It has been awhile since we've had a baseball article here at the site, but much of that comes from the struggles on the field. After last season's magical run to a top 15 ranking and everything that came with it Purdue has fallen on hard times. The Boilers are just 15-27 overall and a meager 5-13 in the Big Ten headed into today's series finale with Southern Illinois. This was Purdue's off week in league play and Southern Illinois is not quite as prestigious of an opponent as last year's trip to UCLA, but it is better for a young team needing confidence.
The Boilers have played better of late. They have won 4 of their last 6 after winning 5-3 yesterday and could have a better record if five winnable midweek games had not been lost due to weather. Unfortunately, that wouldn't help Purdue's postseason fate much.
The Boilermakers are likely going to miss the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2007 due to the conference being incredibly strong. The league has an almost record high conference RPI of six and has three teams projected in the field of 64 this week according to Perfect Game. Indiana is expected to be a regional host, while Ohio State and Michigan State are strongly in the field with Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota fighting for either the conference's automatic bid or an at large bid. The RPIs of Indiana (13), Illinois (31), Michigan State (33), and Ohio State (60, but they finish with Indiana and No. 8 Oregon) could get all four in as at large selections and a team like Nebraska, who has a losing record overall, could steal the automatic bid.
As for Purdue, the Boilers sit in 10th place after yesterday's games, well off the pace to get one of the six Big Ten Tournament slots. Purdue leads only Penn State (2-15) thanks to a sweep of the Nittany Lions on the road. What hurts most is Purdue is a paltry 1-8 in league play at home, getting swept by Ohio State and Nebraska while losing 2 of 3 to Northwestern.
For Purdue to make the Big Ten Tournament it must sweep Michigan next weekend (currently 9-8), and Iowa the following weekend (currently 5-12). That would get Purdue to 11-13 in league play, but they would still likely need some help. Michigan State and Minnesota's records will be skewed since their entire series was cancelled due to snow, but as long as they are better than .500 in league play (Minnesota is 11-3, Michigan State 8-6) they'll be ahead of Purdue. Purdue also would lose any tiebreaker with Northwestern or Illinois since it lost those series.
The Big Ten Tournament is very likely going to include Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Michigan State with Illinois and Michigan battling for the last spot.
Though the team has taken its lumps, some freshmen have emerged as future leaders as Purdue is building toward 2014:
Josh Estill - The freshman from California has emerged as the team's best hitter, batting .315 with a homer and 21 RBI. He knocked in four runs last night in the win over SIU.
Kyle Wood - The redshirt freshman has played a lot as a DH, but he has also started four games on the mound and carries a 4.70 ERA with an 0-1 record. He leads Purdue with four home runs and 22 RBI.
Jordan Minch - Minch has been one of Purdue's most consistent pitchers and a solid Saturday option. He leads the team in starts (12), has thrown a solid 68.2 innings, and has the best record on the mound at 5-4. If Connor Podkul returns healthy next season and Wood continues his development the Boilers should have some good weekend options.
Jack Picchiotti - He's played all over the place, but is batting a decent .259 with 22 RBI.
Kyle Johnson - Another position player that also pitches some, Johnson is batting .264 with two homers and 19 RBI. He has also made six relief appearances on the mound.
Cody Strong -Strong is a Lafayette native who has been pretty solid in 20 starts. He is batting .266 with 11 RBIs.
So far Purdue's biggest problem is its pitching the Boilers have the worst ERA in the Big Ten by far at 6.90, more than two runs higher than the next worst team. Purdue is also the worst hitting team in the league at .257 as a team. Last year, Purdue lead the league in both categories just as Indiana is doing the same this year. Their season in 2013 is very similar to Purdue's in 2012.
It's very simple: If you can't hit and can't stop other teams from hitting you're not going to win a lot.