For fans coming to West Lafayette this weekend for the spring game it is a perfect weekend to checkout what will likely be a huge baseball series with the Michigan Wolverines. Purdue is now 18-10 after a 10-8 midweek win at Butler, but they struggled to a 1-2 start in Big Ten play last week at Minnesota. Joe Haase was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for his 7-0 shutout against the Golden Gophers, but leaving runners on base led to a 9-5 loss in game 1 of the series and a 4-1 loss in the finale. Purdue left 10 on base in game 3 and 12 in game 1.
Fortunately, no one has taken off to an early lead in the Big Ten, and the conference race is a lot like last season. Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, Penn State, and Ohio State are all tied for first places at 2-1, while Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Illinois are a game back at 1-2 after the opening weekend of play.
This needs to be a big series for Purdue, as Michigan currently has the worst overall record in the league at 7-19. If the Boilers cannot at least win this series they will likely not compete for the conference title. In fact, we need to sweep seeing as how we are playing at home.
Michigan started the year 0-7, losing to Louisville, St. John's, and Connecticut in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, then getting swept by Rutgers. One of their victories is a non-D1 win over Alma, while they lost a three game non-conference series to Michigan State. They do not play the Spartans in conference play this year, so the two teams played a non-conference series at Michigan in late March. Last week Michigan took the middle game against Indiana 3-2 but gave up double-digit runs in the other two games.
Tyler Mills (1-3, 5.66 ERA) and Bobby Brosnahan (1-5, 6.63 ERA) have each started seven games. Kyle Clark (1-3, 3.45 ERA) has four starts and the best ERA of the starters. No one on the entire Michigan pitching staff has more than one victory, and their team ERA is well above five. Teams are batting .304 with them with nine home runs. Finally, the team has 38 errors on the season.
Things have not gone much better at the plate for Michigan. Only Michael O'Neill (.311 1HR 13 RBI) is batting above .300 among their regular starters. As a team Michigan bats just .247. They have just four home runs, while O'Neill leads them in RBI. By contrast, seven Purdue starts bat over .300 and Cameron Perkins has as many home runs as their team combined. Perkins and Eric Charles each have 25 RBI, while two more Purdue batters have at least 20 RBI. Perkins, Charles, Barrett Serrato, and Ryan Bridges have more offensive output than the entire Michigan team combined.
Both Joe Haase and Brad Schreiber have emerged as solid starting pitchers. They are a combined 7-1, and if Matt Morgan (who got shelled at Minnesota) can get back on track Purdue has the makings of a pretty solid rotation. Schreiber did not start against Minnesota, as Lance Breedlove drew the game 3 nod.
Quite frankly, everything is overwhelmingly in Purdue favor in this series. It's good hitting against bad pitching in our favor as well as good pitching against bad hitting. Our bullpen is a little shaky (Nick Wittgren has four saves, but is 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA), but not as bad as Michigan's. Still, Michigan did beat Indiana last week and the Hoosiers are 18-10 overall and a favorite in the league.
We have an excellent chance at making up some ground. Michigan is hosting Minnesota while Indiana is hosting Ohio State, so the 2-1 teams will be beating up on each other all weekend. Purdue absolutely needs a sweep to start 4-2 at the quarter pole of the conference race, and that would likely be enough to move them to first place.