The Michigan baseball team is playing on a fine line.
The Wolverines are in a near-fatal situation, hovering just above the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
With a recent plight of injuries, the team has lost its confidence, and Michigan’s chance to “Flip It” is slipping away. The Wolverines came into the season with high energy in hopes of turning around last year’s record — “From Last To First” is their motto.
“Unfortunately, our record could be flipped,” Maloney said. “But we didn’t get it done — just a hit here, a play here, a pitch here.”
This weekend’s series against Northwestern might be the stepping-stone they need to reach .500 and cover some conference ground.
The Wildcats (3-9 Big Ten, 11-22 overall) have lost seven of their last eight games, and were shut out against two conference teams.
In an almost even matchup, both teams are competing to stay afloat. If the Wolverines (3-6, 16-22) can work past the injuries, they just might be able to take advantage of their struggling opponent.
But Michigan’s pitcher-catcher executions haven’t been synchronized as of late — ranked the second-highest in the Big Ten with 42 wild pitches and 11 passed balls.
In Wednesday’s game, where the Wolverines pitched by committee and started an inexperienced catcher, they allowed Eastern Michigan to advance base runners and score on three wild pitches and a passed ball.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney is frustrated with the number of “freebies,” which leaves him uncertain for Sunday’s starting pitcher.
Though there’s a high level of inconsistency on the mound, senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery has emerged from the unreliable bullpen. He will start for the Wolverines on Friday in search of his fourth win on the season.
Sinnery, who finished third in the conference last year with a 2.91 ERA, didn’t produce as well as expected during nonconference play. In his first five outings, he gave up 19 earned runs.
But Sinnery has allowed just two earned runs in his last 17.1 innings of work, striking out 11 batters from Michigan State and Penn State.
On the other hand, junior right-hander Ben Ballantine, who will start on Saturday against Northwestern, posted promising numbers at the start of the season, but has since disappointed.
Before pitching in the Big Ten schedule, Ballantine notched 29 strikeouts and posted a 2.56 ERA. But in his recent outings, Maloney had to pull him from the mound after just a couple of innings.
In 1.2 innings against the Spartans, Ballantine gave up four hits, three earned runs and two walks. But he’s found redemption since in his last performance against Penn State — in six innings, he allowed only one earned run.
With Sinnery and Ballantine as hopeful matchups against the Wildcats, Maloney still needs someone to step up for Sunday’s game.
“I’m not so certain on that,” Maloney said. “We’re going to have to evaluate everything.”
The Northwestern pitching staff stacks up similarly to the Wolverines, but there’s no unanswered question in the lineup. The Wildcats have consistently used right-handers Francis Brooke, Brandon Magallones and Zach Morton in every conference series.
Saturday, Magallones, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 51 strikeouts, will be a threat against the Michigan batters that have struck out for a conference-high 294 times.
Junior center fielder Patrick Biondi has been the Wolverines’ leading hitter since injuries plagued the freshman left fielder Will Drake and sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill.
Biondi takes the top spot with a .447 on-base percentage, 45 hits and 34 runs. But there are few others who have stepped up in the time of need.
“It comes down to timely hitting and making a pitch when you have to make it,” Maloney said. “Unfortunately, we’re not doing that well enough. … That’s the bottom line.”