The No. 17 Michigan baseball team (9-6 Big Ten, 33-10 overall) seems poised to finish its season on a high note, as it prepares for a three-game bout — its last regular-season home series — this weekend against unranked Ohio State (5-10 Big Ten, 17-27 overall).
“It’s a little bit more personal this year just because they ended our season last year,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich on WTKA. “We got swept at their place last year.”
This year is totally different, though, and the Wolverines are coming off a weekend victory over Rutgers. They are also taking the week off from midweek play to prepare for their rivals. With their 18-4 record at home this season — having only dropped matchups to Illinois, Indiana and Northern Illinois — they do not seem to be feeling the late-season fatigue that most teams do and seem prepared to avenge last year’s woes.
The Buckeyes, despite taking an early 1-0 lead over No. 4 Texas Tech Wednesday, dropped the game, 5-3. As Texas Tech is a serious contender for the College World Series, Ohio State’s early lead over the Raiders shows that its record is not indicative of its prowess.
Freshman outfielder Dominic Canzone leads the Buckeyes with a .351 batting average and is second in runs-batted in with 24. Junior right-hander Seth Kinker adds the pressure out of the bullpen, boasting a 2.43 earned run average.
However, Ohio State’s overall .249 batting average, 361 hits, 183 RBIs and 5.12 ERA pales in comparison to Michigan’s overall .298 batting average, 437 hits, 277 RBIs and 3.40 ERA.
Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas and senior shortstop Michael Brdar have led the charge for the Wolverines’ offense, both donating .371 and .322 batting averages to the cause, respectively.
Michigan’s mentality this season has been to generate quality at-bats, with an emphasis on productivity, and this has been seen throughout the Wolverines’ lineup. Sophomore second baseman Jimmy Kerr has certainly embodied that role, having a .700 batting average last week and snagging the Big Ten Player of the Week award.
Following a collision in the outfield Saturday in Piscataway, redshirt sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis and senior centerfielder Johnny Slater left the game, and only Lewis returned on Sunday. Slater plays a pivotal role in the Michigan offense, and the week off couldn’t come at a better time, giving both players — and everyone else, for that matter — time to rest and recover heading into the final parts of the season.
Slater’s status for this weekend’s showdown is still unclear, as well as that of Thomas, who suffered a broken hand that has kept him out of action since the Indiana series.
“Johnny has made a ton of progress just in the last couple of days,” Bakich said on WTKA. “I’m cautiously optimistic about a quick return.”
While the Wolverines have incurred a multitude of injuries, they still have managed to produce offensively, which was evident in their weekend wins over Rutgers in which they combined for 14 runs.
Michigan’s season was halted by Ohio State last year, but it seems as if the Buckeyes have something to prove this year. Add one of, if not the, greatest rivalries in sports to the mix, and fans should be prepared for a heated battle this weekend in Ann Arbor.