As of our last check-in after the disappointing series versus Texas Tech, Michigan has gone 9-4 (5-3 in conference) with a few extremely impressive wins in one hand, but a few disappointing losses in another that have made a conference title an uphill task given the rest of the schedule.
Out of conference, Michigan took care of San Jose State in a doubleheader in Ann Arbor, shutting out the Spartans in both games, where Isaiah Page, Walker Cleveland, and Karl Kauffman combined for allowing 4 hits across 7 innings. In Game 2, the pitching was equally as impressive as the offense was struggling, only collecting two hits and scoring three runs (all came in the fourth) en route to a 3-0 victory.
Kicking off conference play with other Spartans, Michigan took it to MSU, winning two games by a combined score of 22-6 in a home-and-home series (the third game of the series was postponed due to bad weather). Michigan crushed 5 home runs over the two days on the now 8-25 Spartans, compelled by Jimmy Kerr’s 5-5 day with 5 RBI and 5 runs scored in Game 2. It was an offensive party in Ann Arbor, and probably had a little basketball revenge built in given the timing after the Big Ten Tournament.
After a solid 8-2 mid-week over Toledo, Michigan then took two out of three from last year’s conference champion Minnesota. At 14-16, Minnesota isn’t the same beast they were last year, but at 6-3 in conference at the time of this writing, they aren’t out of the hunt for this year’s title. After losing Game 1 6-4, Michigan pulled it together over the weekend and ended the series with a magnificent 8-0 victory, led by a dominant 6.2 shutout innings from starter Jeff Criswell, who also struck out 8 on the day. Jordan Brewer and Jesse Franklin led the offense, both collecting dingers over the series as well as other clutch RBIs. Joe Donovan also pitched in with 6 hits over the three games.
Continuing the homestand, Indiana State came to town and proved to be a tough match for the Wolverines. 37th in D1Baseball’s RPI (Michigan is 54th), the Sycamores gave Michigan everything they could handle, putting up 5 runs in the first three innings of Game 1. Ako Thomas led the offense with three hits on the day, who kept pace with 5 runs of their own in three innings, but after a Jesse Franklin home run put Michigan up 7-5, Indiana State scored in the 7th, 8th, and homered in the 10th to take home the win. In Game 2, Angelo Smith held the Sycamores scoreless through three innings and turned it over to Jack Weisenburger, who allowed three runs but held Indiana State off just enough for Jordon Nwogu’s double and Jesse Franklin’s home run to seal the win over a very solid squad. This win could go far come tournament selection season.
Over this past weekend, Michigan traveled to Columbus and lost two of three to Ohio State, looking overmatched in the first two games of the series, allowing ten runs in each. Jesse Franklin homered again to start the game, but Ohio State got to ace Tommy Henry early and often, lighting him up for seven runs in four innings, and that would be all they need. Michigan added some runs in garbage time in the 7th and 9th but it wasn’t enough. They did the very same to Karl Kauffmann in Game 2, scoring 9 runs (5 earned) in 5 innings on the righty. Jordan Nwogu homered in the 7th but the game was far out of reach by that point. Michigan finally got a win over the Buckeyes in Game 3, as Jeff Criswell managed to stop the bleeding and hold OSU to 2 runs over nearly seven innings of work. Dominic Clementi hit his first home run of the season, and four other Wolverines collected extra base hits in a 6-2 win to salvage a win in the series. Ohio State barely cracks the top 200 in RPI, making this series very frustrating.
Over these past few series, it seems that the offense has found its footing. After a quiet day against SJSU, the team has scored fewer than 4 runs in a game and has hit 8 twice and even 16 once. Jesse Franklin, Jimmy Kerr, and Jordan Brewer are the heartbeat of the offense and anything else that comes is gravy. Nwogu at the top of the order has been an incredible move by Bakich, as he proves a tough out and leads the team with an unreal .459 on-base percentage. Franklin has heated up to the point of leading the team with 10 taters, 5 of which have come since I last checked in with you all. Jordan Brewer continues his torrid season, and at this point, should be in the consideration for Conference Player of the Year. He is second in the conference with a .651 slugging percentage and with a .364 batting average but that doesn’t even come close to the difference he’s made to the team this season.
The team is hitting and scoring with consistency, but this past weekend was tough on the pitching staff. A look at the season-long stats show that the staff has been more than competent, which comforts me in thinking that this weekend was an aberration and not to be expected. A very bright spot: sophomore Angelo Smith hasn’t allowed a run in his past 6 outings.
That said, the easy part of the schedule is over and if Michigan has to make a move on the top end of the conference. After a mid-week matchup with 12-19 Bowling Green, 16-16 (5-4) Northwestern (#84 RPI) comes to town followed by 13-19 (5-4) Rutgers (#155). The difficulty ramps up when Michigan travels to Maryland (#76) and then face the conference’s best in Indiana and Nebraska. Mixed in there are winnable games against Michigan State and Eastern Michigan, but now is the time to put up or shut up for Team 153. It’s time to put it all together.
Header Photo: Alec Cohen, The Michigan Daily