Michigan vs Illinois Preview


This one is a little bit longer and should catch you up on our season and our players, as well as the game tomorrow.   No players to watch for as I could just list Michigan's whole team.  Not know what starter is pitching for either team doesn't help my cause either.



Fetters vs Putnam

The biggest unknown for Michigan fans coming into this game is will Coach Maloney be starting the first or second best pitcher in the Big Ten?  The second biggest question, despite Putnam winning the award, is who is the best starting pitcher on the team?  Michigan is home to the top two starters in the league this year.  Chris Fetter leads the team with an overall ERA of 2.49, while carrying a record of 9-1.  Zach Putnam, voted Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, holds an overall ERA of 2.64 with a record of 7-0.   Both of these pitchers could easily start in the Michigan tournament opener, and here is each of their cases. 

Chris Fetters has been the ace of the Michigan team all season.  He leads all team starters in ERA, wins (9), starts (12), complete games (4, all 7 innings), shut outs (1), innings (79.2), and opponent batting average (.208).  He boasts a 65 to 21 strikeouts to walks ratio, second best on the team.  Fetter’s one loss this season came in a complete game where he gave up one earned run on a walk off single.  The other benefit of starting Fetter is his tendency to induce more groundballs.  With the high-powered offense of Illinois, it will be important to keep the ball in the ballpark.

Putnam, however, is more of a fly ball pitcher.  This is also a positive against Illinois, especially toward the top of their lineup.  Centerfielder Kyle Hudson and second basemen Joe Bonadonna account for 46 of the Illini 98 steals on the year.  Coach Dan Hartleb often employs the hit and run with these two on base to help generate more offense.  By throwing a pitcher with a higher fly ball to groundball ratio, the hit and run will be a higher risk play for the Illini coaching staff.  Along with the fly balls, Putnam also has his fair share of strikeouts.  Putnam leads the team with 9.05 strikeouts per nine innings.  His .215 opponent batting average is almost as good as Fetter’s.

Coming down the stretch, both pitchers have pitched fairly well.  Putnam has gained a victory in his last five starts, including a nine inning complete game against Ohio State.  Fetter comes in off a shaky start against Northwestern receiving a no decision. 

I think the nod in this game goes to Putnam.  Illinois is a team that will hit for more average than power.  Both Fetter and Putnam can go just as deep into games.  There has been some rumbling from some fans that maybe Putnam hasn’t fully healed from his strep throat infection a week ago, but his outing against Northwestern does not signal any concern.  As an added bonus, if Fetter becomes the second starter in the tournament and Michigan wins against Illinois, he would be a better fit going against Purdue as a groundball pitcher. 

Haig vs Martin/Shaw

Going to the hill for the Illini will probably be Phil Haig.  Haig made an appearance out of the bullpen against Michigan giving up 2 hits and one run over 3 innings while recording 5 strikeouts.  That performance led to a position in the starting rotation the following weekend.  After a few rough starts, Haig settled into his rotation spot nicely.  Over his last three starts he has been the Illini’s best pitcher after Manson.  In his last three games he has posted a 2-0 record including a complete game shut out (7 innings) versus Purdue. 

If Haig doesn’t start, it could be a close call between Aaron Martin and Scott Shaw.  Neither did particularly well against Michigan.  Shaw lasted 3 innings giving up 7 runs on 7 hits.  Martin lasted slightly longer, going 4.2 innings allowing 7 hits and 7 runs, 5 of which were earned.  Both starters have struggled down the stretch as well.  Martin has not registered a win since April 7th, a span of 6 starts.  Shaw has not had nearly as many starts recently due to rain, but that is most likely a good thing for Illinois as he holds an 8.15 ERA and .340 opponent batting average. 


Relief Work

The Good:
Michigan will have a fully rested bullpen to open the tournament.  Mike Powers is the lead man out of the pen for the Wolverines and will be the first called upon if ever there is trouble.  In 23 appearances this year, Powers is 6-4 with 4 saves.  He boasts a 2.94 ERA, .280 opponent batting average, and a 50 to 17 strikeout to walk ratio in 52 innings of work.  Against Illinois this year, Powers worked 6 innings allowing 8 hits and two runs while registering 5 strikeouts.  Other pitchers with success against Illinois this year include Matt Miller and Travis Smith.  Smith actually was a starter at the time of the Illinois series.  He had his best start of the season lasting 7 innings while only giving up 3 runs, 2 of which were earned.   

The Bad:
Despite being two of Michigan’s top relievers throughout the season, both Ben Jenzen and Tyler Burgoon both had rough outings versus Illinois this season.  The two combined for 6.1 innings, 7 hits, and 4 runs allowed.  I wouldn’t expect either of these two to enter the game unless Michigan has a comfortable lead.

The Ugly:
Mike Wilson will not see playing time in this game unless absolutely necessary.  Along with holding a team high 8.73 ERA and being tied for the most losses on the team with 4, Wilson had an abysmal outing against the Illini this season.  His start lasted all of .2 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks.  He will only make an appearance if it is a lefty-on-lefty match up.

Illinois’s Bullpen

As I mentioned in my Illinois vs OSU preview, the two main guys out of the bullpen for Illinois are Sterk and Reeser. 


If he gets in trouble early, watch for relief pitcher Mike Sterk to enter the game.  Sterk closed out many of Manson’s starts this season already.  Sterk owns a 4.05 ERA, which is the best on the team with at least one full inning pitched.  He also has three saves on the season.  Sterk is not the primary closer, however, as that job has been delegated to Ben Reeser.  Reeser has 5 saves on the season and has the next best ERA on the team after Sterk with 4.24.


Neither pitched in game one, they will be ready in game two.  Expect to see at least one enter this game.  Sterk had one good outing against Michigan shutting out the Wolverines over 2 innings while allowing one hit and one walk.  Reeser had one appearance lasting one inning allowing only one hit.  Outside of those two, Michigan also faced quite a few other relievers during the regular season series.  Wes Braun had the best success out against Michigan.  Braun pitched 2.1 inning, allowing 2 hits back-to-back including a Putnam homerun.  Those were the only runs he allowed while walking only 2 and striking out one. 


Offensive Threats-Illinois:

Illinois’s line up can create plenty of buzz.  The Illini lead the league in hitting this year (including the tournament) with a .338 team batting average.  Everything starts with the leadoff man, centerfielder Kyle Hudson.  Hudson, a unanimous 1st team All Big Ten, is currently batting .402 with a .504 on base percentage, both good for third in the Big Ten.  He also holds the record for steals in a season by an Illini with 40 in 49 attempts.  Batting second for the Illini is Joe Bonadonna.  Bonadonna is batting .372 currently and is also a steal threat.  He has swiped 26 bases in 32 attempts.  Bonadonna has had a bit better success hitting against Putnam (2/3 2 2Bs, R, RBI) than he has Fetter (0/2 SAC FLY, RBI).  Expect several pickoff attempts when either of these two men is on base.  As mentioned in the starting pitching section, both of these players are utilized in hit and runs when the situation presents itself.  Batting third in the Illini lineup is 2nd Team All Big Ten shortstop Brandon Wikoff.  Wikoff leads the team with 60 RBIs on the season.  Wikoff has had slightly better success against Fetter compared to Putnam, registering two singles in three plate appearances.  Behind Wikoff is normally catcher Aaron Johnson, right fielder Daniel Webb, and first basemen Ryan Hastings.  All three are big power bats with at least five home runs apiece.  Webb is equally dangerous as a contact hitter with a .386 batting average.  Webb also had a better game against Fetter going 2/3 with two singles.  Against Putnam, Webb went 0/3 with a RBI.  Rounding out the lineup for the Illini is DH Dominic Altobelli, third basemen John Schlichter, and left fielder Casey McMurray.  Schlicter is the only batter in the starting lineup who has a batting average under .320 for the year.


Offensive Threats-Michigan: 

Michigan is nationally ranked for a reason, and its not just because they play a cream puff schedule.  The offense from Michigan is explosive.  The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in runs scored this season with 434 total runs.  This was 37 more runs than the next closest team.  The lineup features an All Big Ten player at first, second, third, shortstop, and center field, and conferences don’t give you all-conference honors for your defense.  On top of the starting lineup for the Wolverines is shortstop Jason Christian.  Christian ranks fourth on the team in on base percentage (.440) and batting average (.325).  Following Christian is second basemen Leif Mahler.  Mahler started the season as the number nine hitter, but following his .400 batting average, 6 runs, and 4 RBIs against Illinois mid season, he earned a spot in the number two hole.  Following Mahler is Big Ten Player of the Year Nate Recknagel.  Recknagel lead the Big Ten in slugging percentage (.787), home runs (23), and total bases (155).  His .381 batting average, 68 RBIs, and 54 runs lead the Michigan team.  Recknagel is still in the hunting for at least 2 national player of the year awards.  Protecting Recknagel in the lineup is All Big Ten first teamer at designated hitter Zach Putnam (.320 batting average, 46 RBIs), All Big Ten third teamer at third base Adam Abraham (.340 batting average, 50 RBIs), and left fielder Derek VanBuskirk (51 runs scored).  Rounding out the batting order are centerfielder Kevin Cislo (40 runs scored, 17 stolen bases), catcher Chris Berset, and right fielder Ryan LaMarre.  In some games, Recknagel will play catcher and Mike Dufek will enter the game at first base to create more offense.  Dufek on the season holds a .320 average with 25 RBIs.  The first pinch hitter used in most games is outfielder Kenny Fellows.  Fellows is batting .324 in only 34 at bats. 



This game could be much closer than what most people would think.  Illinois can score runs in bunches very easily.  They have struggled down the stretch though and in Wednesday’s game versus Ohio State they did not hit very well.  Regardless of who pitches for Michigan, the first few innings should go smoothly for the Wolverines.  Once the starter begins to tire, they will give up 2-3 runs.  On offense, don’t expect Haig to last past the 7th inning.  Michigan’s lineup is too powerful to keep down for too long.

Michigan 12  Illinois 5


Michigan hitters vs. Illinois pitchers this season (stats at top are whole season):


      • SS Jason Christian (.325 BA, 52 R, 43 RBI, .440 OB%, 13/14 SB)
          • Manson – 1/4 HR, R, RBI, GDP
          • Martin – 2/2 2B, 2R, RBI, 2BB
          • Haig – 0/1 K
          • Shaw – 1/3 2R, 2 RBI
          • Stankiewicz – 1/3 R
          • Chmielewski – 1/1 3B, R, 2RBI
          • Braun – 0/1
          • Barrett – 1/2 R, K
          • Sterk – 0/1
          • Reeser – 0/1
      • 2B Leif Mahler (.309 BA, 49 R, 37 RBI, .388 OB%, 5/5 SB)
          • Manson – 1/3 HR, R, 2RBI
          • Martin – 2/2 2B, 2R, RBI, SacB
          • Haig – 0/2 K
          • Shaw – 2/2 2B, R, RBI
          • Stankiewicz – 1/2 2B
          • Chmielewski – 0/0 R, BB
          • Braun – 0/1
          • Barrett – 0/1 R, BB
          • Sterk – 0/1
          • Reeser – 0/1K
      • 1B/C Nate Recknagel (.381BA, 54R, 23HR, 68RBI, .787SLUG, .471OB%, 4/5SB)
          • Manson – 2/3 HR, 2R, RBI, HBP, K
          • Martin – 0/2 BB
          • Haig – 0/1
          • Shaw – 0/1 HBP
          • Stankiewicz – 0/2 BB, 2 GDP
          • Chmielewski – 1/1 RBI
          • Barrett – 1/3 RBI
          • Braun – 0/1
          • Sterk – 1/1 2B
      • DH/P Zach Putnam (.320 BA, 43 R, 46 RBI, .404 OB %, 3/3 SB)
          • Manson – 1/4 HR, RBI
          • Martin – 1/3
          • Haig – 1/1
          • Shaw – 0/1 R, BB, K
          • Stankiewicz – 1/3 HR, 2R, 2RBI, K
          • Chmielewski – 1/1 2B, R, RBI
          • Braun – 1/2 HR, R, 2RBI
          • Barrett – 1/3 RBI
          • Sterk – 0/1
      • 3B Adam Abraham (.344 BA, 39 R, 48 RBI, .408 OB%, 1/3 SB)
          • Manson – 0/2 SF, RBI
          • Martin – 0/3 GDP
          • Haig – 0/2
          • Shaw – 1/2 2B, 2RBI
          • Stankiewicz – 1/3  HR, R, 2RBI
          • Chmielewski – 0/1
          • Braun – 0/1 BB
          • Barrett – 0/3 RBI
          • Sterk – 0/0 BB
      • LF Derek VanBuskirk (.293 BA, 51 R, 41 RBI, .381 OB%, 11/12 SB)
          • Manson – 1/3 R
          • Martin – 0/2 R, BB
          • Haig – 0/2 R 2K (reached on K/WP)
          • Shaw – 0/2 K
          • Stankiewicz – 1/3 HR, R, RBI
          • Chmielewski – 0/1
          • Barrett – 1/1 2B, R, 2BB
          • Braun – 0/1
          • Sterk – 0/1
      • CF Kevin Cislo (.359 BA, 40 R, 26 RBI, .474 OB%, 17/25 SB)
          • Manson – 1/3 R, BB
          • Martin – 1/2
          • Haig – 0/0 HBP, CS 2-4
          • Shaw – 1/1 2B, R, RBI, SB
          • Stankiewicz – 2/2 R, BB
          • Chmielewski – 0/1 K
          • Braun – 0/1
          • Barrett – 2/3 R
      • C Chris Berset (.250 BA, 21 R, 17 RBI, .342 OB%, 1/3 SB)
          • Manson – 1/2 R HBP
          • Martin – 0/1 BB, SacB, K
          • Haig – 0/2 RBI K (RBI on E5)
          • Shaw – 1/2 R
          • Stankiewicz – 1/3 2B, R, RBI
          • Chmielewski – 0/0 BB
          • Barrett – 1/2 HR, R, RBI
          • Sterk – 0/1 K
          • Reeser – 0/0 SacB
      • RF Ryan LaMarre (.287 BA, 21 R, 21 RBI, .351 OB%, 8/12 SB)
          • Martin – 1/2 R, RBI
          • Stankiewicz – R as Pinch Runner
          • Chmielewski – 1/1
          • Barrett – 1/2 2RBI
      • 1B/C Mike Dufek (.315 BA, 20 R, 24 RBI, .355 OB%, 8/12 SB)
          • Braun – 1/1 R
      • PH/RF Alan Oaks (.260 BA, 18 R, 19 RBI, .329 OB%, 2/2 SB)
          • Manson – 0/3 K
          • Martin – 0/2 BB, K
          • Haig – 1/1 BB
          • Shaw – 1/2 2B, R, K
          • Stankiewicz – 1/3
          • Barrett – 0/1 K
          • Braun – 0/1 K
          • Reeser – 1/1

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