Ray Fisher Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Friday, May 10, 8 p.m. — ESPNU
Sunday, May 12, 2 p.m. — BTN
This weekend IU caps off its tough Big Ten stretch with a series against Michigan. The Hoosiers have hit a bit of a rough patch recently, losing two of three against Illinois and then dropping a midweek game against Kentucky on Tuesday, causing them to tumble out of most of the major polls.
Things won’t get easier in Ann Arbor. As a matter of fact, they just might get harder. The Wolverines have two of the best arms in the conference if not the entire country—Karl Kauffmann and Tommy Henry. The duo will start on Friday night and Saturday afternoon for Erik Bakich’s club respectively and fit the profile of IU’s kryptonite this season—they both collect strikeouts in spades. Kauffman has struck out 73 batters in 78 innings this season which is good for 10th most in the conference this season. Henry trails just Dante Biasi from Penn State and Ohio State’s Seth Lonsway with 82 strikeouts in 75 innings. Sunday starter Jeff Criswell is no slouch either. The sophomore has a 2.40 earned run average to go along with 65 strikeouts in 63 innings.
The point of interest with the Wolverines is that everything they have shown says that they’re a good team, but one thing puts a damper on their resume—strength of schedule. Michigan’s schedule is abysmal. The Wolverines have played the 195th toughest schedule in the nation out of 299 teams. They have what might be the Big Ten’s best win this season, a 7-5 victory over No. 1 UCLA in Los Angeles back in March and they have a series win over Minnesota, which has had a weird season, from back in early April but after that their resume gets weak. They lost to USC and Oklahoma State the two days after beating UCLA, they lost to Long Beach State on the road, and they got swept by No. 10 Texas Tech on the road. Their Big Ten schedule hasn’t given them much to write home about with series against five of the bottom seven teams in the conference including Ohio State, who they lost two of three games against. They do have opportunities to pick up good wins this weekend against IU and next against Nebraska but at the moment the third line on their resume might be a 1-1 record against Indiana State.
Of course, a team can only play the schedule put in front of it and that’s what Michigan has done, but it’s hard to gauge just how good this team really is. Are they the team that took down the Bruins or are they the team that lost a series against an Ohio State team that might not even make the Big Ten Tournament?
The Hoosiers will find out this weekend. They have a chance to close the gap between themselves and the Wolverines in the Big Ten title race which sits at just two and a half games but in order to do that they’ll need to get back to playing the kind of baseball they were playing before they went to Champaign and Lexington.
“We just have to be tougher,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “We have to go try and execute a plan and compete to the best of our abilities to go out and give ourselves a chance to win.”