Mid Week Closeout: Central Michigan

Now that I’ve let the nerves and stomach settle from the initial reactions to the awful box score, I’ll actually comment on last night’s game against CMU. For those of you who couldn’t pick up from the first sentence of this paragraph, or even my ambiguous post about softball, the Michigan baseball team lost in embarrassing fashion to Central Michigan on Wednesday – 10-2 the final score.

The game featured 7 Wolverine pitchers making a trip to the mound.  Coach Maloney was seeking some sort of spark from the starting rotation and started freshman Kevin Vangheluwe, but, as many other things with Michigan baseball lately, when it rains it pours, completely dousing any chance of a spark to happen. Kevin couldn’t make it out of the second inning, giving up 4 runs while only recording 2 outs.

Things never got much better after that. Wilson gave up a run in 1.1 innings, Matt Miller gave up 2 runs (1 earned), and Brandon Sinnery gave up 3 runs in 0.1 innings. The good news is Travis Smith looked good in the short 1.1 inning appearance, as did Kolby Wood and Alan Oaks throwing a perfect 2.2 innings to finish the game.

Defense wasn’t much prettier. Along with a throwing error on a double play chance by Toth and a throwing error on a bunt single by Lorenz, there were several reported brain lapses on the field. Nick Urban was pulled from third base after failing to cover third base, allowing a pair of runners to advance. Five(!) balls hit to the outfield should have been caught but weren’t. One I give Fellows a break for as he slipped on the turf that was still wet from the snow last weekend, but the other four could – and most probably should – have been caught, including the play in this picture from Liesa Thompson at the Ann Arbor News:

That's a catch that should be made.

We didn’t do well behind the plate either.  Kalczynski had his 9th passed ball of the year.  He bobbled another transition on a base stealing attempt, dropping the ball.  He would eventually be replaced by McLouth during the middle of that same inning during a pitching change.  That pitching change?  It was on an 0-2 count when Maloney pulled Sinnery.  Pulling a pitcher on 0-2?  What’s going on?

The offense was anemic this game.  Despite Alan Oaks great outing on the mound, his plate appearances were atrocious.  He went 0/4 with 2 Ks, a foul out to second base, and a 4-6-3 double play.  He stranded 4 runners on base to end innings.

The 6 hits Michigan mustered came from 6 different players. Fellows, Cislo, LaMarre, Dufek, Crank, Kalczynski each had a hit-a-piece, Cislo and LaMarre’s being doubles.  The team only managed multiple hits in one inning, the 8th, where they scored just one run.  The run in the 9th came by walks and errors on behalf of CMU.

If you want a positive in all this, we only stranded 6 runners (would have been 2 more if not for a pair of grounded into double plays) and we only struck out 7 times… only 7 times….

In defense of some of the hitting, Coach Maloney made an attempt to stir up the lineup in this game.  The starting lineup looked like this:

  • Fellows, Kenny lf
  • Toth, Anthony ss
  • Cislo, Kevin 2b
  • LaMarre, Ryan cf
  • Dufek, Mike 1b
  • Urban, Nick 3b
  • Crank, Coley dh
  • Oaks, Alan rf/p
  • Kalczynski, Tim c

Some of this makes some sense.  Toth has raised his average to a point where he would look attractive in the 2-hole.  Fellows is getting on base enough and has the ability to steal bases; he’s alright for a 1-hole, but not the most attractive choice.  Alan Oaks dropping down makes sense with the bottom of this line up, too.  Kalczynski makes sense in the 9-hole as well as he has been doing a little bit better about getting on base.

What’s Going On?

Michigan isn’t the same team its been the last few years.  We lost the best team we’ve had since the CWS runs in the 80s.  We have a group of 5 walk ons that lead the team.  Two of them were either cut or virtually told to go elsewhere for playing time:

Coach Rich Maloney cut Kenny Fellows from the University of Michigan baseball team during his freshman-season tryout. Two years later, Maloney told Tim Kalczynski he could transfer if he wanted playing time.

We have several players playing out of their original positions.  Urban was a walk-on middle infielder turned outfielder who is occasionally thrown into third base.  Kalczynski was once a walk-on outfielder playing catcher and occasionally third base.

Add in our youth and inexperience, and you’ve some problems.  Lorenz is a true freshman who didn’t even play his senior year of high school ball.  McLouth and Crank are making the best they can of their early playing time, but neither has been that consistent.   They’re freshman.

Once you start looking at the scholarship players, many of them are just in their first year of starting as well.  Michigan lost Nate Recknagel, Adam Abraham, Jason Christian, Leif Mahler, and Zach Putnam this off season from the offensive starting lineup.  Berset, Dufek, and LaMarre contributed a lot, but they weren’t the leaders.  They will hopefully be that one day, but right now they are just sophomores and juniors.

Kevin Cislo is the player I’m looking to right now to pick up the team.  Maybe this is why Coach Maloney moved him to the three hole.  Put him right in the middle of everything and see what happens.  Let him try and spark the team.  Let him lead.  The problem with this is Kevin isn’t a three hole hitter.  Unlike Iowa who can throw Toole in the center of the lineup to generate offense, Michigan doesn’t have the same team build.  We have power hitters, they need runners on in front of them who can move themselves into scoring position to be hit in.

Pitching isn’t much different than the offense.  We don’t have experience.  What experience we have in the starting staff is either very good (Fetter) or meh (Wilson).  Katzman is in his first season as a starter. Smith hasn’t had a full season of starts yet and he’s just a sophomore.   In relief, we don’t have that dominate guy.  As much as I hoped Burgoon would be that guy, he’s not.

We’re a young team; we’re an unexperienced team.  We’re a not that great team.  It is what it is.

How Do We Fix It?

This is the toughest question on Maloney’s mind I’m sure.  I think we have two options at this point.

1)  We need an upperclassman to step up and really take over this team.  He needs to call a players only meeting and say all those right things, but more importantly, he needs to back it up with his play on the field.  He needs to be the enforcer, not Coach Maloney. He needs to be the one picking up guys.  He needs to be the one getting on a guys case when he’s out of position.

During the preseason, and even into the first few weeks of the season, I thought Chris Berset was going to be the one to do this.  I thought this was Chris’s team to take over.  Maybe its the catcher in me that makes me feel this, but the catcher that runs much of the show.  Sure its probably coincidence that we went from 7-2 with Berset to only 11-9 without him.  I think his value to our lineup cannot be matched from Crank and Kalczynski, neither can his leadership.  I’m not sure when he’s due back, but its not soon enough.

2) Our hitting coach (whether that be Maloney and Ust) has to step up his game.  Something has to be done about our strikeout rate.  Something has to be done about moving runners into scoring position and knocking them in.

The worst thing that can happen now is the team starts putting too much unnecessary pressure on themselves.  That will just force more bad habits.

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