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Indiana baseball series preview: Michigan Wolverines

Pauly Milto will take the mound on Friday to start out a big series for Indiana. (Josh Eastern/HN)

Slumping after losing three of their last four games, Indiana baseball has arguably their most important series of the season this weekend on the road at Michigan.

Indiana’s record and standing in the Big Ten has slipped as of late with two losses last weekend at Illinois and a 5-2 loss at Kentucky Tuesday night. Their overall record now stands at 31-17 and their conference record of 12-6 barely puts them at second in the Big Ten. Additionally, they have fallen out of most national polls and their RPI has slipped to No. 30.

Michigan, on the other hand, is playing far better than the Hoosiers right now. The Wolverines are surging as they have won 13 straight games and are No. 1 in the Big Ten with a 14-3 conference record. Michigan’s recent dominance has vaulted them to No. 19 national ranking from the USA Today’s Coaches’ Poll.

As much as it is a challenge, this weekend’s series is also an opportunity for the Hoosiers to make up for their recent struggles. A series win would be a great boost to a team in need of a spark and a strengthened resume.

It would also help the Hoosiers make some headway in climbing back in the Big Ten standings.

The current top five ranked teams in the Big Ten standings are as follows:

  1. Michigan: 14-3
  2. Indiana: 12-6
  3. Nebraska: 13-8
  4. Iowa: 11-7
  5. Minnesota: 11-7

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the challenge Michigan will provide.

Better Team Than a Year Ago

The regular season isn’t over yet, but the Michigan Wolverines are already a far improved baseball team than they were a season ago.

Through 47 games, they have a better record (36-11) than they did for their entire 2018 season (33-21).

The Wolverines are also a notably better team from the mound and have slightly improved from the plate too.

Michigan’s team ERA has decreased from an average of 3.46 in 2018 to 2.95 this season. The team batting average has increased from .275 to .289.

Hitting

As previously stated, the Wolverines are a very strong hitting club with a team batting average of .289 from the plate. That stat ranks first in the conference.

Michigan isn’t just first in the Big Ten for their batting average, but a number of other offensive statistical categories as well.

The Wolverines are also first in the conference in:

  • Slugging Percentage: .470
  • On Base Percentage: .399
  • Runs Scored: 333
  • Hits: 454
  • RBIs: 303
  • Doubles: 104
  • Stolen Bases: 75
  • Walks: 243

The plethora of team dominance from the plate is supplemented by some great individual hitters. Michigan has three players hitting above a .300 batting average.

Junior Jordan Brewer leads the team and the Big Ten with a .366 batting average. Brewer also has 47 RBIs and 11 home runs on the season.

Sophomore Jordan Nwogu isn’t far behind with a batting average of .348, second on the team and fifth in the conference. Nwogu has accounted for seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The sophomore also has great plate discipline as he has taken 32 walks, the third most in the Big Ten.

Senior Blake Nelson rounds out the three-headed monster of the Michigan bats with a .343 batting average and 27 RBIs.

Pitching

Like the team batting dominance within the conference for Michigan, the Wolverines are also first in the Big Ten for average team ERA at a 2.95 mark.

All three of their starters have a sub-three ERA with very successful records.

Michigan’s Friday starter is Karl Kauffman who holds a 2.30 ERA along with an 8-3 record and 73 strikeouts with only 19 walks.

The Saturday starter, Tommy Henry is arguably just as good. The junior is also 8-3 on the season with a 2.75 ERA. He beats out Kauffman in strikeouts and walks with 82 and 18, respectively.

Sophomore Jeff Criswell is the Sunday starter and isn’t far behind his other rotation members. Criswell possesses a dominant 2.40 ERA with 65 strikeouts and a 5-1 record.

With a series win, Michigan can assert their dominance on the Big Ten’s best outside of themselves and solidify their spot atop the conference. For Indiana, they can inch closer to the Wolverines with a series win and give themselves a much-needed boost heading into their last week of the regular season.

First pitch of this huge Big Ten series is set for 8 p.m. on ESPNU Friday night. Here are your pitching matchups.

Friday night:

RHP Pauly Milto vs. RHP Karl Kaufmann

Saturday night:

RHP Tanner Gordon vs. LHP Tommy Henry

Sunday night:

LHP Andrew Saalfrank vs. RHP Jeff Criswell

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