After walloping Illinois-Chicago 17-3 last night our baseball Boilers are 25-12 heading into their second to last road series of the year. They have survived the early road seeing despite just playing seven games at home so far, going 20-10 away from Lambert Field. After facing the Wildcats this weekend they have just three road games in their final 14, meaning they are set up for a very nice closing kick to the year. They are currently 5-1 on this 10-game road trip with three at Northwestern this weekend and a midweek game at Valparaiso next Tuesday.
This Northwestern series will mark the halfway point in the Big Ten season, and if Purdue can handle its business they can be in first place by the end of the weekend. Northwestern is a respectable 4-5 in conference, but just 12-21 overall. Purdue is 5-4, tied with Penn State and Ohio State in second place and a game behind Indiana and Michigan State. The Spartans (23-10, 6-3) are at Illinois (12-20, 4-5) this weekend while the Hoosiers (25-12, 6-3) host Minnesota (11-15, 3-6). Considering that Purdue faces Indiana and Michigan State the next two weeks they cannot afford to slip up against Northwestern.
So yes, we can start dreaming of a possible NCAA Tournament berth. Most projections have the Big Ten as a one bid league, but Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue can all force their way into the at large consideration if they keep winning. These next three weeks are huge because a sweep of the Wildcats, plus series wins over MSU and Indiana would make Purdue the favorite in the conference. A regular season title and respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament might be enough to get the Boilers in for the first time since 1987 and just the second time ever.
And yes, this weekend has to be a sweep. Three games separate first and last place in the Big Ten, but Purdue has to take care of business and cannot slip up like they did two weeks ago against Michigan. The series loss against Minnesota stings, but the Sunday collapse against the Wolverines cost them a sweep of the worst team in the league and a game in the standings. It is a favorable matchup because Northwestern is ninth in the Big Ten with an ERA of 4.85 and Purdue is second in hitting with a team average of .315. Purdue has scored a whopping 287 runs on the year, by far the most in the conference. Of the 15 offensive categories tracked in this week's Big Ten baseball release Purdue is the league leader in 13 of them, and second in the other two. They trail Michigan State by .001 in batting average and they have the second fewest strikeouts of anyone in the league. On the mound Purdue also leads the league in strikeouts, but they have given up a ton of runs as well (189).
Northwestern comes in off of a series win at Minnesota, but those are their two best wins of the year. They won a game in ACC country at Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons are one of the worst teams in what is historically the strongest conference in college baseball regular season-wise. Their starting pitching, for lack of a better term, sucks. Luke Farrell (3-1) is the best starter with a 3.83 ERA in eight starts. Dan Tyson (1-3) has a 5.95 ERA in eight starts, while Jack Harvey (1-5) has a staggering 7.64 ERA in seven starts.
Paul Snieder doubles as their best pitcher (1-2, 2.45 ERA, 4 saves in 14 appearances) as well as their best hitter (.360, 3 HR, 27 RBI). Chris Lashmet bats .346, but these two players are their only two batting over .300. The stolen base is not a threat as the Wildcats have just 16 steals on the year. They only bat .263 as a team.
So yes, this needs to be a sweep. Our offense is firing on all cylinders at the moment. We've pounded out 32 runs in our last two games and our only loss was a tight 4-3 ballgame at Penn State last week as part of a doubleheader. It's a case of good offense against bad pitching this weekend. As long as we keep hitting the crap out of the ball we can be in first place with a little help from our friends in Champaign and Minneapolis.