Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney consistently states that the key to his team’s success is “making the routine play, routinely.”
And if the Wolverines (6-6 overall) are going to find any success this weekend at the LSU Tournament, they will need to get back to fundamentals.
“I don’t think that we haven’t played well, we just haven’t done the little things that we need to do to win,” said junior center fielder Patrick Biondi. “It’s not like we’re not playing well enough to win, we just need to capitalize, and hopefully we’ll do that this weekend.”
Michigan heads to Baton Rouge, La. to face No. 13 LSU (11-2) and Notre Dame (5-4) in two games apiece in front of what will be a sold-out Alex Box Stadium. Biondi and the rest of the Wolverines recognize that they aren’t going to get many chances on offense this weekend, especially against the Tigers, so they know that they must do the little things — something they haven’t done of late.
After starting off the season by winning five of its first seven games, Michigan has hit a rough stretch. Its recent slide can be traced back to defense and pitching.
“The less freebies you give away, the better chance you’re going to have,” Maloney said. “We just have to get back to playing that good, fundamental baseball and focus on not giving away freebies out in the field.”
In their last five games, the Wolverines’ defense and pitching has been less than spectacular. During that period, the defense has committed eight of its season-total 13 errors and the pitching staff has allowed 30 earned runs — about six runs per nine innings. The pitching staff has also given up late leads in two of those four losses.
In a 5-3 defeat against Xavier last Sunday, Michigan allowed four late runs after holding a 3-1 lead heading into the seventh inning. And in a 9-4 defeat against Ohio State last Friday, after getting six-plus innings of superb pitching from senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery, the bullpen allowed three runs across the seventh and eighth innings that led to a 4-2 deficit into the bottom of the eighth inning. After Michigan’s bats tied the score, the Buckeyes scored five unearned runs off of two Wolverine errors and three wild pitches.
“Most of our losses have come where the other team has scored late, so we have to pitch a little better late in games,” Maloney said.
Though the Wolverines have struggled in the field, their offense has hit consistently.
Led by sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill and freshman left fielder Will Drake, Michigan ranks second in the Big Ten with 81 runs scored. O’Neill ranks first in the country with 47 total bases and leads the Big Ten in slugging percentage (.940), hits (24), RBIs (16), doubles (8), home runs (5) and stolen bases (9). Drake, who’s hitting .372, has been a pleasant surprise for Michigan. The freshman ranks second in the conference in runs scored (15), fifth in hits (16) and first in triples (3) while collecting two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards.
The Wolverines will also need to lean on their excellent base running to disrupt the opposing pitching staffs. Led by Biondi and O’Neill, Michigan ranks first in the conference with 28 stolen bases in 36 attempts.
Though Michigan is not overlooking the Fighting Irish, their attention will most likely focus on LSU.
The Wolverines will have their hands full against the Tigers. LSU’s Mason Katz was recently named National Player of the Week and is hitting .477. He is one of five batters hitting over .300 for the Tigers.
Michigan’s pitchers will need to try to contain LSU’s lineup because the Wolverines’ lineup will not get many good pitches to hit against the Tigers. Considered by Maloney to be elite MLB prospects, Ryan Eades and Kevin Gausman headline LSU’s pitching staff, and both sport ERAs under 2.00.
The Wolverines, though, view this as a great opportunity and are just excited to get a chance to play in front of 11,000 against one of the better teams in the country.
“The reality is, this is another wonderful opportunity to play against great competition,” Maloney said.