Michigan baseball, running on all cylinders, looks to extend 10-game winning streak

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By Alex Taylor, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 18, 2013

The winds of change are blowing in the Big Ten.

Not only will the Michigan baseball team (7-2 Big Ten, 21-14 overall) be looking to extend their 10-game win streak this weekend when it takes on Northwestern (4-8, 15-13), the Wolverines will also play Saturday’s game at historic Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

“We’re going to be excited to be in a major-league park, especially a park that has as much nostalgia and tradition as Wrigley Field,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “To think of all the players that have come through there and 100 years of baseball is pretty neat.”

Michigan is currently tied with Minnesota atop the Big Ten standings thanks to back-to-back series sweeps against Michigan State and Penn State. The Wolverines also got some help when the conference frontrunner, Indiana, was swept by Michigan State last weekend. In the Big Ten preseason coaches poll, Michigan wasn’t listed as one of the top six teams in the conference.

The pitching staff has played an important role in the Wolverines’ recent run. Since the beginning of Big Ten play four weeks and 13 games ago, Michigan’s pitching staff has held opponents to two runs or fewer in every game, except for three games in which it allowed three.

“Our pitching coach (Sean Kenny) is one of the best in the country at what he does,” Bakich said. “The players have all bought into the philosophy. It’s nothing different than we’ve been preaching all year, which is quick tempo and forcing contact.”

Besides executing this strategy, the pitchers are also getting support from the defense. In the 10-game winning streak, the defense has committed just 10 errors while producing some web-gem moments.

“The (pitchers) are just pounding the strike zone and letting the defense make plays,” Bakich said. “The pitching staff has a ton of confidence right now, knowing they can attack the strike zone.”

As the pitching staff has recieved much of the attention, the offense has flown under the radar. During the winning streak, the Wolverines have outscored opposing teams 54-13. A quintet of hitters has led the charge, comprising outfielders senior Patrick Biondi, junior Michael O’Neill and sophomore Zach Zott, as well as freshmen infielders Travis Maezes and Jacob Cronenworth. With the exception of Maezes, who is hitting .297, all have a batting average north of .300.

A strong Northwestern pitching staff will test the hitters this weekend. As a team, the Wildcats have a paltry 3.14 earned-run average. Northwestern is carried by sophomore Brandon Magallones, fifth-year senior Zach Morton and senior Luke Farrell.

Farrell — the son of Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell — is the projected starter for the Saturday game. Longtime baseball expert Peter Gammons tweeted about the matchup between him and O’Neill earlier this week. Besides having connections to the major leagues (O’Neill is the nephew of former New York Yankee Paul O’Neill), both of these players are projected to be drafted in the early rounds of this year’s MLB First-Year Player draft.

Besides boasting a solid pitching staff, Northwestern also has several strong hitters in junior Kyle Ruchim and senior Jack Havey. Ruchim carries a .418 batting average into the weekend while Havey has a .389 average.

“They are a team that has been a little bit of up and down,” Bakich said. “When they play well, they can certainly sneak up on you.”