It is dedication weekend at Purdue's Alexander Field and after a second sweep in Big Ten play Purdue is facing an uphill climb to make the Big Ten Tournament in 2013. While last year's Purdue team may have been the best overall Big Ten team in a long time, this year's overall Big Ten is its best and most balanced in baseball in quite awhile. For example:
Indiana - The Hoosiers were well on their way to replicating last year's Purdue season before getting swept at Michigan State, losing on the final pitch in three straight games. IU is still solidly an at large team with an RPI of 15 and 26-8 overall record and 8-4 in the Big Ten, but their National Seed chances are gone. They can still be a regional host and are ranked int he top 25 nationally.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes are 23-12 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten with an RPI of 40. They will also get a great RPI boost later in the season when they host a top 10 Oregon team for three games during their Big Ten off week.
Michigan State - The Spartans are 22-11 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten after sweeping Indiana. They made the NCAAs as an at large team last year with a much lower RPI and they are at 29 after sweeping IU. They got a nice road win at Kentucky and can still get plenty of good wins against Notre Dame, Illinois, and Minnesota.
Nebraska - Purdue's opponent this weekend is fresh off of sweeping a doubleheader from No. 10 Arkansas in which they threw a no-hitter in the first game. They are only 16-19 overall, but they have played the toughest schedule in the league by far and are still 8-4 in the conference. Their RPI is 44, but they still host Indiana to boost their record. If they get over .500 overall (and they should) they are a viable at large NCAA team.
Illinois - The Fighting Illini swept Purdue last week to move to 5-4 in the league and 23-10 overall. They have a weaker RPI at 55, but they are at least in the discussion for an at large bid. Since you get an RPI boost for true road wins their series this weekend at Ohio State and in two weeks at Michigan State will be huge.
The amazing thing is that of these five teams, NONE are in first place in the conference. That belongs to Minnesota (21-13, 7-2, RPI: 79) and Michigan (21-14, 7-2, RPI: 124) who have virtually no at large chances, but lead the entire conference by two games in the loss column! That gives you seven teams all well ahead of Purdue that are vying for six Big Ten Tournament spots.
Here are your weekend series:
Michigan State at Minnesota
Michigan at Northwestern
Illinois at Ohio State
Nebraska at Purdue
Iowa at Penn State
Indiana vs. Butler (two in Bloomington, one in Indy)
Purdue (11-22, 4-8 Big Ten, RPI: 184) comes in absolutely needing a series victory to stay alive with any chance to make the Big Ten Tournament. Three of Purdue's four Big Ten wins came against Penn State, who is 0-9 in league play. The Boilers have lost six in a row, eight of their last nine, and 12 of their last 16. Purdue is four games behind sixth place in the loss column and does not have the tiebreaker with Illinois and Ohio State, who are two of the teams they are chasing. Purdue is also tied at 4-8 with Northwestern, who won the series at Purdue two weeks ago.
Friday 7pm: Robert Ramer (2-2, 4.64 ERA) vs. Christian DeLeon (4-2, 3.70 ERA)
Saturday 7pm: Jordan Minch (4-4, 6.38 ERA) vs. Aaron Brummer (1-0, 2.51 ERA)
Sunday 1pm: TBA vs. Kyle Kubat (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
The first thing of note is that Sunday starter Kyle Kubat for Nebraska made his first start of the year earlier this week and threw five innings of no-hit ball in the no-hitter over No. 10 Arkansas. He was expected to be Nebraska's top pitcher this season and did not disappoint after returning from injury. He was a freshman All-American last year.
At the plate Nebraska is led by Chad Christensen, who is batting .400 with two homers and 20 RBI. Pat Kelly (.322, 16 RBI) and Austin Darby (.305, 2 HR, 21 RBI) are also solid hitters.
In the bullpen Purdue needs to be concerned with Dylan Vogt, who has a solid 2.76 ERA with five saves.
Purdue continues to struggle at the plate, but freshman Cody Strong has been hot. He is the only player batting over .300 at .310 with a homer and nine RBI. He comes in at 10 of 25 in the last 12 games with 12 walks. Conner Hudnall has also reached base safely in 15 straight games and is batting .353 over the last eight game.
This is going to be a tough one for the Boilers. Nebraska comes in with a lot of momentum and a lot to play for. Purdue, on the other hand, is playing some of its worst baseball in multiple seasons as it struggles to find a consistent lineup. Friday's game is a Big Ten Network broadcast, so it is the first chance for the country to see Alexander Field. Saturday night's game is the official dedication game, which hopefully will change the mojo since Purdue is a paltry 1-7 since the new digs opened.