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Spartan Baseball Series Preview: Michigan

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The Spartans are headed to Ann Arbor!

It’s rivalry week for the Michigan State Spartans!

I know what you are thinking, basketball and football season are both over. So how in the world is it already time to play Michigan again? Well Spartan Nation your baseball team is headed to Ann Arbor this weekend for a home-away series with the Wolverines.

So far the Michigan State Spartans are 6-13 on the year and 2-5 when playing away from home which as I mentioned is where they will be to begin this series.

This will also be the Spartans first Big Ten game / series of the season (the games against Illinois during the First Pitch Invitational did not count towards their conference record).

The first game and series will start Friday at 4 p.m.


The Basics

The Numbers

  • Record: 9-11 (5-1 Home, 2-7 Away)
  • Best Win: vs #8 Stanford (RPI: 2), W 5-0
  • Worst Loss: vs Libscomb (RPI: 236), L 4-7

Last Five Games

  • 3/21 — Western Michigan, W 7-6
  • 3/20 — Oakland, W 10-3
  • 3/18 — Bowling Green, W 5-4
  • 3/17 — Bowling Green, W 10-7
  • 3/16 — Bowling Green, W 8-6

Last year the Michigan Wolverines finished second in the Big Ten conference standings with a record of 42-17 (16-8 B1G). They played their best baseball at home finishing the season 23-5 in front of their fans.

That being said, the top ranked Wolverines had an unfortunate ending to the 2017 season. During the Big Ten Tournament, where they were a #2 seed, the Wolverines lost to Northwestern and Indiana. After that Michigan qualified for the NCAA Regional round where they lost to Florida Gulf Coast (6-10) and North Carolina (1-8).

Throughout the regular season the Wolverines dominated the conference and non-conference schedules (that includes games against the Spartans). They played Michigan State four times and won three of those contests.

As so many fans can attest to, all of this is from the 2017 college baseball season. So far in 2018 the Wolverines haven’t been the same. Before going on a five game winning streak Michigan had lost eight out of their last ten games. But they aren’t the only ones struggling. The Spartans have played in 19 regular season games so far this year and have only won six of them.

These two teams are once again battling it out for bragging rights. Who’s the dominant team in the state of Michigan? Who will win this series? Will Michigan State get swept? We will just have to wait and see.

Wolverines To Know

The Michigan Wolverines may have a record below .500 so far this year but they are not to be taken lightly. Erik Bakich (the Wolverines head coach since 2013) always has his team ready to go. In the past five seasons he’s coached in 295 games and won 59.7% of them (176 victories). Bakich took the head coaching position from Rich Maloney. Maloney was the Wolverines skipper for 10 seasons and won 341 games (58.2%).

Either way, Michigan has always had good coaching and will continue to be a formidable force within the Big Ten when it comes to baseball.

As a team (this year) they are hitting .247 (163-661) from the plate with 31 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 93 RBI, and 27 stolen bases.

Here are the Wolverines top hitters:

  • Blake Nelson: .308 (8-26), 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 SB
  • Jonathan Engelmann: .295 (32-78), 2 2B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 4 SB
  • Christian Bullock: .286 (16-56), 5 2B, 4 RBI, 6 SB
  • Ako Thomas: .284 (23-81), 8 2B, 8 RBI, 6 SB

In terms of team pitching the Spartans have an advantage over the Wolverines. According to the Big Ten Michigan has the 8th best pitching staff while Michigan State has the fifth.

The Wolverines have a team ERA of 4.44, they’ve pitched 172.1 innings, given up 160 hits, allowed 85 earned runs, and struck out a total of 164 batters.

Their best pitchers are listed below:

  • Ben Dragani: ERA — 1.80, 1-0, 20.0 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 14 SO
  • Tommy Henry: ERA — 3.90, 2-0, 30.0 IP, 26 H, 13 ER, 26 SO
  • Karl Kauffmann: ERA — 4.24, 2-2, 23.1 IP, 27 H, 11 ER, 27 SO
  • William Tribucher: ERA — 1.84, 1-2, 14.2 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 18 SO

How The Spartans Match Up

Alright Spartan fans it’s time to figure out whether or not Michigan State is ready to face the Wolverines this weekend.

In my opinion, they simply aren’t ready. The Spartans have yet to find their groove as they keep going through this grueling 6-13 regular season and I don’t think they are going to find it in Ann Arbor. While the Wolverines are also below .500 with a record of 9-11 it is my belief that Michigan State won’t be able to get it done.

Had the Spartans beat Central Michigan earlier this week what I’m saying might be entirely different. But so far this year the only consistent part about Michigan State is how consistently bad they are. Nothing up to this point has led me to believe they can go toe to toe with their biggest rival and win.

So here are a list of advantages / disadvantages to help further express why I don’t think they will win the series against Michigan this weekend.

Spartan Advantages:

  • Pitching — Going deep into games, holding teams scoreless for long periods of time, strikeouts, the ability to make plays.
  • Base-running / stealing — As a team the Spartans lead the conference in stolen bases with 45 and rank 7th in the nation, but that requires getting on base.

Spartan Disadvantages:

  • Offense
  • Scoring — The Spartans simply don’t score enough runs. They only have 53 RBI on the year (and a total of 61 runs).
  • Leaving runners on base — This was a big issue last season and it’s plagued the Spartans in their past few games.

Let me know what you guys think in the comments section! Will they prevail and beat Michigan in this three game series?

Prediction

There are a few things I feel confident about heading into this series (and not one of them involves winning). First is pitching, there isn’t a bone in my body that feels like the Spartans dominance on the mound is all of a sudden going to stop. But as we’ve seen throughout this season, it isn’t enough to consistently win.

Second, Michigan State isn’t going to get swept. I think they get at least one of these games to go in their favor. It’ll be very close, they won’t score a bunch of runs, and their pitching will do just enough to get them the victory.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Michigan State loses the series but picks up a much needed win.