It’s hard to be upset with a start like this.
This is an interesting case study in the discussion between ‘strength of schedule’ and ‘taking care of business’. Through 3 weekend series and 9 games, the Michigan baseball team has an 8-1 record and outscored opponents 52-18, which is encouraging given Michigan is a unanimous Top 25 team and they are playing teams that were all below .500 last year. With that caveat in mind it is hard to be upset with how Michigan is playing.
The starting pitching has been the headlining story so far this season. Sophomore lefty Tommy Henry has been razor sharp through three starts, throwing a complete game shutout against The Citadel. His command has been absolutely superb, striking out 34 and walking only 2 across his three starts. The most impressive – in separate starts, he has faced the minimum and one above the minimum and hasn’t allowed a run yet this season. He was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for the first week of the season. Through two starts, righty starter Karl Kauffmann has been almost equally as impressive, striking out 23 and walking 5 through 23 innings of work against (he has allowed two runs, what a bum). True freshman RHP Willie Weiss has been given the lion’s share of the closer’s innings, and has done quite well: in 4 appearances and 6 innings, he has struck out 11, walked 4, and didn’t allow a run until a solo shot against CSU-Northridge in the 9th over the weekend.
Also notable: Isaiah Page has only allowed one hit in three innings of work, and third starter Jeff Criswell has only allowed three runs across 9 1/3 innings in 2 starts. As the season develops and the innings become more strenuous, I am excited to see who else steps up out of the bullpen.
Offensively, the outfield is living up to the hype I gave them in the preseason. Jordan Brewer has been the heartbeat of the team. Starting all seven games, Brewer is slashing .400/.433/.685 (all team leading for qualified hitters) and has only struck out 3 times in 25 at-bats. Christian Bullock is putting it together this season, slashing .333/.423/.381 in six starts, including a double and six steals in six attempts, and Miles Lewis is back in form, slashing .280/.379/.560. Ako Thomas is slashing a solid .273/.294/.394 so far, although I would like to see a higher on-base percentage and he hasn’t attempted a steal this season.
The offense has come in waves so far this season, scoring in bunches. Michigan has won games by ten runs twice and eight runs once, but has also won by one run twice and two runs once. It is encouraging to see both types of wins, and offensive consistency will come when the weather warms up.
Michigan’s upcoming stretch sounds a lot worse than it actually is:
- @Long Beach State (0-10, but close losses against #3 Florida and #10 Ole Miss)
- @ UC Irvine (7-3, swept Rice)
- #4 UCLA (8-1, lone loss was to Georgia Tech in extras)
- USC (3-5)
- #19 Oklahoma State (6-4)
If this were 2011, I wouldn’t be expecting much out of this West Coast tour, but Michigan is one of the best teams in the country and has a chance to legitimately prove it against some of the giants. Tommy Henry will undoubtedly get the ball against UCLA to kick off the Dodgertown Classic and I would imagine Kauffmann will start against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State, but we will see how the other games play out.
I won’t say just yet that any of those opponents are definitively better than Michigan, but if Michigan can escape that swing at 3-2, then I’ll be thrilled. Thanks for reading!
Photo Credit: UMichBaseball/Twitter