Here comes the big one. After seven weeks of being on and off the road playing a total of 25 games, the Michigan baseball team will finally begin the Big Ten season this weekend at Minnesota.

Record-wise, the two teams match up fairly evenly. The Golden Gophers and the Wolverines boast similar results heading into Big Ten play — Minnesota is 13-13, while Michigan sits at 12-13.

“We know Minnesota has really good pitchers,” said junior outfielder Patrick Biondi. “We know they’re going to be close games, so we just have to compete a lot better than we did (at Eastern Michigan).”

Wednesday’s game against Eastern Michigan ended in a disappointing 12-2 loss. Biondi and freshman infielder Dylan Delaney were the only players to score runs, and the Wolverines finished with only three walks and 11 strikeouts. It was not an encouraging game leading into Big Ten play.

Pitching is perhaps the largest area that Michigan coach Rich Maloney is focusing on in practice. The top-three starting pitchers — senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery, redshirt junior left-hander Bobby Brosnahan and junior right-hander Ben Ballantine — did not play in Wednesday’s game so that they could rest up for the start of the conference season.

“Three good pitchers that we got going, Sinnery, Brosnahan, and Ballantine, are going to have a dog fight because they’ve got some outstanding pitching at Minnesota,” Maloney said. “They’re going to have to pitch really well in Big Ten play for us to be successful, and that’s really the bottom line.”

Freshman right-hander James Bourque, sophomore right-hander Alex Lakatos, redshirt sophomore left-hander Logan McAnallen and redshirt freshman right-hander Jay Perry split time on the mound against the Eagles.

“When you’re getting guys who are inexperienced pitching out there, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Maloney said.

Maloney was pleased with Perry’s relief performances in Wednesday’s game and Tuesday’s game against Oakland.

“Two games in a row, he’s come in and done a nice job, therefore he will get more opportunities,” Maloney said. “We’re waiting for some other guys to step up.”

Biondi is the player to keep an eye out for right now. He’s the leadoff hitter and has scored more runs than any other Wolverine this season. In the last four games, he had more hits than any other Wolverine. He also has the third-highest batting average, .323, behind sophomore outfielder Michael O’Neill and freshman outfielder Will Drake.

According to Maloney, Drake has been “consistent” and O’Neill “needs to get hot again.” O’Neill was named to the Big Ten Players to Watch list at the start of the season and was also honored as the Big Ten Co-Player of the Week on Feb. 27 and then claimed the honor outright on March 5.

Minnesota’s TJ Oakes is one of the starting pitchers that could cause problems for Michigan. His ERA is the team’s lowest at 1.56, he’s pitched a total of 40.1 innings, and he is 4-1 in his six starts. Of the Golden Gopher pitchers, he leads with 27 strikeouts.

Ballantine is statistically the best starting pitcher for the Wolverines this season. He’s pitched 38.2 innings and has struck out 29 batters. But his ERA, which is the second best for the Wolverines after Brosnahan, is 2.56, a full run worse than Oakes’.

It’s going to come down to more than just great pitching from Michigan to come out on top this weekend and throughout the rest of the Big Ten season. The Wolverines are going to need to make timely hits, play their best defense and steal some bases.

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