Last year, the Michigan baseball team finished last in the Big Ten conference with a record that looked almost identical to Michigan State, just flip-flopped.

Spartans — 36-21 — first place.

Wolverines — 17-37 — last place.

Michigan declared its team motto “Flip It” to represent the hoped-for 180-degree turn around from last season. But one series into conference play, there’s not much to show for it.

Though the Wolverines won a 7-3 midweek contest over Central Michigan, they will continue searching for Big Ten redemption this weekend against their bigger in-state rival.

Michigan (0-3 Big Ten, 3-16 overall) will host the first and third games of the series against Michigan State (2-1, 18-8) today and Sunday, and the Wolverines will travel to East Lansing for tomorrow’s matchup.

It’s going to be a tough weekend for the Wolverine bats, which face one of the top pitching staffs in the conference. So, will Michigan coach Rich Maloney stick to the usual lineup or to what worked against the Chippewas, even though it wasn’t what the team was used to?

“Honestly, I haven’t even thought that far yet,” Maloney said. “I’ll have to sleep on this one.”

The choice seems obvious since just three players are hitting consistently, but Maloney likes to weigh his different options and experiment.

Though the top of the batting order has remained mostly unchanged this season with its use of the outfielders — junior Patrick Biondi, freshman Will Drake and sophomore Michael O’Neill — Maloney occasionally mixes it up.

Against Central Michigan, Maloney bumped freshman shortstop Dylan Delaney from his usual spot at the bottom of the order to second in the lineup. It was a bit of a surprise considering his measly .176 batting average and .250 on-base percentage, and Delaney went hitless against the Chippewas.

“The two-hole may be where he ends up at some point,” Maloney said. “Whether we’ll use it this (weekend), we have to talk about it as a staff and try to figure it out.”

Michigan is still stuck in a hitting slump. Sophomore first baseman Brett Winger especially has been feeling that pressure at the plate and now in the dugout.

In his last 10 games, Winger has tallied just five hits, dropping his batting average to .265. Maloney gave him the opportunity to “rest his mind” against the Chippewas and started senior catcher Coley Crank at first base.

Maloney hopes Winger will come back refreshed against Michigan State, because the Wolverines need the extra run support.

While Biondi, Drake and O’Neill continue to carry the offense, the Spartans will come into the series with an advantage. Michigan State left fielder Jordan Keur bats .368 with a .460 on-base percentage. But the numbers don’t end there.

Spartan second baseman Ryan Jones posts similar statistics and ranks third in the Big Ten with 42 hits on the season. Unlike Michigan’s batting order, Michigan State has consistency and an ample supply of production throughout the lineup.

If the Wolverines lag behind on the scoreboard, the lopsided pitching staffs will also play a role. The Spartans have the lowest team ERA in the conference at 2.60, and no other team is in close contention.

Though Michigan boasted a strong string of starting-pitching performances during nonconference play, last weekend’s poor performance just added to the Maloney’s concerns.

After freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik’s gem on the mound against Minnesota, Maloney has decided to start Szkutnik between senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery on Friday and junior right-hander Ben Ballantine on Sunday.

If Szkutnik pitches as he did last weekend, when he threw for six innings with just two hits and no runs against the Golden Gophers, the Wolverines might have a chance to claim at least one win.

But Michigan State has found success with its hurling trio — right-handers Tony Bucciferro, Andrew Waszak and Mike Theodore. The threesome gives up very few earned runs, limits their walks and has combined for 79 strikeouts.

Though the matchups don’t look promising for Michigan, Maloney believes the key is confidence. He’s trying to instill that in his team by exploring the different possibilities in the batting order and on the mound.

“We’re just trying to create something,” Maloney said. “We’re trying to find what combination might work.”

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