To get us up to speed on this weekend's enemy, I went right to its central hub - the MGoBlog. Brian Cook, who authors Michigan's best sports website anywhere, took some time to answer my questions about the Wolverines. You can also check out my answers to his questions at MGo.
Beaver Nation was somewhat surprised when we found out that Michigan hadn't attempted to host the Super Regional in Ann Arbor. Do you have any inside information on that decision?
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: Ray Fisher Stadium is currently undergoing a major renovation and isn't in any shape to host an NCAA regional, so they didn't put in a bid.
The Beavers lucked out in not having to play the #1 team, Vanderbilt, but now we have to play the team that beat the #1 seed. How did Michigan get past Vandy?
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: We're still not quite sure. Not facing David Price probably had something to do with it. We got a huge game out of Chris Wilson in the first Vandy matchup and a clutch, three-run bases-loaded double from Nate Recknagel, then scratched out the winning run in the top of the ninth. We were killed in the second game, way behind from the start our starter imploded. The third game will go down in Michigan baseball history, with a pinch hitter batting .188 and sporting one home run on
the year lacing a Price fastball out of the park and outfielders robbing not one but two potential Vandy home runs in the late innings.
Honestly: it was a lot of luck at the right times and the good fortune to get that critical first win, forcing Vandy to play the Sunday doubleheader.
Along the same lines, what kind of team are the Wolverines: Power hitters? Great Pitching?
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: Michigan's #9 hitter has a .372 average this year. It's a deep, deep team with everyone hitting for average and a little bit of power, but there aren't any huge stars. They're above average in every offensive category and capable of getting production from anyone. The pitching is much the same: consistently good and deep but there's no one who's dominated everyone he's faced this season.
Speaking of pitching, who should the Beavers look out for on the hill?
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: Though Zach Putnam is regarded by scouts as Michigan's best pitcher and a potential first round pick after next year, it was Canadian Eric Wilson who led the starters in ERA by a wide margin this year with a 3.07. (Putnam was second at 4.13.) It was also Wilson who got the call in the first game against Vandy. He had a stellar outing until giving up a two-run homer that tied it at three and drove him from the field.
Putnam will get the first game and Wilson is a good bet to get the second. If a third is necessary, it will be either Andrew Hess or Chris Fetter. Hess was the first choice against Vandy but struggled badly; Fetter pitched the championship game and did well. Fetter was great a year ago -- he had something like a 2.22 ERA -- so his current stats may not reflect his talent. I would guess he gets a hypothetical game three start.
Michigan's closer, Adam Abraham, is also its third baseman. Both he and Michael Powers are power righties with good stuff and will probably be the only relievers you see with at least one of the starters getting dumped into the bullpen.
Any big time hitters to be aware of?
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: Um... Zach Putnam? Michigan's best pitcher also doubles as our cleanup hitter. Also, Michigan first baseman Nate Recknagel was clutch as hell -- even though I don't believe in clutch -- in the regional. His 12 homers and .627 slugging percentage lead the team. Recknagel also walks
a lot; he's our toughest hitter by a wide margin.
It's hard to pick out anyone else because they all hit. Centerfielder Derek Rose has the lowest batting average of the starters at .308; next is Brad Roblin's .327, and then there are a whole host of guys that hit in the .330s and .340s. Michigan's team batting average is fifth in the
country and their slugging percentage is 17th, but no one makes an appearance on any of the NCAA's top hundred lists except Reck.
One thing to watch out for: if CF Eric Rose gets on base he's a major threat to steal. He has 0.6 stolen bases per game this year.
We know that the OSU softball team lost at the hands of the lady Wolverines last month, and the baseball team will be trying to get even. What are your thoughts on the way this series will play out, and which team do you think is headed to Omaha?
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: We had some concerns that our level of competition had been too low to properly judge the team's ability, but three games against Vanderbilt have established that Michigan is capable of beating anyone. So Michigan fans are pretty optimistic, but baseball is such a random game in small
quantities that I have no idea who's going to get through. If what you say about the Beaver inconsistency is true, I would give a slight advantage to Michigan simply because the depth of their hitting means that it's hard to shut them down entirely. But only slight. It should be
a great series.
Special thanks to Brian for these insights.