Ahead of the start of its season this Saturday, the Michigan baseball team is looking to capitalize on one of its consistent strengths: depth. Since positive COVID-19 tests are a real possibility at any given time, Michigan coach Erik Bakich knows that his team has to rely on all of its players to make it through a unique college baseball season.
During the 2020 season, Michigan held a respectable 8-7 record, including wins against several ranked opponents. However, with the season canceled and the NCAA granting spring student-athletes an extra year of eligibility, the Wolverines’ senior leadership has more experience than ever before.
While the return of veteran players should provide some stability, Bakich understands the importance of preparing for all possibilities, especially when it comes to adjusting for a last-minute lineup change before a game.
“You just have all these X-factors that are different this year,” Bakich said. “All of college athletics, in line with the whole world, we’re just trying to get back to normal. The unknowns are the unknowns, but if we can just have as close to a normal season as possible in terms of the process of competing and just feeling like the world is getting back to where it needs to be that would be fantastic.”
Though the world was much more normal then, the Wolverines faced a different sort of adversity — that of travel and fatigue — last season in the midst of a difficult stretch of games against ranked opponents. While the team ended up putting together a streak of great play near the end of the abridged season, Bakich acknowledged the mental and physical challenges that took their toll on what was a talented and battle-tested team.
Michigan faces one additional challenge this year: only 10 out of 42 players on its roster are freshmen. In light of this, Bakich and his coaching staff are going to have to make some tough decisions on veteran playing time.
This season, Bakich hopes that his team will be able to find its identity and maximize the potential of its talented roster at the right time and overcome any adversity en route to Omaha. But with depth at every position, the Wolverines shouldn’t have much trouble finding their rhythm over the course of the season.
“This team’s success will be totally predicated on how we respond to that adversity along the way, the growth along the way, and getting hot at the end,” Bakich said.
“But we are not lacking anything, there’s no talent deficit, we’ve got the pieces. So for us, it’s staying healthy, everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction. We can’t have selfish attitudes because guys aren’t playing as much as they want or the roles they wish they had.”
When asked about consistency for his starting lineup, Bakich also talks about the need to take each game one step at a time. The sticking point for Michigan this season will be its team chemistry and building a system that relies on its depth and experience.
If the Wolverines can unlock their potential, they will be able to contend in the Big Ten and nationally — and it all begins with the series against Iowa starting on Saturday.
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