After taking an upset series win from Rutgers last weekend, the Michigan baseball team went from the conference tournament bubble to the fifth seed. Traveling to Omaha, the Wolverines begin their tournament Wednesday night against No. 4 seed Illinois. The Daily’s baseball beat predicts the fate of Michigan and the outcome of the Big Ten Tournament at large.
How far does Michigan go?
David Woelkers: Semifinals
I don’t get this team.
I simply can’t make heads or tails of it. One minute it’s getting blown out by Maryland, the next it’s fighting its heart out to take a series against Rutgers in the final weekend of the season. It couldn’t beat Purdue Fort Wayne, but it took No. 24 Vanderbilt and No. 8 Texas Tech down to the final outs.
Every time I’ve made a judgment call on the Wolverines this season, I’ve been proven wrong — for better or for worse. So this time, I’m going to go with the exact opposite of what my head is telling me.
To make the NCAA Tournament at this point, Michigan certainly needs to make a deep run in Omaha, and potentially needs to win it all. While I’m not so crazy as to claim a team with an ERA over 7.00 will find enlightenment and turn into a championship-caliber squad, I think the Wolverines have a very winnable first-round matchup in No. 4 seed Illinois.
While it’s almost certain they would have to face No. 1 seed Maryland in the next game, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for them to drop that game — in fact, a loss would set up a favorable loser’s bracket run that could lead to a semifinal finish.
Whether or not that’s enough to get them into the big dance is an open question. For now, all that matters for Erik Bakich and his Michigan squad is to make a run this week. And to me, at least, it’s quite possible that they could.
Jake Singer: Semifinals
With all of the ups and downs, nothing defined Michigan’s season more than the past two weeks. After being swept by Maryland, the Wolverines turned it around and defeated Michigan State and won two of three against Rutgers. This momentum could prove to be a peak for Michigan.
The first round matchup looks favorable against Illinois. I do not believe they can defeat Maryland and Rutgers in this tournament, but the Wolverines have shown they can win against most other teams.
One other thing to mention is that the offense has been on fire as of late and Michigan has not used any of its top pitchers in what will be a week.
Zain Rodger: Losers’ bracket finalist
Offense is no problem for the Wolverines. Michigan is coming into this tournament with super hot bats, scoring at least nine runs in each of its last five games. I see this continuing in an upset over No. 4 seed Illinois.
The Fighting Illini have shown flashes of greatness throughout the season, including a 19-1 win over No. 1 seed Maryland. However, their pitching is vulnerable.
This first round game could truly go either way, but I lean toward the Wolverines because of their recent momentum and all-out pitching approach against Rutgers in game one of the last series. If they throw out two or three of their starters in the first game again, the woes of the bullpen can be hidden.
However, the lack of pitching depth cannot be concealed for long. Assuming it wins the first game and the Terrapins don’t get upset, Michigan will likely get demolished in the second round. By Friday, most of the Wolverines’ best pitchers will probably be used and the lack of depth will lead to a tournament exit on Friday.
Ian Payne: Semifinals
This Michigan team has shown the offense can carry. It continually is the force keeping the Wolverines in games, averaging nine runs a game during the month of May.
Simply put, they mash.
However the same question pops up each and every game: can the pitching hold on?
In last weekend’s series against Rutgers, the pitching staff showed what it is capable of when at full strength. With all hands on deck, it can battle against tough lineups and give the offense the wiggle room it needs to win games.
The issue then becomes what happens when the pitching staff is not at full strength. In a high workload setting like postseason baseball, full strength is not a luxury often afforded.
Michigan is a good team with a lot of talent. It will not be bounced quickly. But in the high workload tournament environment, the pitching will likely run out of steam short of the ultimate goal. The higher seeds in the bracket simply have the depth to outlast the Wolverines when it comes down to a game of endurance.
Who wins the Big Ten Tournament?
C’mon, did you really expect anything different?
Maryland is the No. 1 seed in this Tournament for a reason. The Terps have 45 wins and are on a seven-game win streak entering this tournament. After winning their first regular-season conference championship in 55 years this past weekend, they are in a prime position to add their first-ever tournament conference championship — Big Ten or ACC — to the trophy case.
Outfielder Chris Alleyne led the conference with 22 homers and 73 RBI, and he finished second in hits with 79. Pitcher Jason Savacool led the conference with a 2.71 ERA and 109 strikeouts, and he finished second in wins with 8.
For those doing the math, that means Maryland almost had both Triple Crowns on the same team.
In short, they’ve got a lineup that can mash and a pitching staff that can deal. Everything is in favor for them to win it all.
That being said, there’s potential — however slim it is — for an upset.
No. 3 Iowa is a strong team that was only getting stronger to end the year. While I’m low on Rutgers after giving away the Big Ten Championship in their final series, they’re still the No. 2 seed, and it wouldn’t be implausible that the Scarlet Knights come into the tournament hell-bent on rectifying their mistake.
Beyond those teams though, don’t waste your money. It’s a very top-heavy Big Ten Tournament this year, and trying to find a diamond in the rough simply isn’t going to happen.
Maryland is too good. There is an obvious difference in the Terrapins compared to the other teams in the conference. Maryland is batting over .300 as a team and every player is contributing. It also has one of the best pitching staffs in D1 baseball.
Other than the Terrapins, Rutgers would have been the pick if it wasn’t for the Michigan series. The Wolverines exploited the Scarlet Knights weaknesses and showed some of their own strengths as well.
With the momentum and path Maryland is on, the sky is the limit for the Turtle.
Maryland is the obvious pick, but I want to be different. Coming off three series wins in a row, Iowa may have just enough momentum to put a run together.
The best prospect in the Big Ten, pitcher Adam Mazur, has a chance to show out. The Hawkeyes may just surprise everyone and snatch the crown for the first time in five years.
Maryland is on a roll. It has proved why it is the No. 1 seed, winning every conference series this season.
The Terrapins are on a seven-game win streak, and they have both the talent and depth to win and win and win. That is what a team needs in a tournament environment.
Woelkers: Rutgers doesn’t make the semifinals
Singer: Purdue makes the Big Ten Championship Game
Rodger: Iowa wins it all
Payne: Rutgers loses early
Player of the Tournament?
Woelkers: Chris Alleyne, Maryland outfielder
Singer: Matt Shaw, Maryland shortstop
Rodger: Adam Mazur, Iowa pitcher
Payne: Jason Savacool, Maryland pitcher