After its hottest start since 1987, the No. 25 Michigan baseball team had accomplished most of its early-season goals and hadn’t left many games to linger on.

Even in the moments following losses to No. 23 Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, the Wolverines felt they had been improving and moving forward, learning and growing with each game.

But suddenly, there is a blemish on Michigan’s résumé that is much harder to account for.

Minnesota (4-1 Big Ten, 18-10 overall) came to chilly Ann Arbor this weekend and never allowed the Wolverines’ bats to heat up in either end of a Friday doubleheader. The Golden Gophers’ offense, meanwhile, seemed much more cozy in the 35-degree weather, rattling off 21 hits in two games to down Michigan, 8-1, in game one and 5-3 in game two.

Before facing the Golden Gophers this weekend, the Wolverines (3-2 Big Ten, 21-8 overall) had been able to attribute much of their success to the consistency of the batting order.

Sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens, the leadoff hitter, has kick-started the lineup with a .385 batting average. And there isn’t much of a dropoff as the batting order progresses — freshman second baseman Ako Thomas, the No. 9 hitter, has solidified his spot with a .382 on-base percentage.

Yet, Friday, it was Minnesota’s lineup that bruised Michigan pitching from one through nine. In game one, the hitters No. 6 through No. 9 each recorded an RBI. In game two, it was the top of the lineup that gave the Wolverines trouble, as the first four in the Golden Gophers’ order drove in one run apiece.

In the few games where the Michigan offense has struggled to get going, a dominant pitching staff, which has a combined earned-run average of 2.43, has picked up the slack.

Sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie led Michigan to a shutout win against No. 11 California early in the season. Senior hurler Evan Hill allowed only one run in the Wolverines’ other victory against a ranked opponent, a 4-2 win over the Cowboys on March 20.

Friday, however, Minnesota once again flipped the script.

While the Golden Gophers bounced Jaskie in the fifth inning of game one and drew eight walks against lefty Brett Adcock in game two, Minnesota’s pitching shut down Michigan’s normally high-powered offense.

The Golden Gophers’ Matt Fielder held off the Wolverines in game one, allowing only one run. Minnesota’s game two starter, Dalton Sawyer, didn’t allow a run and struck out 10 in six innings of work.

“You tip your cap to the opposition,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “But there was a lot of breakdowns today, fundamentally, that unfortunately turned out in a disappointing couple of games for us.” 

The doubleheader Friday marked a departure from the solid, fundamental baseball the Wolverines have consistently played thus far this season in all facets of the game. In addition to the struggling offense and pitching, three errors on the day did not help their case.

“When you play good teams, it’s pitching, defense and timely hitting,” Bakich said. “Those are the three things you need to play good teams, and we didn’t have a whole lot of that.”

Michigan never had a chance to return to form against Minnesota, as the final game of the series was canceled due to extreme temperatures.

The Wolverines will hope to shake the April ice off their bats quickly, as they travel to East Lansing on Tuesday to face Michigan State, which is undefeated in conference play.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.