As the Michigan baseball team approaches the halfway point in its conference season, it’s clear that the team’s main objective will be to stay in position to grab one of the final seeds in the Big Ten to qualify for the conference tournament.

The Wolverines (4-5 Big Ten, 11-24 overall) entered conference play 6-16, and though they haven’t quite found a rhythm, the caliber of play has improved. Michigan squeaked out wins in the first two series of the year against Indiana and Purdue and won two of three games against Illinois last weekend.

And while the Wolverines’ record is not what they would have liked it to be, they have fought and scrapped in conference games to stay afloat. Michigan is in a three-way tie for the sixth spot — the final qualifying seed for the Big Ten Tournament.

Despite Michigan’s bewilderingly inconsistent play in its midweek non-conference games, the players have echoed the mantra that the games that matter are played on the weekends.

Michigan will conclude the first half of its conference season this weekend at Iowa (3-6, 14-20). The Hawkeyes are tied for last place with Minnesota, but lie just a game back of Michigan, Northwestern and Illinois.

For the rest of the season, the Wolverines will play teams that are currently within one game of them. Here’s how they stack up against their next foe.

Offense: As was the case last weekend against Illinois, Michigan’s series against Iowa will be dominated by small ball.

Both teams like to get men on base and either steal or bunt runners over, giving the meat of the order a chance to knock them in — mostly with singles. But Iowa does this more effectively than Michigan. Iowa’s .363 on-base percentage, compared to Michigan’s .328, allows it to have men on base to move over.

The Hawkeyes are prolific bunters and have 52 sacrifices this season, easily the most in the Big Ten and more than double the amount of Michigan’s. Left fielder Zach McCool leads the conference with 12 sacrifice bunts. Second baseman Mike McQuillan leads Iowa with .321 batting average and 19 RBI.

For Michigan, junior Coley Crank has the hot bat. The catcher and designated hitter has hits in seven of the last eight games and an RBI in five of the last six.

Neither team relies on the long ball and whichever team can make the most of the hitters they get on base will take the series.

Advantage: Iowa

Pitching: A lack of focus on the mound for Michigan this season has crippled the Wolverines. The pitching staff leads the Big Ten in wild pitches, balks, hit batsmen and stolen bases against. These can all be avoided with more attentiveness, but they have culminated in a conference-worst, 5.13 ERA.

Still, Michigan has shown improvement lately. Junior pitcher Brandon Sinnery threw a shutout against Illinois on Sunday to lead the Wolverines to a 3-0 win. And before the ninth inning on Wednesday, Michigan held Eastern Michigan scoreless. The Eagles scored three runs in the last frame to vulture the win.

Sinnery will start this weekend along with redshirt sophomore hurler Bobby Brosnahan and, most likely, sophomore pitcher Kyle Clark.

The Hawkeyes’ staff has been inconsistent this year, and sophomore Matt Dermody has been the only pitcher on a roll lately. He has recorded victories in his last two conference outings, throwing a complete game in a 2-1 victory over Indiana in his most recent performance.

Iowa has no true closer and has leaned on four different relievers to finish games. Still, its 4.50 ERA is much better than Michigan’s and the pitching staff has more depth beyond the top four guys than Michigan’s rotation boasts.

Advantage: Iowa

Intangibles: Neither team has much momentum entering the weekend. The Wolverines are coming off of a devastating 3-1 loss to Eastern Michigan, and Iowa has lost its first three conference series. But Michigan could get a boost from sophomore Derek Dennis, who will be starting in his first Big Ten games since injuring his ankle nearly a month ago against Michigan State.

The Hawkeyes get the luxury of being the home team and they will be gunning for the Wolverines, who are a step ahead of them in the conference standings.

Advantage: Even

Prediction: Iowa wins two out of three

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