unfortunately too many of our hitters had too many non-quality at-bats today.”
The team average dropped to just .266 after the struggles this weekend.
“We just didn’t have enough quality at-bats,” Bakich said Monday. “It wasn’t a belief thing, wasn’t a confidence thing, we just didn’t hit good today, that’s it.
“It’s a hard game when you don’t string quality at-bats together and get a lot of base runners and the wind’s blowing in. It just wasn’t an offensive day for either team.”
Michigan picked up two of its three losses on the season this past weekend. Bakich continues to use different lineup combinations but has stuck with the same starting group, even struggling starters like junior infielder Riley Bertram and fifth-year outfielder Christan Bullock, who are each hitting .194.
While these players both bring much more to the table than just their bat, they also unquestionably struggled this weekend, going a combined 2-23.
This team remains in contention for a Big Ten title, and it is not yet time to worry about future production. But the offense stalled against relatively poor competition this past weekend, which led the team to drop games that could end up costing them in the standings.
“It’s not a problem, not a concern, not anything,” Bakich said. “Just a bad day and it’s unfortunate coming off of the momentum we had last night. I thought that we for sure would capitalize on it but these rivalry games are super competitive, so just wasn’t our day, that’s all.”