Finally Breaking The Streak? Baseball Heads To Michigan State

I am a pessimistic optimist. I feel you have to be when you're a Purdue fan (as well as a Cubs fan). Deep down, I know that greatness may forever be denied for my favorite teams throughout my life, but I keep hanging on in the hope that it will all pay off some day. When it does, all the heartache will be that much sweeter. Of course, the Cubs killed my grandfather and they're coming after me next, so what do I know.

While it is not quite greatness, our baseball Boilers dominated last weekend's series of separation with Indiana to set up a possible Big Ten deciding series this weekend at Michigan State. I enjoyed being in Florida last week and watching the inning by inning scores come across as we swept the Hoosiers. It was more entertaining than watching Miami commit seven errors in a 6-5 Friday loss to Florida State, then forget how to hit in a 2-0 Saturday loss. In terms of waiting, this weekend could be a huge step towards ending 102 years of Big Ten heartache. Our Boilers have four second place finishes in Big Ten play since 2001, but they haven't taken a conference title since 1909.

The Spartans earned some separation themselves, sweeping Penn State to make it a two-way tie atop the Big Ten standings. They are currently favored by the Big Ten to take the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but if Purdue can win this weekend's series they will likely take that favored spot and, if they somehow get to 40 wins (we're currently 30-13) before Selection Monday we might steal an at large. Here are your Big Ten standings before this weekend:

STANDINGS

Big 10 Win

Big 10 Loss

Big 10 %

Games Back

Overall Win

Overall Loss

Overall %

Last 10

Streak

Next Game

Purdue

10

5

0.667

--

30

13

0.698

8-2

W-4

at Michigan State (5/6)

Michigan State

10

5

0.667

--

27

14

0.659

5-5

L-1

Purdue (5/6)

Ohio State

9

6

0.600

1

20

19

0.513

6-4

W-1

at Illinois (5/6)

Minnesota

8

7

0.533

2

16

18

0.471

5-5

L-2

at Michigan (5/6)

Illinois

8

7

0.533

2

18

23

0.439

6-4

W-1

Ohio State (5/6)

Penn State

7

8

0.467

3

25

16

0.610

5-5

L-3

at Iowa (5/6)

Indiana

6

9

0.400

4

25

19

0.568

3-7

L-7

Northwestern (5/6)

Northwestern

6

9

0.400

4

14

25

0.359

5-5

L-2

at Indiana (5/6)

Michigan

6

9

0.400

4

15

28

0.349

5-5

W-2

Minnesota (5/6)

Iowa

5

10

0.333

5

16

26

0.381

3-7

L-1

Penn State (5/6)

As you can see, it is not as tight as last year, when all 10 teams were within three games of first place going into the final weekend, but it is still tight. I am not sure how the tiebreaker would work with Ohio State since we do not play the Buckeyes this season, but overall record would probably be it. We currently own the tiebreaker with Penn State, Indiana, Northwestern, and Michigan, while we haven't played Illinois and Iowa yet.

Purdue and Michigan State have separated themselves as the two best teams though. They have lost series against Illinois and Ohio State, but they swept Penn State and Minnesota. They would be a great boost to our RPI profile because they are the highest rated team in the Big Ten at 83. Unfortunately, they have beaten just one team in the top 100 (Evansville) out of conference.  They have lost to good teams in Bethune-Cookman, Boston College, and Clemson, but in truth, they haven't played much of a schedule.

Our own profile isn't great with an RPI of 119, but at least we have some better wins. We've played the #3 team (Vanderbilt) and we have beaten #57 Connecticut, #87 Louisville, #93 Penn State (twice).

This should be an entertaining series. Both teams lead the Big Ten with a .318 batting average. Their team ERA is 3.88, better than our own 4.36, so they have an edge on the mound. We lead the league with 320 strikeouts, but we also lead the league with 23 home runs given up to have a feast or famine pitching mindset. The Spartans have also committed the fewest errors in the conference.

I cannot believe that the Big Ten Network is not picking up a single game of this series (2pm Friday, 1pm Saturday and Sunday). Friday's pitching matchup has Matt Morgan (4-1, 4.05 ERA) up against Kurt Wunderlich (7-1, 3.01 ERA). Something will have to give in this game as Michigan State is 5-0 in Friday games, while Purdue is 4-1. Game two has Joe Haase (5-2, 2.91 ERA), who has been on fire of late facing off against Tony Buccifero (6-2, 3.42 ERA). Our game three starter is TBA at the moment, but Brad Schreiber is 4-0 in eight starts with a 3.80 ERA, while Michigan State is going with Andrew Waszak (3-2, 3.98).

The back end of games is a closer-by-committee approach with Bryce Jenney and Tony Wieber each having at least four saves. Our own Nick Wittgren is 20th nationally with nine saves, but has a 4.23 ERA with a 2-2 record.

Brandon Eckerle is one of the league's best hitters with a .389 average for the Spartans. Six other Michigan Stat players also bat better than .350, with Wieber doubling as a solid hitter at .354. MSU does not hit a lot of home runs, but they excel at small ball with 449 total hits and just 115 of those going for extra bases. Eckerle, Jeff Holm, and Torston Boss are the top three hitters in the league in terms of average.

For us, Cameron Perkins is making a case for Big Ten Player of the Year with a .365 average, 7 home runs and 46 RBI. Perkins has 66 hits on the year, a third of which have gone for extra bases. He is fifth in the Big Ten in batting, second in RBIs, and first in homers. Kevin Plawecki is protecting him in the lineup by batting .360. Angelo Cianfrocco, who has missed some time with a shoulder injury, returned last weekend against Indiana and is batting .370 for the year.

I know I keep saying it, but this is a big weekend, and possibly the biggest weekend series in some time for Purdue. At stake is our lengthy Big Ten title drought as well as our 24 year NCAA Tournament drought. Between the Big Ten and Big East there might be one at large berth available, and we have the best profile for that at large bid if Connecticut takes the Big East's automatic bid. UConn is 31-13 overall and in most of the top 25 polls, but they lost to us. Pittsburgh is 28-15, but also lost to us. Those are the top two in the Big East, so that opening Big Ten/Big East Challenge was very big.

Our best bet is to win this weekend's series and keep piling up the wins. Taking two of three at MSU gives us 32 victories overall. We should beat Ball State and Illinois-Chicago in our remaining two midweek games to get to 34, and taking at least four of six at home against Illinois and Iowa is very doable to get to 38. A 40 win season with a victory or two in the Big Ten Tournament would be a school record (currently the 1986 team that went 37-27 is the record), and I think it would be just enough to get us into the NCAAs. I just don't see the committee keeping us out if we reach 40 wins.

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