Winning a college baseball game rarely is about who hits more home runs and strikes out more hitters.
In a majority of the Michigan baseball team’s games, the winning team had the most hits and the least errors on the field. The series against Purdue was no different.
The Wolverines came into the weekend winning five of their previous six games against their top rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. As the schedule crept into May, every win mattered as it got closer to the Big Ten Tournament.
But against the Boilermakers, Michigan got blown out in its first two games, losing 18-4 and 12-4 respectively. While Purdue did have some big hits in the first two games, both of their home runs came from the same player and there were only five extra-base hits. The key to the Boilermakers’ wins was their successful two-out hitting and taking advantage of the Wolverines’ bullpen.
While Michigan’s starters did not have good starts compared to their previous performances, the bullpen struggled once again, giving up 11 runs in three innings in the first game of the series and six runs in the second game of the series. These issues resulted in 13 Purdue RBI with two outs on the board, and they allowed Purdue to lead off seven innings with a hit in the second game. These factors are the recipe for disaster for any pitching staff.
“They took advantage of us,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “They blew the game open when they got into our bullpen.”
The bullpen has been a weakness for the Wolverines all season. Nonetheless, it did not appear to be much of a factor lately because Bakich has been going with just two pitchers to complete each game.
It was widely anticipated that this series would provide many runs between both teams. Although this did occur when looking at the three games together, each game was a lopsided affair where one team took advantage of the many mistakes by its opponent.
“We needed guys to step up out of the pen,” Bakich said. “(This weekend) showed that on the days that we didn’t have our offense going, we didn’t have much going at all.
“…We struck out way too much in game one. In the second game, we were just playing from a deficit (from the beginning), so it was too late and the game was already blown open.”
The anomaly of the series was the third game. Despite being blown out in the first two games, Michigan came back in the third game and blew out the Boilermakers, giving Purdue a taste of its own medicine. While the offense did emerge in the third game, the Wolverines were backed by their starter, sophomore right-hander Chase Allen, who threw eight innings. This allowed Bakich to only use the bullpen for one inning and come away with a win.
“Chase Allen really gave us a terrific lift,” Bakich said. “He didn’t allow much (or) cost too much contact, and the contact that he did get induced a lot of fly balls. He just pitched really well.”
It’s the little things.
Yet every time Michigan loses, it appears that fingers always point toward the bullpen. The problem is, nothing has been done to fix this glaring problem. The Wolverines could easily meet Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, and after this weekend, there are a lot of doubts regarding Michigan’s ability to beat the Boilermakers again — or at the very least, not get blown out by them.
Currently, there appears to be two relief pitchers Bakich trusts to put in high leverage situations: (juniors right-hander Noah Rennard and left-hander Jacob Denner). Nonetheless, that has not been enough for winning college baseball teams in the past. Because of this, Bakich needs to hope that his starters can go longer in games to give his offense a chance to defeat the high-powered Big Ten competition.
With no bullpen to turn to, the Wolverines have to cling to their starters.