Despite the elements, a slow start and a young team, the Michigan Baseball team has managed to overcome anything that been thrown their way over the course of the last month and a half. After an embarrassing series defeat at the hands of Lipscomb and a loss to Lawrence Tech, the Wolverines have been absolutely unstoppable.
Winning each of their last 20 games, Michigan’s bats have gotten hot and their arms have also come into a groove of their own. A thrilling extra-inning victory against Penn State on Saturday helped preserve the streak and a blowout 14-2 victory over the Nittany Lions extended it even further.
Though the team has been on a tear, they still have yet to crack the official Division 1 rankings. They were ranked #7 in the latest Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, but if they keep winning they should be climbing every ranking that is out there.
Jonathan Engelmann Back On A Roll
In one of my first stories for The Wolverine Lounge, I had noted Jonathan Engelmann’s hot start to the season even though the Wolverines as a whole had been struggling. He was hitting over .320 through the early part of the year, but I mentioned how it might be unsustainable considering his astronomical batting average on balls in play and a low contact rate.
Though his numbers dipped a bit after the story was published, Engelmann has heated right back up and has thrown the story right back in my face. The junior outfielder is hitting an unconscionable .344 and has ripped four home runs, double his career total coming into the season.
Through 32 games this season, Engelmann has been able to support his teammates with 28 RBI, just two off of the mark of his season total last year over 57 games. Hitting in the three hole throughout the year, Engelmann has made the most of his opportunities and has regularly set his teammates up for success.
With his big season to this point in mind, I am still concerned about the peripherals for him moving forward. His batting average on balls in play has actually risen to .406 and his strikeout rate is at 17%, up from 12% last year. These generally don’t scream sustainability, but he has already proven me wrong once this year.
Dominic Clementi Making An Impact In Limited Role
Considering the relatively loaded outfield trio of Jordan Nwogu, Jonathan Engelmann and Christian Bullock, Michigan sophomore Dominic Clementi has made his best attempt at carving out a role for the Wolverines this season.
Had he been on nearly any other team in the Big Ten Clementi would likely be a regular starter, but he’s been able to make the most of his chances with the team this year. Through 58 at bats on the year, Clementi has hit an impressive .328 and has an even better .435 on base percentage due in large part to a patient approach at the plate that has resulted in a walk rate of over 14%.
Not only has he been getting on base at a solid clip, Clementi has been doing well to make an impact when he’s made contact as well. In his 19 hits on the season, he has two doubles, a pair of triples and a home run. His ISO (Isolated Slugging) is .155, a number which ranks well amongst his fellow collegiate players.
He may be sticking in the lineup as a pinch hitter for now, but it’s only a matter of time before Clementi’s consistency at the plate earns him some additional playing time. It might start as a designated hitter, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to justify keeping his bat out of the lineup.
William Tribucher Proving To Be Anchor
A strike-throwing lefty out of the bullpen throughout the last two years for the Wolverines, junior William Tribucher has been able to take a step forward in each of his years in Ann Arbor and despite some early struggles, this year should be no different.
A freshman in 2016, Tribucher was able to make himself known to Michigan faithful early on as he posted five consecutive scoreless appearances to kick off his college career. He concluded the season with more appearances than any other freshman and struck out 37 batters over 39 innings.
He stepped up his game last year, throwing 37.2 innings and striking out 43 to go along with two saves and a sparkling 2.63 ERA. Manager Erik Bakich was able to go to Tribucher in any situation, even going as far as starting him in one game against Loyola Marymount.
Much like the jump from his freshman to sophomore year, Tribucher has taken a big leap this season. He’s pitched primarily out of the bullpen once again and has been stellar. Since March 14th he’s allowed just two earned runs across twelve appearances.
Through that stretch, Tribucher has a sterling 0.83 ERA and has proven to be a reliable option for the Wolverines. With his walks down, his hits per nine down and his strikeouts holding steady, there’s no reason why Tribucher can’t maintain this breakout season.
The Wolverines are off this week prior to a weekend matchup on the road against Big Ten foe Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had an up and down season as a whole, but they have been able to defend their home field to the tune of a 12-3 record at Duane Banks Field.
Their Big Ten record sits at 7-6 and they just dropped a series to #25 ranked Minnesota, but Iowa will certainly not be pushovers throughout the weekend. Going on the road will make it especially tough for the Wolverines to extend the streak to 23, but with the way their bats and arms have been performing for the last month and a half anything is possible.