In advance of this weekend's showdown with Michigan in the Big Ten opener for both clubs, I exchanged some Q&A with Jared (formerlyanonymous), who writes for the MGoBlog, to get you up to speed on the Wolverines. His responses to my questions are below, and my responses to his questions can be found over on the MGoBlog here. I hope you enjoy reading analysis on Michigan's baseball squad from someone who has actually seen them play on more than one occasion this season (instead of the alternative, which would have consisted of me pulling together a preview looking at stats, box scores and game recaps). Big thanks to Jared for getting this great Q&A going.
Without further ado....
BtP: As of Monday, Michigan is 13-9 on the year. Would you say the team's performance thus far has exceeded, been on par with or failed to meet preseason expectations?
FA: For not having our Preseason All-American candidate since game 3 of the season, I think we're about on par with what we expected. Our strength of schedule over the first three weeks was impressive to say the least. We had one of the tougher schedules at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge with Louisville's ace Royse, St. John's when they were hot, and USF. We had a three game set at North Carolina when they were ranked in the top 15, and we played a pair with Coastal Carolina when they were RPI #1. All of that was without our best player. The only thing disappointing so far were the two losses to Texas Tech, but those were shell-shocked as we lost our best player in the first of those two games. And even those losses aren't as bad as initially anticipated as the Red Raiders also have a win over Texas.
BtP: What is the biggest strength for the 2010 edition of the Michigan baseball Wolverines? Biggest weakness?
FA: It's tough to pin down just one strength right now, but I'll lean toward pitching depth. Alan Oaks has turned into a workhorse of an ace, and we've got 3 or four other pitchers capable of starting a game behind him, and 3 more relievers capable of closing anyone out. Two of those relievers could probably be a #2 starter on half of the other Big Ten's rotations. As far as weaknesses, it's our outfielder's thumbs. We lost Ryan LaMarre in game 3 of the season, and we probably won't get him back this week, although there is a tiny chance he could pinch hit (I wouldn't count on it), and we lost one of our make shift backup outfielders Kevin Krantz to a broken thumb this weekend. He's still waiting to be evaluated.
BtP: What player has been the biggest surprise for the Wolverines in 2010? Biggest disappointment?
FA: The biggest surprise is our top three hitters. Freshman Patrick Biondi is a monster in the lead off spot. The guy gets on base, knocks the ball to the gaps with some power, and man can he run. In the 3-hole and clean up are our two catchers, Chris Berset and Coley Crank. Berset missed most of last season with a broken finger, and he's more than made up for LaMarre's bat this season. Crank has come out of near nowhere to be a hitting machine, second only to Dickerson in the Big Ten slugging this season. The only major disappointment was how hard we tanked after LaMarre left. It took us three weeks to recuperate. We were so close to knocking off all of those great teams, but we just didn't have that last little edge. I have to feel if we stay healthy, you see Michigan on the edge of the top 25 right now.
BtP: Who can IU expect to see on the mound as starters this weekend and what are their relative strengths and weaknesses?
FA: Oaks is the definite Friday ace. He's a hard throwing righty with a good slider. He's a workhorse that should go 7+ innings, give up a tough earned IU run on a double and three ground outs. It seems like that's the only way a team scores on him lately. Saturday is Bobby Brosnahan, former Michigan H.S. pitcher of the year who sat out last year with Tommy John surgery. He's a sporadic lefty, really gets into pitching, but a little bit of control issues from time to time. Sunday depends on how the bullpen gets used. The current plan is to use Burgoon only if we have to as we want to ensure victory on Friday and Saturday. That leaves Miller as the probable starter on Sunday. He's another tall righty with a power arm, but he has an inning per start that tends to see 3 runs score. Burgoon may start if he doesn't get worked earlier in the weekend. Burgoon is a calm, collected, righty, with not a lot of height, but he brings 5 good pitches in his arsenal. Since recovering from the shoulder injury mid-season last year, he's been near untouchable through the Cape Cod League and this regular season. Look for both he and Miller to split the Sunday start.
BtP: Who's the one guy in Michigan's lineup IU pitchers should fear the most and why? Runner up?
FA: Berset is to be feared. He's taken over the best offensive catcher title from Burkhart this season. He's got great patience and good power to all fields. He's almost been guaranteed base runners in front of him, too. And for that reason, I'm going to go with Biondi over Crank as the runner up. Biondi is the lead off guy and he just gets on base with blazing speed. He'll make a triple out of a double easy, whether it's legging out the hit or stealing bases.
BtP: Senior right-hander Chris Squires is the Hoosiers' go-to-guy at the end of games. Who fills this role for the Wolverines and what assets does he bring to the rubber on the mound?
FA: It's been interesting, but we haven't needed a closer really this season. If anything I have to say Brandon Sinnery or Kolby Wood. Both are capable of closing out one inning, or throwing 3 perfect innings on any given night. They've been used in the slightly longer roles as of late. Either of them could be a #3 starter on any other Big Ten team right now, maybe a #2 on some of the bottom tier teams. You'll probably see each of them on Friday and Saturday respectively. But I guess I'd be remiss not to include Burgoon in this list.
BtP: Coming off a solid sophomore campaign in which he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, junior outfielder Ryan LaMarre was named to Baseball America's preseason All-America third team. He sustained an injury in the third game of the year and has not played since. What is his status and when is he expected back on the field?
FA: As I mentioned, he was tentatively schedule to possibly make it back this weekend, but I don't see it happening. It's more likely you see him break back into the lineup at home next week during the mid-week, and take over his starting spot the weekend after. That's probably for the best as who knows what he'll be like after 5 weeks off.
BtP: What are your predictions for the weekend?
FA: Time for some patented Michigan arrogance as I predict a Michigan sweep. I really think Michigan has the experience and depth to win all three. That said, that's not an extremely high confidence level. Our Saturday and Sunday starting pitchers all have the tendency to let an inning go, and the right timed offensive explosion in the middle of the Hoosier lineup has me cautious, especially that extra inning loss to Vandy and the 1 hour and 15 minute(!!!), 7-5 win(!!) at San Diego(!). I think worst case Indiana can take 2 of three on a bad luck game early in the series and an Michigan implosion late in the series. But yeah, I'm confident for the first time in a while that Michigan can actually take care of business in a Big Ten series.