2019 Michigan Baseball Season Update: Heat Check

It has been approximately three weeks since I have last written an update on the Michigan baseball team.

Unrelated, it has also been approximately three weeks since the Michigan baseball team has lost a game.

Ever since Michigan beat Ohio State to avoid being swept in Columbus, Michigan has stormed through the lower standings of the conference to regain first place atop the Big Ten, winners of 12 straight games.

At 35-11, Michigan far and away has the best overall record in the conference, and their 14-3 conference record is good enough for a 2.5 game lead on Indiana, who comes to town this weekend for a huge series that likely dictate the outcome of the Big Ten.

In the 11 games Michigan has played since my last check-in, they have defeated their opponents by a total score of 89-26. The offense has scored 10 runs or more 7 times in those games (BGSU, Northwestern, MSU, and Rutgers once, and Maryland…all three games), and won by at least 9 runs 3 separate times. The pitching staff has held the opposing team to 1 run or fewer 6 times.

Northwestern, Rutgers, and Maryland sit 7-8-9 respectively in the Big Ten standings as of the time of this writing, so they aren’t exactly awful programs, but I didn’t think Michigan would take care of business this swiftly. Like there’s hot, there’s 12-game win streak hot, and then there’s Michigan right now, who is approximately the same temperature as a tropical volcano on a heated seat re-entering the atmosphere from space. Teams that win 12 straight usually have a few lucky bounces fall their way or have a bad game that kinda just works out to continue the streak, but Michigan has only trailed for a single inning during this win streak.

Like, what?

I sound like a broken record at this point in the season, but Jordan Brewer has been the lifeblood of this team. He leads the team in nearly every offensive category (except for on-base percentage, which goes to Jordan Nwogu, but more on him later) and also comes up in clutch moments, such as this defensive gem when MSU was threatening. He was held hitless against Maryland for the first time in nearly a month, but saw an increase in extra base production, including a three-run double on Sunday against the Terps. Jordan Nwogu has upped his average to .351 and has an absolutely absurd .479 OBP, making him one of the most lethal leadoff hitters in the conference. He’s a 6′ 3″ 235-pound tank of a human and he has walked more than he has struck out this season! Blake Nelson continues to be the best surprise on this team, hitting now .348 from the shortstop position, including a pair of three-hit games against Maryland and Rutgers.

The pitching staff has remained simply dominant; outside of a game against Maryland in which the Terps scored 7, the staff hasn’t allowed more than 5 runs since April 9th. Tommy Henry‘s meteoric start has since cooled off (he’s been striking out people at a slightly lower rate but still effective at preventing runs), but Karl Kauffmann and Jeff Criswell have picked up the slack to keep Michigan dominant on the mound. After his rough start against Ohio State, Kauffmann has allowed 2 runs, walked 3 batters, and struck out 20 batters in three starts. Criswell has been equally as effective though slightly less efficient, allowing 2 runs in his past 3 starts but with a higher walk rate; he has walked 11 and struck out 13.

The bullpen has really stepped up as well. Against OSU, no one had good outings, but they have regrouped quite nicely from allowing 5 to Bowling Green way back when taxes were due. Willie Weiss has allowed one hit and struck out ten in his last four outings. Lefty Ben Keizer has come on to be dominant out of the pen recently, allowing only a single run in his last nine appearances, including a huge couple of mid-week innings against Michigan State to relieve to weekend staff.

Looking ahead, Michigan faces Eastern Michigan in another midweek battle, followed by Indiana for a weekend series that will likely determine the postseason. As of right now, D1Baseball has Michigan as a 2-seed at-large (winning the conference) in the Morgantown regional with West Virginia, Florida State, and Liberty. Should they take care of Indiana as this team has proved they are capable in the past few weeks, they might be able to host a regional, but there is a lot that will have to fall their way for that to be true. After Indiana, Michigan travels to Kentucky and then a three-game series against 3rd place Nebraska in Lincoln to end the season.

I want to say that this team is playing at its ceiling right now, but I want to save that honor for after the Indiana series this weekend. Everyone should expect Michigan to handle Northwestern, Rutgers, and MSU with relative ease, but the absolute dominance with which they’ve won these games makes me cautiously optimistic that things might get weird (good weird) in June. This team is playing like they are on their way to their ceiling, but Indiana will be the best test they’ve faced since Texas Tech in March. The Hoosiers have 3 of the Big Ten’s 5 leading home run hitters and the current ERA leader.

This weekend is gut check time, but I haven’t seen a Michigan team click like they are clicking right now. It’s just incredible. Set some time aside this weekend to watch this team; they are on ESPNU Friday night at 8 PM and BTN Sunday afternoon at 2 PM. The stakes and my confidence have never been higher.

Header photo: Michigan Athletics

Bill Getschman