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Baseball heads to Ann Arbor

For the first time since 2007 the Purdue baseball team has a regular season series against the Michigan Wolverines. Two years ago the Boilers finished in second place with a new school record for conference wins. Unfortunately, that was the year that Michigan won the league by five games and spent most of the season in the top 20 nationally. Purdue didn't face Michigan until the Big Ten Tournament, and they lost both games in the championship round to the Wolverines.

Series info:

Purdue (14-12, 1-2 Big Ten) at Michigan (16-10, 2-1)

Michigan leads all-time series 132-52 and has won six in a row

Friday: (7pm) Matt Bischoff (3-1) vs. Alan Oaks (3-3)

Saturday: 1pm Blake Mascarello (1-2) vs. Bobby Brasnahan (3-2)

Sunday: Noon Matt Morgan (2-0) vs. TBA

All three games are televised by the Big Ten Network

Michigan is probably the class program in the Big Ten both recently and over time. They are the most recent conference team to hose an NCAA regional (in 2008) and they have won 35 Big Ten titles. Ray Fisher Stadium also recently underwent a major renovation and is now one of the finest facilities in all of college baseball. That is a major reason the Wolverines hosted a 2008 regional. They also came very close to making it to Omaha in 2007. The Wolverines won a regional, but lost a pair of close games to eventual champion Oregon State in the Super Regional.

Last year was a step back though. Michigan fell on hard times and failed to even qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. It is too early to tell about this year's Big Ten race as all ten teams (Wisconsin does not have a baseball program) are currently either 2-1 or 1-2 in conference play, but the Wolverines have a slight edge in being one of those 2-1 teams.

The best pitching matchup will be tonight on the Big Ten Network when Bischoff and Oaks face each other. Bischoff is on pace to become Purdue's all-time strikeouts leader and is one of the best #1 pitchers in the conference. Unfortunately, if Michigan can get the game to our bullpen they will probably win. Saturday Blake Mascarello will take over as the new # starter, replacing the struggling Matt Jansen. Matt Morgan has been solid on Sundays for us in Big Ten play, going 5-0 in deciding series games dating back to last year. He would be 6-0 after last week, but the bullpen blew it for him. He may be facing Zionsville's Matt Miller on Sunday, who is a high school teammate of our own Eric Charles.

MGoBlog has an excellent preview posted for the weekend. Statistically, the Wolverines have three starters that hit .300 or better. Coley Crank has six of Michigan's 18 home runs on the season. He is also batting .358 with a team high 32 RBI. Michigan is also has faced stronger opposition than Purdue. They were swept by a perennially strong North Carolina team that I'll be seeing next weekend in Miami. The Tar Heels are struggling this year in ACC play, but they are still an excellent team. They also lost a pair of games at Coastal Carolina, who is currently 24-5 and ranked 13th. They lost a close 2-0 game to #7 Louisville in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. In reality, they don't have a great win, but they do have quite a few tough losses.

Ultimately, this comes down to the biggest factors that have hurt Purdue this year: fielding and the bullpen. We're going to win this series unless we avoid errors and the bullpen can hold a lead. Morgan and Bischoff are excellent starters that can get us a pair of wins, but they can't do it alone. Freshman Kevin Plawecki has been hot of late and he needs to continue his production as catcher. He is batting .424 over his last eight games with four home runs and 10 RBI.

I look for Purdue to take at least one game because of Morgan or Bischoff. If they get solid fielding behind them we might be able to take two of three. The Saturday game is a bit of a wild card as it is Mascarello's first Big Ten start. He does have a solid 2.61 ERA, however, so he gives us a fighting chance. Whatever happens, Purdue must avoid a sweep if it is going to qualify for this year's Big Ten Tournament.