Something happened to the hierarchy of baseball powers in the state of Michigan over the past ten days.

Two weekends ago, the Michigan baseball team suffered a sweep at the hands of Michigan State. The Spartans outplayed the Wolverines in all facets of the game.

Three days later, though, it was the Spartans who found themselves on the wrong side of an in-state rivalry when they lost, 3-1, to Central Michigan.

Michigan, which holds the all-time series lead against both schools, now has another chance to stake its claim as an in-state factor when it squares off against the Chippewas (2-4 MAC, 12-17 overall) in Mount Pleasant, Mich. this afternoon.

The Wolverines (1-2 Big Ten, 7-18 overall) are coming off a series with Indiana last weekend in which they took one out of three games but saw some slumbering hitters finally start to heat up and some encouraging signs from the pitching staff.

Junior catcher Coley Crank will look to extend his six-game hitting streak against Central Michigan. Crank was 6-for-9 in the series, with three doubles, but wasn’t the only Michigan batter who showed some life. Freshman pitcher and designated hitter Alex Lakatos went 5-for-8, and junior third baseman John Lorenz also picked up his production.

But the series was also riddled with costly mental mistakes in the field, culminating in a five-error performance in the second game on Saturday.

For Michigan, those mistakes have turned into monster innings for opposing teams. On Saturday, three errors over the second and third innings led to seven runs — only one earned — for Indiana.

“We have this motto, ‘Pick up your brother,’ so when somebody makes a mistake, the next guy needs to make a play,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “We haven’t done a great job of that this year.

“That’s how you become successful … you minimize your damage, so your mistakes are minimized — they’re not compounded. They don’t turn into a big giant avalanche. That’s what’s happened to us and that’s the big inning.”

Lorenz noted that the team has focused on hitting line drives and ground balls in practice to avoid the fly balls that have led to easy outs. That has been a blessing for the defense, as it gives them an extra opportunity to field hard ground balls in the field.

Several players stayed after practice on Tuesday to get extra work defensively, but Lorenz indicated that the team isn’t struggling with mechanics. They simply aren’t executing.

“I would probably say it’s a little mental,” Lorenz said. “Since we’ve been losing, guys are pressing, and they’re trying to make everything perfect when you just need to go out there and relax.”

The problem of pressing too hard extends into the batter’s box as well. Much of the lineup has been slumping, and Maloney indicated on Saturday that players like redshirt senior second baseman Anthony Toth have been trying too hard.

The game against the Chippewas could provide a break from the pressure of playing against conference foes.

“I think a real ballplayer always plays the game the same regardless of who he’s playing,” Maloney said. “But I don’t think natural human instinct is — you think the guys at Butler when they were playing in (Monday’s) game, did they feel a little bit different when they did when they were playing, let’s just say, Illinois-Chicago? Probably. It’s just natural human nature.”

Midweek games, though, like the one on Wednesday, do have a different feel to them. For one, the pitching strategy is much different, with each pitcher not throwing more than a few innings.

Redshirt sophomore right-hander Tyler Mills will get the start against Central Michigan, but Maloney only plans to pitch Mills for two to three innings before he is relieved by a bevy of other arms.

Mills usually gets the nod on Friday, but since he is a newly converted starter, Maloney wants to give him an additional opportunity to start a game and also the opportunity to throw in front of a friendly crowd in his hometown. Mills will also start on Sunday against Purdue.

Lorenz said that for now, the team is not even thinking about the weekend.

“We need all the wins we can get,” Lorenz said. “And sometimes a midweek game — if you play really well — it can carry over to the weekend.”

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