After only one day of rest following a series win over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, the Michigan baseball team returns to action in two midweek games. It will host Oakland today and travel to Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.

Though neither team appears threatening on paper, Michigan coach Rich Maloney knows how unpredictable midweek games can be.

If Michigan can use its momentum coming off a winning weekend, though, it may be able to roll past the Golden Grizzlies and Eagles without any major bumps in the road.

The outcome depends on Michigan’s limited pitching staff, as the team’s pitching leaders will be recovering before Big Ten play. In a combined three-game effort this weekend, junior right-hander Ben Ballantine, senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery and redshirt junior left-hander Bobby Brosnahan gave up just six hits and four earned runs in 18 innings of work.

So with the three reliable hurlers out of the question, who will take the mound for the Wolverines?

“I haven’t given it much thought,” Maloney said on Sunday.

But what Maloney does know is that the results will end in a toss up — midweek games are difficult to navigate and walks could be the deciding factor.

Whoever it may be will have to limit the “freebies.” And though it may seem there’s a number of eligible candidates in the bullpen, the options are too few.

Pitching coach Steve Merriman is looking for a handful of pitchers to step up to and “bridge the gap” between the definite starters — Sinnery, Ballantine and Brosnahan — and the of lack of consistency in the bullpen.

“Nobody has really emerged and set themselves apart,” Merriman said. “But nothing has been etched in stone — those guys are all competing for that opportunity.”

Once the Wolverines can weed through the bullpen and find additional support, they might be able to pull themselves from the low end of the Big Ten pitching ranks. Though Brosnahan and Ballantine post a 2.10 ERA and 2.56 ERA, respectively, the rest of the staff weighs down Michigan’s team ERA to 4.19.

Freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik is the probable starter on Tuesday. And though his 9.00 ERA in 10 innings of work does not appear ideal, his 14 recorded strikeouts looks promising.

Freshman right-hander James Bourque is likely to open for the Wolverines at Eastern Michigan, and his 3.00 ERA may increase their chances to notch a win. But the concern is that Szkutnik and Bourque have too little experience on the mound, with just a combined 19 innings in their careers.

If the Wolverines find they can’t rely on their young pitching, they will have to focus their attention on perfecting at-bats. The outfielders and top of the batting order, junior Patrick Biondi, freshman Will Drake and sophomore Michael O’Neill have executed strong performances throughout the season.

“(Biondi) had seven positives in yesterday’s game,” Maloney said. “He had one RBI, one run scored, two hits, two walks and a stolen base, so I counted seven positives.”

Suddenly, in the final game against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, Michigan witnessed increased hitting contributions.

Senior third baseman John Lorenz, sophomore first baseman Brett Winger and senior catcher Coley Crank are all batting below .300. But Sunday may have been a breakthrough for all three. Winger went 2-for-4 with two runs, Lorenz added to a five-game hitting streak and Crank recorded a solo home run.

It’s hard to say that a single game can indicate what lies ahead. With the mixture and wide range of hitting abilities, Michigan sunk to eighth in the conference with a less-than-desirable .260-team batting average.

If the Wolverines manage to feed off the successful series against the Mastodons, the games could just depend on what the coaching staff has been monitoring all season — confidence.

Regardless of the recent hitting fluctuations, pitching staff uncertainties and team morale, Michigan might be able to notch two straight wins and break past .500 if Oakland (3-16) and Eastern Michigan (8-14) play like their records show.

Both schools seem to have problems of their own. Aside from Golden Grizzlies’ three top weekend pitchers, their bullpen is crowded with inexperience and their batters scored just four runs in the three-game series against Michigan State this weekend.

The Eagles will be post a tougher matchup for the Wolverines as they, too, come off a two-win weekend against Miami (Ohio). Eastern’s team statistics look very similar, almost identical, to Michigan’s batting tallies.

So the pitching department will be the determining factor between a midweek win and loss. But the Wolverines are likely to catch a break with Oakland and Eastern’s probable starters posting a 7.59 ERA and an 11.40 ERA, respectively.

But Michigan just needs to worry about itself.

“Somebody has to rise up,” Maloney said. “I’m hoping somebody just takes the bullet to say, ‘I’m the guy.’ We’re waiting on that.”

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