St. Patty’s Day and its ensuing weekend was a busy one for Michigan athletics. While the men’s basketball team could not put away Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the men’s hockey and women’s gymnastics teams did find tremendous success in their own regards, both winning Big Ten titles. The baseball team flew largely under the radar in the biggest series of the season to date, a 3-gamer against 22nd ranked Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Entering the weekend with an excellent 11-3 record, Michigan dropped the first two games of the series and avoided the sweep in the finale, bringing their season record to 12-5. Congruent with the rest of the season, the series came down to starting pitching, which has been Michigan’s strongest aspect thus far in the young season. This weekend, however, was a different story; all three starting pitchers struggled mightily to find the strike zone.
Oklahoma State’s team batting average entering the series was .252, not very good for a full team, especially in collegiate baseball, where team averages can inflate to .315 or even .330 (Michigan’s was .308 entering the weekend). However, an on-base percentage nearly 100 points higher than their team average is a neon sign of an indication that they are still difficult to dispatch and since they had scored more runs than Michigan in the same amount of games, they are devious on the basepaths to boot. They showcased this talent copiously this weekend, drawing 25 walks, 14 of which from starters Adcock, Jaskie, and Hill alone. The staff wasn’t bad by any means, they still struck out 32 batters and only allowed 11 runs (all earned), but walking batters in bunches against an adept base running and situational hitting team such as Oklahoma State is hard to overcome.
Jake Bivens, 3B. The sophomore infielder was textbook from the top of the lineup this weekend, collecting 6 hits and 2 RBI. With the incredible success of Wenson and Lugbauer so far this weekend, having Bivens on base nearly half of his at-bats was crucial to the wellbeing of the offense, and will be in the future as Michigan begins its first homestand this coming weekend.
Bryan Pall, P. We have’t seen much of the closer so far this season, but he showed up in a magnificent fashion to close out Sunday’s victory. Striking out three and not allowing a walk over 1.2 innings of work, Pall’s save was important for the team because it ended the series on a high note. Preventing a sweep is one thing, but to end the series with an errorless, crisp game with timely hitting and hard-nosed pitching gives the team something to smile about as they board the plane back to Ann Arbor. With conference play right around the corner, Michigan’s closer emphatically sent the Cowboys down and set the tone for the upcoming schedule.
Jonathan Engelmann, OF. The Minnesota Twins draftee’s playing time has been mostly deferred to junior Johnny Slater in the outfield, but Engelmann made the most of what time he got this weekend. In the 8th inning of game two with two men on and one out, the freshman from California singled to centerfield, setting the table for a 2-run single from pinch hitter Hector Gutierrez. Earning the start in game three, Engelmann went 2-4 with a double and a run, scoring a much-needed insurance run in the top of the 6th.
After what seems like the world’s longest road trip, Michigan will finally play their first home game on Good Friday against Illinois-Chicago. The Flames, 9-10 so far, have played some of the country’s best (and worst) teams, beating up on Texas Southern, Northwestern, and Oakland, but also being the punching bag to SEC sluggers #2 Vanderbilt (whom they took to 14 innings one game, because that makes perfect sense) and Missouri, but also 5-12 Chicago State. Although Michigan is not quite the same caliber as Vanderbilt (few are), UIC also performs poorly on the road; 9 of their 10 losses have come away from home with a run differential of exactly 0. In 13 road games this season, UIC has scored 100 runs but also allowed exactly 100. There was a three-game stretch against Texas Southern, however, in the Flames scored 60 runs in 3 games, so if we remove those three outliers from their total, their run differential becomes -44.
|UIC Runs Scored in Wins||Opponent||UIC Runs Scored in Losses||Opponents|
|22||Texas Southern||5||Texas Southern|
The common denominator: hold the Flames to under 5 runs scored, which is Michigan’s specialty; the Wolverines have allowed 5 runs or more in only 3 of their 17 games, and two came this weekend against the Cowboys. UIC is not a good road team, and after Vandy, Michigan is the best team that they’ve faced all season. I expect Michigan to sweep all four games of this series.
Shortly after this series, Michigan plays a single midweek game against Central Michigan, who sits at 4-15.
Michigan flew to Oklahoma ranked as high as 18th, depending on who you asked. As predicted, their two “good losses” did not push them entirely out of the top 25, but it did drop them a few spots.
— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) March 21, 2016
Michigan is once again the only Big Ten team ranked after Michigan State dropped 2 games to a mediocre USF team, and Michigan could join them by losing more than two games to UIC and CMU.
Despite losing 2 of 3 games this weekend, Michigan did not play poorly and knows exactly what needs to be fixed for the upcoming games. Given the success of Michigan’s pitchers so far this season, the many walks this weekend seem to be the exception rather than the rule, frustrating as it may be. Michigan’s first home series will be a rehab weekend in many regards, specifically in terms of mileage and competition. Expect lots of runs to be scored.
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Header photo: Michigan Baseball