If Purdue is going to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 as an at large team it likely needs a very good showing both this weekend and next weekend. The new multiplier that rewards true road victories is now in effect and last season Purdue built a solid at large profile with road wins at Auburn, East Carolina, and UCLA. The next seven games come against teams that were in the 2012 tournament and are expected to return this year, meaning victories will greatly boost the boilers' RPI.
Purdue heads to Mississippi State this weekend and faces the host Bulldogs (5-0), ranked as high as No. 5 in some polls, twice on their home field and Samford (4-1) twice in a three-team invitational. Purdue then goes to Samford next weekend for a three-game series.
This even is called the Diamond Classic, and SB Nation's For Whom The Cowbell Tolls has an extensive look at the highly rated Bulldogs.
Game 1: Friday, 3:30pm
Purdue (Brad Schreiber, 0-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. Samford (C.K. Irby 1-0, 3.60 ERA)
Schreiber was limited in his first action in almost two season last week, while Irby earned a 5-3 win over Youngstown State in their season opener. Irby doubles as the team's DH and was 5-2 last season with an ERA of 2.06 while batting .340 on the season. He earned a save in the regionals as Samford eliminated Mississippi State in Tallahassee. So far in five games Irby is batting .563 with 10 RBI and a homer. Tommy Corbin and Patrick McGavin are also tearing the cover off the ball, batting .647 and .750, respectively. As a team Samford is batting .358, so Purdue's pitching staff will be challenged.
Speaking of that pitching staff, it gained a new member this week. Cody Webster, Purdue Football's punter, is now a left-handed reliever. He has made the travel this weekend and could become the first football-baseball Purdue athlete since Travis Dorsch in 2000.
Purdue is led at the plate by freshman Josh Estill, who was 7 of 15 last weekend and won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Game 2: Friday 7pm
Purdue (Jordan Minch, 0-1, 27.00 ERA vs. Mississippi State (Jacob Lindgren 1-0, 1.50 ERA)
Lindgren was solid in a 16-1 season opening win over Portland for Mississippi State. He threw six innings, scattered five hits, and gave up just one run. He is in his first full season as a starter after going 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA last season as mostly a long reliever. He was 6-2 in 2011 with a handful of starts.
Minch, meanwhile, was absolutely shelled in his collegiate debut against South Florida, a 20-2 loss. He only made it an inning and a two thirds and gave up 11 runs, but just five were earned. He did manage three strikeouts for the five outs he did get.
Game 3: Saturday 7:30pm
Purdue (Robert Ramer, 1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. Mississippi State (Kendall Graveman 1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Purdue gets to rest before Saturday's game while the Bulldogs face Samford in the late afternoon. This should be an excellent pitching matchup, too. Graveman went 6 1/3 last week and did not give up a run in a 7-1 win over Portland. Ramer, normally Purdue's midweek starter, threw a complete game in the 5-3 win over Connecticut on Sunday. Graveman is a senior that is 12-8 in his career, but he started 16 games last season and went 4-4 with a 2.81 ERA. Ramer, also a senior, is an impressive 14-1 in his career and with another good performance likely moves into the weekend rotation.
Mississippi State is averaging about six runs per game in a four game sweep of Portland and a win over Grambling State. They've only given up three runs total and won their last two games via shutout. Mitch Slauter is batting .538 with a homer and four RBI, but this roster spreads the wealth well.
Game 4 Sunday, Noon
Purdue (Kyle Wood (0-0, 5.14 ERA) vs. Samford (Alex Milazzo 1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Wood is another freshman that made his debut last week and he did well. He gave up four runs in seven innings against a ranked Louisville team and did not factor into the decision, which was a 9-4 loss to Louisville. He left the game tied 4-4. Milazzo pitched six innings in Samford's 13-0 win over Youngstown State.
This is a very tough weekend for Purdue, but it is one where any wins will pay big dividends later, especially if they can take a game from the hosts. 2-2 would be nice, but if Purdue somehow goes 3-1 or 4-0 it will get a huge boost to the RPI that can set it apart from the rest of the Big Ten. Lose all four and Purdue likely looking at winning the Big Ten Tourney or bust to return to the NCAA. It's unfortunate, but that is the life of Big Ten baseball teams. You have to start strong on the road to have any chance at an at large bid. Last season Purdue did that and it paid off with a hosting spot.