CWS 2019: Taking a closer look at Michigan
HawgBeat's coverage of the Razorbacks' Road to Redemption in Omaha is brought to you by Arkansas Oral Surgery, which has offices located in Conway and Russellville.
For the first time in school history, Arkansas is heading back to Omaha for the second straight year. The Razorbacks’ side of the bracket features Florida State, Texas Tech and Michigan in a double-elimination format similar to the regional.
Before play begins Saturday, HawgBeat is taking a closer look at all three of those teams. Next up is this year’s Cinderella, Michigan…
Record: 46-20 (16-7 Big Ten)
Michigan was a borderline top-25 team throughout the season, but lost five of its last seven regular-season games. A decent showing at the Big Ten Tournament - three straight wins, including one over Illinois, after dropping their opening game - helped the Wolverines secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament as one of the “last four in.” They were sent to the Corvallis Regional as the No. 3 seed and advanced without ever playing Oregon State. In the Los Angeles Super Regional, Michigan knocked off No. 1 UCLA with a pair of tight victories sandwiched around a heartbreaking 12-inning loss.
Head coach: Erik Bakich (7th season)
This is Bakich’s second stop as a head coach, following a three-year stint at Maryland when it was in the ACC. Although he didn’t have much success with the Terrapins (70-98 overall, 20-70 in ACC play), he’s won a lot more in the Big Ten. His Michigan teams have not posted a losing record - neither overall nor in conference play - and this is the third time they’ve made the postseason in five years. Bakich is familiar with Arkansas because he was Tim Corbin’s recruiting coordinator and hitting coach for seven years before getting his first head coaching job.
The Big Ten has not enjoyed a lot of success over the past thee and a half decades, as Michigan is just the second team from the conference to make it to Omaha since 1984 (Indiana with Kyle Schwarber in 2013). Historically speaking, though, the Wolverines have a lot of baseball success. This is their eighth trip to the College World Series and they won it all in 1953 and 1962. The other five appearances came in a seven-year span from 1978-1984.
Since then, Michigan made it to five consecutive regionals following that run, but then experienced a 10-year postseason drought. They made it four straight years from 2005-2008, making it to one super regional, and now three times in the last five years under Bakich.
A day after knocking off UCLA at its home ballpark, Michigan went across town to play USC and managed only three hits in a 4-1 loss. That game was part of the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, which concluded with the Wolverines playing Oklahoma State at Dodger Stadium.
Two weeks earlier, Arkansas was in Los Angeles for a three-game series against the Trojans. The Razorbacks won the first two games and were close to pulling off the sweep. However, after taking the lead on a Dominic Fletcher home run in the 10th inning, USC answered with a walk-off homer.
Before its final regular-season series at Nebraska, Michigan traveled to Kentucky for a midweek matchup. Despite the Wildcats finishing tied for last in the SEC, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Wolverines 7-4.
Arkansas didn’t have too many issues winnings its first two games in Lexington, Ky., but couldn’t quite finish the sweep. Playing a seven-inning doubleheader because of weather earlier in the weekend, the Razorbacks didn’t chase Zack Thompson until the seventh inning. They had the tying run on third, only for Fletcher to ground into a game-ending double play on the first pitch by the reliever.
Projected Starting Lineup
C - Joe Donovan (so.): .245/.318/.436, 12 2B, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 36 R, 17 BB/46 K, 0-2 SB, 30-46 SBA
1B - Jimmy Kerr (sr.): .269/.370/.475, 14 2B, 12 HR, 56 RBI, 46 R, 42 BB/52 K, 5-6 SB
2B - Ako Thomas (sr.): .262/.352/.374, 15 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 35 R, 24 BB/42 K, 2-4 SB
3B - Blake Nelson (sr.): .299/.399/.398, 16 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 35 RBI, 40 R, 30 BB/45 K, 15-15 SB
SS - Jack Blomgren (so.): .309/.418/.406, 8 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 47 RBI, 36 R, 33 BB/44 K, 12 HBP, 5-9 SB
LF - Christan Bullock (jr.): .296/.402/.459, 6 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 26 R, 16 BB/31 K, 13-14 SB
CF - Jesse Franklin (so.): .254/.384/.470, 13 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 55 R, 47 BB/47 K, 4-4 SB
RF - Jordan Brewer (jr.): .338/.396/.586, 19 2B, 12 HR, 55 RBI, 55 R, 22 BB/48 K, 24-28 SB
DH - Jordan Nwogu (so.): .327/.442/.580, 13 2B, 4 3B, 43 RBI, 55 R, 41 BB/46 K, 16-18 SB
There is no doubt that the best player in Michigan’s lineup is Jordan Brewer. A transfer from Lincoln Trail C.C., he has put up huge numbers.
In addition to leading the team in batting average and stolen bases, he is one of four players tied for the team lead with 12 home runs and he trails Jimmy Kerr by one for the team lead in RBIs. Despite missing 15 games with a couple of injuries, he’s still recorded 11 assists from his position in right field, so he has a strong arm.
Those numbers helped him earn Big Ten Player of the Year honors and landed him on multiple All-America lists as a third teamer.
~Jr. RHP Karl Kauffmann (18 games/17 starts, 10-6, 2.59 ERA, 101 K/30 BB, 114 2/3 IP)
~So. RHP Jeff Criswell (18 games/17 starts, 7-1, 2.74 ERA, 99 K/45 BB, 95 1/3 IP)
~Jr. LHP Tommy Henry (18 games/17 starts, 10-5, 3.54 ERA, 117 K/25 BB, 106 2/3 IP)
Looking at the numbers, Michigan is led by its pitching staff. It is the only school in the country that has three pitchers with at least 99 strikeouts.
Kauffmann is the ace and has pitched like it in the postseason, taking shutouts into the ninth inning against Creighton and UCLA in the NCAA Tournament and a shutout into the eighth against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament. He’ll get the start against Texas Tech on Saturday.
If the Wolverines are matched up with the Razorbacks on Monday, they’ll likely throw Criswell. Of the starters, he has the least amount of innings - averaging just under 5 2/3 per start. The other two guys each average more than six innings per start. Criswell also has the highest WHIP (1.31) and opponent batting average (.234) of the trio.
The key against Michigan is getting to its bullpen, which is slightly more vulnerable than its starting pitching, but still very solid.
For long relief, the Wolverines will turn to redshirt freshman right-hander Isaiah Paige (2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 innings) and redshirt junior left-hander Benjamin Keizer (4.01 ERA in 42 2/3 innings). Paige appears to pitch to contact, as he has only 28 strikeouts. Despite his high ERA, Keizer has been tough to hit this season, limiting opponents to a .196 batting average.
Junior right-hander Jack Weisenburger (4.25 ERA in 29 2/3 innings) and sophomore left-hander Angelo Smith (4.66 ERA in 29 innings) are also two options out of the bullpen.
Michigan’s closer is freshman right-hander Willie Weiss, who has nine saves, a 3.08 ERA and 50 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .185 batting average in 38 innings this season. His biggest issue has been command, as he also has 32 walks, eight wild pitches and five hit by pitches. He has been named a freshman All-American by multiple outlets.
Michigan had five players taken in last week’s MLB Draft…
~Tommy Henry: Diamondbacks - Competitive Balance Round B, 74th overall
~Karl Kauffmann: Rockies - Competitive Balance Round B, 77th overall
~Jordan Brewer: Astros - 3rd round, 106th overall
~Jack Weisenburger: Athletics - 20th round, 614th overall
~Jimmy Kerr: Tigers - 33rd round, 982nd overall
Arkansas vs. the Big Ten
Playing teams from the Big Ten is a rare occurrence for Arkansas, as it has played just 33 games against the conference during its history. The Razorbacks are 24-9 in those games.
Only six of those games have happened in the last decade and all of them were against recent additions to the Big Ten, Maryland and Nebraska. The last time Arkansas played an original member of the Big Ten was 2008, when it beat Ohio State 8-6 at the Dominos Pizza Classic in College Station, Texas.
It’s worth noting that the Razorbacks have a home-and-home scheduled with Michigan State. They’ll travel to East Lansing in 2020 and host the Spartans in 2021.
Stat Comparison - Arkansas | Michigan (national rank, out of 297)
RPI: No. 6 | No. 39 (entering the NCAA Tournament)
Batting average: .301 (17th) | .281 (72nd)
Slugging percentage: .495 (8th) | .448 (41st)
On-base percentage: .397 (20th) | .380 (58th)
Home runs: 87 (t-8th) | 69 (t-29th)
Runs/game: 7.6 (15th) | 6.9 (44th)
ERA: 3.92 (44th) | 3.46 (10th)
WHIP: 1.25 (14th) | 1.26 (15th)
Strikeouts/9 innings: 9.5 (24th) | 8.8 (73rd)
Strikeout-to-walk ratio: 2.56 (31st) | 2.29 (61st)
Fielding percentage: .972 (97th) | .973 (84th)
Stolen bases/game: 1.25 (82nd) | 1.48 (49th)