Over this past weekend, Michigan traveled down to Port St. Lucie, Florida to take on Canisius College at the New York Mets training facility. Depending on which service you read the most, Michigan opened the season anywhere from ranked 15th to 23rd to just missing the preseason poll, and were expected to take care of business down in the Sunshine State. Michigan started this season with a bang, sweeping Canisius in 4 games over 3 days. The offensive juggernaut of the Big Ten, Michigan’s bats relied heavily on a number of performers but the real story from the weekend was the pitching.
Cody Bruder, CF. Bruder started his senior season with a tremendous series, starting all four games in centerfield and collecting 8 hits from his 5th position. Bruder knocked in the first runs of the season with a 2-run single in the first inning of game one on Friday. He would later go on to collect three RBIs in game two, and 2 RBIs in the series finale.
Jake Bivens, 3B. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year slid nicely into his leadoff role this year, setting the table for multiple Michigan rallies throughout the weekend. In addition to collecting 6 hits and scoring 5 runs, he stole 3 bases and scored in the first inning in games one and four, which will be a huge asset moving forward for a team with a lot of bats.
Harrison Wenson, C/DH. Wenson took over most of the catching duties this weekend, allowing sophomore Derek Lugbauer to be Michigan’s DH. Despite the added strain of defense, Wenson brought a lot to the offensive party. In game three, he collected two hits and an RBI and followed that performance with Michigan’s first home run of the season in game four, a 2-run blast driving in Johnny Slater, who had an excellent weekend himself.
Oliver Jaskie, P. Jaskie was Michigan’s fourth starting pitcher in a weekend that used a lot of arms. He had the longest outing of any pitcher, striking out nine over six innings without allowing an earned run. As the lengthy season wears on, having performances like this from the pitching staff will be crucial to repeating as Big Ten champions.
Michigan had a very successful weekend in starting 4-0 for the first time since 2009. Although Canisius is not to the same level of competition as 12th-ranked Oklahoma State, whom they play in a month, to start a season in this fashion is exciting and will give Michigan a wonderful sense of confidence moving forward. Head coach Erik Bakich relied on a number of pitchers, 13 to be exact, in holding Canisius to only 5 runs scored throughout the entire weekend, but he did not use many offensive substitutes. The new faces to the program, namely OF Matt Ramsay, SS Michael Brdar, and 2B Ako Thomas all had solid introductions to the program, especially Ramsay, who scored four runs out of the 2nd spot in the batting order.
That said, Michigan’s defense was troublesome. While the pitching staff was wonderful (1 earned run in 34 innings), 4 of the 5 runs allowed this weekend were unearned and came from defensive mishaps. Against better teams, that defense will become a glaring weakness, but we should wait before casting judgment just yet. The first weekend of live action is always difficult and with more game-speed repetitions rather than taking groundballs in a turf practice facility, the defense should shape up to be just fine.
Michigan is still unranked according to D1 Baseball, but moved up to 14th in Baseball America’s rankings and 19th in the Perfect Game rankings. Looking ahead to this coming weekend, Michigan travels across the country to California for a West Coast swing. They will play single games against St. Joe’s, Cal Poly, UC Santa Clara, Cal Berkeley, and San Jose State before a 3-game series at UC-Davis before going even further west out to Hawaii. This coming gauntlet will indicate how Michigan plays against stiffer competition; Cal Berkeley is ranked 13th by D1 Baseball and 11th by Baseball America despite going 1-2 in their opening series at Duke.
— Erik Bakich (@ErikBakich) February 21, 2016
Header photo courtesy of Michigan Baseball on Twitter (@umichbaseball)