If the Michigan baseball team hopes to find any measure of success in the Big Ten conference this season, they’ll need to regroup. And fast.
The Wolverines will kick off a three-game weekend series against Indiana on Friday to open official conference competition.
The timing couldn’t be worse.
Two weekends ago — coming off of a victory over Eastern Michigan to extend its winning streak to three games — the Michigan baseball team looked like it might finally be gaining momentum. But a week and a half later, the Wolverines have another streak going, this time in the other direction. Following a three-game sweep at the hands of Michigan State, Michigan lost 8-2 to that same Eastern Michigan team on Wednesday.
The pitching staff has shown marginal improvement from a rocky start to the season, but the offensive production has actually declined.
Michigan (6-16) is averaging just under four runs a game compared to 6.7 runs allowed by its own staff. All batters, except freshman right fielder Michael O’Neill — the only Wolverine slugger over .300 — are mired in a team-wide slump. Collectively, the Wolverines are batting just .248, and that number is on the decline.
“There comes a point where you got to make plays, you got to make pitches and you got to execute,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said Sunday. “And right now we’re not doing that.”
Whether it’s psychological, mechanics or the lack of protection in the lineup due to the departure of last season’s offensive leaders, even the players who played well last year are struggling at the plate. That includes players like fifth-year senior second baseman Anthony Toth and sophomore centerfielder Patrick Biondi.
Indiana, meanwhile, brings a 16-8 record into the series along with one of the best hitters in the nation in junior left fielder Alex Dickerson. Dickerson claimed the Big Ten triple crown, batting .419 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI, on his way to being named a first team all-American.
“He’s a great hitter and last year (Big Ten) Player of the Year in the league, so you’ve got to pitch him carefully and hope that he comes to bat with not a lot of guys on,” Maloney said. “That’s kind of the key so that he doesn’t get the big hit. But he’s an outstanding player, and we’re going to have to really hit our sports to be successful against him.”
Last year, Indiana finished fifth in the Big Ten last year but has picked up some impressive wins early this season. In the span of a week in February, they picked up victories over Coastal Carolina and Connecticut, then ranked No. 18 and No. 14 respectively.
The Wolverines will send redshirt sophomore right-hander Tyler Mills, redshirt sophomore left-hander Bobby Brosnahan and sophomore right-hander Kyle Clark to the hill this weekend.
The one positive for Michigan is that it can still punch a ticket to the NCAA Regionals by winning the Big Ten. The real season starts Friday.