This is the first baseball-centric post on the new site. Having attended one of the best collegiate baseball rivalries in the country last week I am pumped up for some good baseball. Unfortunately, Purdue has not provided it this season, the Boilers were picked to finish 2nd in the Big Ten with several parts of a potent 2008 lineup returning. Inside the conference Purdue is a respectable 3-2 after splitting a pair of games with northwestern and winning a series against Iowa last week. The bad news is those two teams are currently at the bottom of the conference standings. Their combined conference record of 3-8 includes two wins over Purdue.
Outside of the conference, things have been worse. After losing games to Ball State and Illinois State this week Purdue is 13-14 overall. Hopes for an at large NCAA Tournament berth are all but gone now, meaning Purdue must win the Big Ten Tournament if it is going to play in the postseason. Our schedule is too weak, even if it is the rare year in which the Big Ten is exceptionally strong.
Purdue faces one of those improved teams this weekend when it travels to Penn State to face the Nittany Lions. Penn State is 3-3 in conference play, but is 18-12 overall. Last weekend the Nittany Lions notched a series win over defending Big Ten champ Michigan on the road. It is a critical series for Purdue. Only the top six teams in the conference qualify for the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the season. Since one of the Northwestern games was cancelled due to weather we are already a step behind everyone. The Wildcats are the worst team in the conference, so missing a game against them hurts almost as much as a loss. Illinois, Ohio State, and Minnesota have spent some time in the national top 25 this year, while Michigan and Indiana are serious threats to make a run at the top too. If Purdue loses this series its hopes are in serious jeopardy.
Hitting - Purdue is hitting the ball very well, batting .386 in the month of April. They are averaging more than 11 hits per game on the season, but unfortunately they are leaving way too may runners on. Promising prospect Dan Black has lived up to expectations, but unfortunately he has been a little too good. Pitchers are walking him more and more, taking away one of Purdue's most productive RBI-men. He has walked 38 times on the year, including five times in the Notre Dame game alone.
Eric Charles - The redshirt freshman has played very well due to some injuries in front of him. He's batting .500 in the last 12 games. He leads Purdue in season batting average at .439.
Dan Black - It is no wonder people are walking him so much. Black had 39 RBI on the season and 9 home runs. With all his walks he is one of the top guys in the Big Ten with a .543 on-base percentage. He is a legitimate draft prospect that should easily go in the first five rounds.
What's not working:
Pitching Staff - You can try and dress it up all you want, but the pitching staff has been awful for Purdue this year. Matt Morgan has a 4.09 ERA in five starts with a 2-2 overall record. That's pretty good for an average pitcher, but unfortunately those numbers man he is the ace of the staff at the moment. Only he and reliever Blake Mascarello (4.87) have ERA's below 6. As a team Purdue has a combined 6.7 ERA which is not going to win very many ballgames. Teams are batting .317 against us as well. I know college ball is a little different because of the aluminum bats and such, but these numbers are still pretty bad even when you take that into account. Purdue has also given up 92 extra base hits.
Injuries - Senior centerfielder Jonathan Moore was lost for the season a few weeks ago when he injured his knee against IPFW. Moore was a major place setter at the plate last year. He was especially strong in the Big Ten Tournament. His loss was big in a lineup that has had issues with getting guys home. Alex Jaffee has replaced him and has done admirably, but Purdue could still use his bat. Brandon Haveman, Ben Wolgamot, and John Cummins are all senior key contributors who have missed time due to injury as well.
Weather - This has played some serious havoc with trying to get momentum going. Purdue has had four games lost this season due to either, and they have been key games. The aforementioned Northwestern game hurts because it's a conference game against a poor team. They were also rained out on March 31 against Louisville, missing a chance to play a national program.
Close games - Purdue simply has to figure out how to get a couple of extra runs, no matter what is going on. Two losses to IPFW this year are prime examples. They had no run support in a 1-0 loss to the Mastodons on March 15th, then had no pitching in a 22-19 loss to them on April 1. Six of Purdue's losses have been by three runs or less.
Outlook the rest of the way:
This weekend's Penn State series is critical because the two teams are very close in the standings. The schedules will not be easy down the stretch. Purdue does get Ohio State and Illinois at home, but must travel to Minnesota for a difficult series in May. If Purdue can recover from injuries and get the pitching staff to settle down there is still plenty of time to make some noise. Right now Purdue sits just half a game behind Illinois in the conference standings. This year the Big Ten is wide open too, after Michigan ran away with the crown last season. If the Boilers are going to get their first championship in 100 years (yes, it has been since 1909) it has to start this weekend.