Since the beginning of the season, the Michigan baseball team has found itself in a bind unique to college baseball: the midweek game.
Unlike the major leagues, college baseball teams generally have just three true starters. Midweek games as a result are usually free-for-alls prone to unexpected outcomes. For the Wolverines, though, the usually chaotic schedule has revealed an unfortunate consistency, — they’ve gone 1-7 this season in midweek games with six straight losses.
On Tuesday, it was more of the same.
Despite keeping the game close through the middle innings, Michigan (24-21 overall, 10-8 Big Ten) added another loss to its midweek record, dropping the second matchup of the year against Xavier (26-23, 9-6 Big East), 10-3.
“Where we are this season is not even close to where the expectation is,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “It’s been a total regression in a lot of ways.
“The good news is it’s not too late. The bad news is time is running out.”
Expectations seemed within reach after a positive start for the Wolverines. Their starting pitcher — junior left-hander Jacob Denner — posted two strong innings of work, including striking out the side in the top of the second inning.
After a quiet bottom of the first, junior right fielder Joey Velasquez began what looked to be a promising opportunity for Michigan’s offense in the second, hitting a one-out double. Senior shortstop Riley Bertram advanced Velasquez to third with a single, but a pair of missteps — Bertram caught stealing second and junior second baseman Ted Burton striking out — left Velasquez sixty feet from the plate.
The stranded runner came back to haunt the Wolverines just a half inning later, as Xavier designated hitter Jeff Holtz broke the game wide open in the third with a solo home run to deep right-center field.
After stranding a second Michigan baserunner on third base, the Musketeers piled on in the top of the fourth inning: first baseman Luke Franzoni hit a solo shot of his own, then a bunt single turned into two-bagger off a throwing error by graduate third baseman Matt Frey. That runner crossed home plate and only put the Wolverines deeper in the hole.
“Tonight was a sloppy night defensively,” Bakich said. “We allowed way too many freebies and extra 90s, whether it was errors, hit by pitches, all of it. We didn’t play to our potential.”
With the run, Denner was pulled from the contest after just 3.2 innings. In his place entered senior right-hander Willie Weiss, who needed only one pitch to get his team out of the inning.
The bottom of the fourth inning saw an attempt at a rally from the Wolverines, as a double from Bertram and a litany of errors from the Musketeers brought the score within one.
But Xavier kept Michigan’s bats at bay long enough to blow the game wide open in the top of the seventh inning, when senior left-hander Angelo Smith gave up a two-run bomb to catcher Jerry Huntzinger and Velasquez made a costly fielding error to put the game at 6-2.
While the Wolverines added a run in the bottom of the inning, the Musketeers put a dagger in the game with four runs scored in their half of the eighth — including a second straight two-run homer from Huntzinger.
“As we’ve seen multiple times this year, coming back is one thing, but when you continually have to,” Bakich said, pausing to muse for a moment before continuing. “At some point, you just gotta keep them from scoring.
“We’re gonna need to find an answer here real quick, or we’re gonna be talking about next year real quick.”
With just two midweek games left in Michigan’s schedule, including a rematch with Michigan State, the Wolverines have effectively run out of opportunities to turn this aspect of their season around.
Time will tell if they can salvage the rest of it before it’s too late.