If the Michigan baseball team won its last six conference games, it would have a chance to earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament.
Pretend for a minute that the Wolverines could somehow win their way through those six games.
Michigan would post a 12-12 conference record and the year wouldn’t end after the Nebraska series — it would continue into the conference playoffs as the six-seed.
Unfortunately, this is too far-fetched of a scenario.
If the team regains full strength, it could potentially win two or three conference games before the season ends — contests against the Big Ten’s top dog, Purdue, and the Huskers.
Before the Northwestern series in late April, Michigan wasn’t overly concerned with its handicapped situation. But as time wore on, the Wolverines knew what their future had in store.
They say misery loves company, and after the Wildcats won two of three games over Michigan, both sat at the bottom of the conference standings.
One week later, both got swept by top-tier conference teams. But because Northwestern was a series deeper into its conference schedule, its win percentage claimed a narrow lead and the No. 10 spot in the rankings.
Michigan, alone, sat in last place.
With a little bit of luck and sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill on their side, the Wolverines regained their dignity and won the series against Iowa this weekend and reclaimed 10th place.
Before the series win, some players seemed to have given up and others looked fatigued, but there have always been brief moments when Michigan looked like a different team — rejuvenated, energetic and simply better.
Freshman Kevin White smacked one over the fence in back-to-back games against Indiana, senior third baseman John Lorenz has often laid himself out, snagging a grounder to turn a double play and freshman shortstop Dylan Delaney started almost every game as a rookie, going 3-for-3 against Northwestern in the final matchup — it’s those sparks of hope that keep Michigan coach Rich Maloney from throwing in the towel.
With every new obstacle and injury, he looks at the team on the field and makes adjustments.
Maloney has toyed with the batting order, which was once a permanent structure with the three outfielders — junior Patrick Biondi, freshman Will Drake and O’Neill — leading the way.
The lineup has seen multiple changes since O’Neill and Drake were injured. Some seemed to work, others didn’t. So Maloney returned to the drawing boards.
He’s done everything in his power to squeeze the last bit of potential out of a bare-bones team. Maloney has improvised and experimented, but there’s not much more he can do.
At one point, he had the cream of the crop. From 2006-08, Maloney had options — most coaches would take them for granted, and maybe he did, too.
But this year, he was forced to pick the fruit from the tree before it was ripe. Maloney called on the freshmen, which put the Wolverines in a vulnerable position. Though the young players stepped up, it wasn’t enough to replace the level of experience it needed.
After a downhill season, Maloney alone must bear this burden — it’s his name that carries the weight of a 19-28 record.
Maloney once claimed three-straight Big Ten Championships, ranks fourth on Michigan’s winningest coaches list and has prepared numerous players for the big leagues.
But since finishing last in the conference in 2011, people have kept a close eye on Maloney’s decisions. Whether or not he was at fault for last year’s 17-37 results, this time around excuses can be made.
Put away the tar and feathers because there is no blame here. Put any coach in his situation, in Maloney’s shoes, and see if he can build a winning team without healthy players.
No one can point a finger in Maloney’s direction.