The confines of Ray Fisher Stadium at the Wilpon Complex have been more than friendly to the Michigan baseball team so far in 2010.
After playing on the road for the first five weeks of the season, the Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 16-10 overall) have played five of the their last eight at home, putting together a spotless 5-0 record at the Fish.
But that perfect mark will be in jeopardy as Michigan continues Big Ten play, starting with the conference home opener tonight against Purdue.
“(It’s) conference play, so we obviously got to win the series,” junior outfielder Ryan LaMarre said. “We’re definitely looking forward to the series and taking it one game at a time.”
The Wolverines come in on a roll, having won 10 of their last 11 games. Michigan beat Indiana twice in a three-game series last weekend in the Wolverines’ first conference play of the season and won 13-7 against Central Michigan on Wednesday.
But a couple facets of Michigan’s game have been worrisome during those games. The team’ s defense, which had been its most consistent attribute this season, has lapsed of late.
The Wolverines had a combined 11 errors in Bloomington and then gave up two more against the Chippewas. The team’s pitching has also been shaky recently, allowing a whopping 47 runs in those last four games, including a 26-6 drubbing at the hands of the Hoosiers last Sunday.
The only consistent Wolverine pitchers recently have been redshirt freshman Bobby Brosnahan as the No. 2 starter and junior starter/reliever Tyler Burgoon.
“Obviously, we need to get better pitching,” senior first baseman Mike Dufek said after Sunday’s loss. “But the fielders have to help out the pitchers, as well.”
The Boilermakers (1-2, 14-12) come into Ann Arbor with a mediocre record and low expectations, but boast a strong rotation that could give the home team fits.
Friday’s starter Matt Bischoff (3-1, 2.06) was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for his nine-inning, two-run, 10-strikeout performance against Minnesota. Purdue’s No. 3 starter Matt Morgan also is very solid, with a 2-0 record and 3.23 ERA this year.
“(Their quality) just tightens up our focus,” LaMarre said. “We know that (Alan) Oaks is going to pitch a great game, Bobby’s going to pitch a great game, and then whoever throws Sunday is going to throw a great game. As hitters, we know that we can’t give up opportunities to get runs, so we’ll all be up there, (with) tight focus, and really playing for each other.”
But the Boilermakers don’t have a deep rotation. The bullpen has just one pitcher with an ERA below four, and seven with ERA’s above seven. In the team’s most recent loss to Minnesota, the bullpen blew a 5-2 lead and Purdue ended up losing 9-7.
Michigan’s hitters will be looking to take advantage.
They’ll receive a boost with LaMarre’s return from a broken thumb. The Jackson native started in left field against Central and went 1-for-3 with an RBI single in his first batting action since February. While he says he still isn’t 100 percent, his presence should still be a boost to the Wolverines’ lineup.
And after LaMarre’s return, the team appeared to dodge a bullet concerning senior catcher Chris Berset. The co-captain — who leads Michigan with a .389 average and is tied for the team lead with ten doubles — exited the game Wednesday after fouling a ball off his leg, but appears to be fine and will likely still start against the Boilermakers.
His and the rest of the Wolverines’ production will be needed against Purdue’s strong starters if the team is to achieve its goal and complete its first Big Ten sweep.