On tap this weekend for the Hoosiers is a match-up with defending Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Michigan. The Wolverines sport a 21-16 overall record with a 5-7 mark in the Big Ten. Instead of doing my own breakdown of this weekend's showdown, I engaged in a little Q&A with FormerlyAnonymous from Varsity Blue, which does a great job covering Michigan baseball. Continue reading below for some interesting insights on the upcoming series. I also answered some of his questions which can be found here.
Behind the Plate: While Chris Fetter is obviously Michigan’s clear-cut #1 pitcher and Eric Katzman has been a regular weekend starter, several pitchers (Travis Smith, Mike Wilson, Alan Oaks) have gotten the nod in that third weekend spot so far this season. Alan Oaks got the start last weekend in Game 2 against Michigan State and pitched really well in a 3-1 loss. With all that said, who (as starters) can the Hoosiers expect to face on the mound this weekend? Who will likely get innings out of the pen?
Varsity Blue: You will definitely see Fetter on Friday night. We'll talk more about him in a second. Katzman has been the regular Saturday starter, but had to be used out of the bullpen last week in an attempt to hold the game close moving his start to Sunday; I expect him to return to the Saturday spot this week to keep the right/left/right rotation. Katzman mixes a decent fastball with a lot of breaking balls. He tends to throw more from a lower arm angle and has an unorthodox and jerky throwing motion which gets hitters off balance. His starts vary wildly. He normally will throw two 7 inning gems followed by a 3-5 inning ugly start. He just got a pair of those out of the way, so I'm hoping we'll see awesome Katzman this weekend. The third spot in the rotation isn't solidified, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Oaks retain it. Oaks is a hard throwing righty that has seen very limited time so far. He pitched twice two years ago (once was in the regional versus Vanderbilt). This year he was forced to the mound just because of inconsistency in the bullpen. He earned his first career start this weekend and did a heck of a job. He's not an overpowering strikeout hitter, but he gets the outs he needs.
BtP: After compiling a 46-14 record (including a 26-5 mark in Big Ten play), winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and hosting an NCAA regional, the season has been a down one so far by Michigan standards. To what can this regression be attributed? At 21-16 overall and 5-7 in conference play, how do you see the season playing out for the Wolverines? Will they turn it around?
VB: Lets see, we lost: Adam Abraham, Nate Recknagel, Jason Christian, and Leif Mahler on the infield, Derek VanBuskirk in the outfield. We lost Zach Putnam at DH/Pitcher. We lost closer Michael Powers.
Quoting my Lost from 2008 (written before I was with VarsityBlue) post:
We lose nearly 52% of all of our [...] What the few many of us Michigan baseball fans must keep in mind this year is that last year’s team might have been the best team we have had in over a decade, and while we do recruit well for a northern mid-major, we are no Rice, Tennessee, or South Carolina. Michigan doesn’t just reload with extreme quality talent. Last year’s team had a large group of upperclassmen who had several years on the field. The group of five starters are probably the best leaving/graduating class Michigan has had since the CWS runs in the 80s.
As for this season and the chance for the turnaround, I'm cautiously optimistic. Sunday was the first time all year that I think we played to our potential. We finally got C Chris Berset and CL Tyler Burgoon back from injury. I think we finally found a lineup that fits us, and I think we can compete with the rest of the teams on our schedule. Unfortunately we have a tough 4 series left (outside of @Northwestern). We face you guys, go to Ohio State, Minnesota in Ann Arbor, and close out @Northwestern. The next three weekends will be tough.
BtP: In a lot of people’s eyes here in Bloomington, Chris Fetter is the “one who got away.” The senior right-hander is from just up the road in Carmel, and he has been nearly unhittable the last two seasons in Ann Arbor. What makes him so hard to hit on the mound? Any word as to where he might go in this year’s MLB draft (it came as quite a surprise to me when I learned he wasn’t drafted after his impressive junior campaign)?
VB: Chris Fetter is All American caliber, he is just unfortuante to be on a bad team this year. Chris has great command on all his pitches and take a lot of pride in not walking many hitters. The most effective part of Chris's pitching is his use of arm angles. He mixes everything from over the top to side arm... and he does it with most of his pitches. You could see a fastball at 3 different arm angles in one at bat, then the next at bat see breaking balls from all three arm slots. He gives hitters a lot of different looks and keeps his pitches down. Its a good recipe for success on the mound.
BtP: Junior 1B Mike Dufek leads the Big Ten in HR (12) and doubles (17) and is second in total bases (100), third in RBIs (44) and fourth in slugging percentage (.690). However, Dufek is also second in the Big Ten with 34 strikeouts. Is Dufek one of those “all-or-nothing” type of hitters? Hitting from the left side, do you expect him to struggle this weekend since IU will throw a pair of left-handed starters?
VB: Dufek's strikeout rate was a problem to start the season, but since then, it hasn't been so bad. Following a pair of hat tricks against Jacksonville and Akron, he went on a 16 game hitting streak (20 RBI/11 K/5 HR during the streak) and really raised his average. He followed that streak up with another of 9 games (14 RBI/8 K/5 HR in that streak). I don't think he'll stuggle too much with lefties. I don't have the stats available, but I'd estimate he's done just as well against them as righties.
But going back to strikeouts... Dufek isn't the only one on that leader board. Michigan has several players in the high 20s and even mid-30s for strikeouts. Its a problem plaguing us much of the year.
BtP: Let’s say there are 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th in Game 3 of this weekend’s series (tied 1-1), and the Wolverines are down by a run with a runner on 2nd base. Who is the one hitter Michigan wants at the plate?
VB: This is a tough question. Michigan has been horrible about timely hitting this season. I'd go with one of two players right now. The first is Mike Dufek. The guy gets runs in. The only problem with that is his RBI total would be in the 50s if runs scored on double plays counted toward that total. My other option is kind of a wild card. Chris Berset just came back from injury and has been getting on base right and left, it just hasn't translated to runs or RBI.
BtP: What is Michigan’s biggest strength and biggest weakness as a team? How do you see that strength/weakness playing out against the Hoosiers?
VB: Timely hitting and the bullpen are definitely the weakness to this team. The timely hitting isn't something anyone has control over. Guys just aren't getting the hits when we need them. When we hit it, it goes right at somebody. The other contributing problem to this is the strikeout rate. We average 7.7 strikeouts per game. We also average 7.7 runners left on base. I look for the strikeouts to continue, but I think the timely hitting may just be hitting stride. As I'm writing this before the Notre Dame series this midweek, it'll help clear my expectations.
BtP: What are your predictions for this weekend’s match-up?
VB: Michigan has done well against good pitchers this season. I think we have a shot at surprising Arnett. That said, we also make meh pitchers look good. I think we win game one, rough up Arnett just to lose in late innings, then make Bashore look good. 1-2 for the Wolverines. Anything else would be a welcome sign that the team is poised to make a run.