The Michigan baseball team is probably feeling pretty good about itself right now, and with some reason – the Wolverines just won three of four games against Iowa this weekend to open up the Big Ten season. Thanks to some solid pitching performances from Bobby Korecky and Rich Hill, Michigan was able to give the fans at The Fish something to cheer about.
I hate to rain on Michigan’s parade (well, that’s actually not true at all. I enjoy it an awful lot), but taking three of four from the Hawkeyes doesn’t erase the awful start that the Wolverines had to this season. For those who don’t remember, here’s a little refresher – Michigan lost 12 of its first 15 games and entered this weekend ranked last among all Big Ten teams in pitching, hitting and defense.
Yes, you read that correctly. Michigan was dead-last in the Big Ten in all three phases of the game. The absolute low point for the Wolverines had to have come against San Diego on March 3, when Michigan gave up 13 unearned runs in one inning en route to a 21-2 flogging at the hands of the Toreros. How do you go about giving up 13 unearned runs in a game, let alone in one inning? That might be the most astonishing statistic I’ve ever seen, but Michigan demonstrated that when you put your mind to something, anything is possible, including feats of staggering ineptitude.
In fairness to the Wolverines, 14 of their first 15 games were played on the road. But that’s common for college baseball teams in the Midwest and the Northeast. Since the weather in those regions is frigid until May, teams like Michigan usually have to play a ton of road games before they can play a home game. Sure enough, the Wolverines had 12 road contests before they finally got a home game, and they made the most of their chance to play at The Fish by beating Bowling Green 4-3 on March 19.
Still, it’s impossible to overlook just how horribly Michigan played to start the season. In past years, the Wolverines have had moderate success in their season-opening road swing, but they’ve never been anything special. The Big Ten hasn’t been very kind to the Wolverines either – the last two years, Michigan has a combined record of 20-32 in conference play.
Why am I picking on the baseball team, you ask? The main reason is that I can’t understand how the baseball team can get swept by Texas-San Antonio while the softball team ranks among the nation’s best. Michigan’s softball team currently sports a record of 24-7, and the Wolverines are coming off a two-game sweep of Ohio State, which was ranked No. 25 in the nation at the time. The wins over the Buckeyes give Michigan seven wins over top 25 teams this season, and it’s only April 2.
Michigan’s softball team is annually one of the best teams in the country, even though it has to deal with all of the same obstacles that the baseball team deals with. Much like baseball, softball has its greatest popularity in the west and in the south, so that’s where the best players and the best teams, like Oklahoma and UCLA, are. The Wolverines never get to play any of those powerhouses at Alumni Field – instead, Michigan plays them in early-season tournaments (read: road games) in California and Florida. This season, the Wolverines played their first 27 games on the road and amassed a record of 21-6. Michigan appears well on its way to another NCAA Tournament bid and could make a return trip to the Women’s College World Series.
The tremendous success of the softball team renders all excuses for the baseball team’s mediocrity moot. Considering how much flak the football and basketball teams at this school receive (and make no mistake, it’s all justified), it’s amazing how little criticism the baseball team gets.
The Wolverines annually fight to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack and are on their third coach in the last decade, yet nobody ever wonders what’s wrong with the baseball program.
I’m not saying that Michigan’s baseball team should be contending for the national title every year, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect winning records in Big Ten play and a decent nonconference showing (as opposed to two losses by more than 10 runs and another loss by nine, which Michigan suffered this year between Feb. 24 and March 3). The fact that the softball team is a national power makes the baseball team’s ineptitude that much more glaring.
With that said, maybe this weekend’s success against Iowa is a sign of good things to come for the baseball team. Now that they’re only seven games below .500, it’s time to start thinking Big Ten title, isn’t it?
Arun Gopal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.