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  • Writer's pictureWyatt Bose

Michigan Baseball Struggles: How to right the ship after 5-game losing streak



“The one thing I would tell a young pitcher is never walk the leadoff man. He always scores; he always scores,” said Tim McCarver over the telecast in 2002 during an MLB playoff game. An aphorism that many managers live by, to give the opposing team a “free pass” at any point in the game is nothing short of self-sabotaging, let alone demoralizing for a ballclub.


This year, the Michigan Wolverines are that club – a team struck by the walk bug, exacerbating what has turned into a “free pass” crisis. Known best for their cornerstone football and basketball programs, Michigan baseball has started the year off in the wrong direction with a 4-7 record, sitting 10th in the Big 10 standings, mostly as a result of inconsistent pitching.


In two of their five losses, against UC Irvine (3-15, L) and Michigan State (8-15, L), the Wolverines donated twice as many free passes as they did strikeouts. In their loss against UCLA, despite posting 12 K’s, the Wolverines walked 11 Bruins.


However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and Michigan has shown signs throughout the early stages of the season that they are capable of heading in that optimal direction. For example, in their game against Fresno State, the Michigan pitching staff walked ZERO Bulldogs, directly contributing to a 6-2 victory. Additionally, playing a significant role in their 9-5 victory over Cal State Fullerton, Wolverine pitchers dished out 10 chairs to Titan hitters while walking just two.


Michigan hasn’t thrown very many chairs this year to opposing offenses, forcing hitters to sit back down in the dugout, but if they can replicate games like these against higher level teams like the UC’s, they will find themselves in some tight knit ballgames.


As much as fans would like to point the finger at one side of the ball, however, Michigan’s struggles do not solely lay at the feet of their pitching staff.


The Michigan offense seems to be mirroring its pitching staff in all the wrong ways, posting far too many strikeouts with just a fraction of walks.


In their loss against UCLA, Michigan hitters walked 4 times and struck out 16 times, walked 4 times and struck out 13 times against UCSD, and, to add insult to injury, walked just twice to go along with their 16 K’s against UC Irvine. Moreover, in their matchup with TCU, Michigan hitters managed just 1 walk and 9 strikeouts, contributing to a 6-0 shutout loss.


So, how does Michigan right the wrong?


Dominate the K/BB ratio.


As seen through some of their wins this season, Michigan has the blueprint to do just that. Now, it’s up to them to follow a fairly basic, black and white approach to team-oriented at-bats that leads to winning baseball.


When hitters, top to bottom in the order, have unselfish at-bats, meaning they work counts, take walks when applicable, and “pass the baton,” Michigan can compete with the best of the best in college baseball if they cutdown on their high strikeout rate – but that is a big “if.”


For example, against Michigan State, despite drawing 9 walks – a season high – Michigan wound up losing the instate grudge match because they left 14 runners on base and struck out 12 times. Additionally, posting an embarrassing 13 K’s and a measly 3 walks, Michigan’s lackluster offense fell short versus Texas Tech in a 10-7 affair.


Ultimately, simple fixes to hitters’ approaches such as “passing the baton” and working counts will lead to an increase in baserunners, create RBI opportunities for hitters, and most importantly lengthen innings for opposing pitchers, not only inflating pitch count but giving Michigan’s pitchers time to rest between innings.


“Help me help you!” said Tom Cruise in the infamous film Jerry Maguire. This attitude should be reciprocated by the Michigan locker room, specifically the offense and pitching staff, and they might see some significant change in key games against Big 10 opponents and powerhouses like UCLA who have routed them all season long.


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