As I hyped earlier in the week, this is the biggest series in the history of Purdue baseball, which dates back to 1888. when you consider has one NCAA appearance, no NCAA wins, no conference titles in 103 years, and has never even been close to hosting a regional, that is a safe statement. Baseball America this week has deemed Purdue a "lock" to host and, as I agree, they think Purdue is in the National Seed discussion if it wins at UCLA. ESPN's weekend preview hypes the Purdue at UCLA series as the third best this weekend:
3. No. 11 Purdue (34-7, 14-4 Big Ten, No. 5 RPI) vs. No. 14 UCLA (29-12, 12-9 Pac-12, No. 4 RPI)
Jackie Robinson Stadium, Westwood, Calif.
What's at stake: National seeding prospects
At the beginning of the season, it was hard to imagine this series would be as huge as it is. But it looks like the winner here will get a big leg up on improving their shot at a national seed. But this one means more to the Boilermakers, who won't have the luxury of a strength-of-schedule bump after this. Both teams have great offenses -- Purdue has a Big Ten-best .318 team average; UCLA a Pac-12 second-best .306. Believe it or not, Purdue might have the arms to get the best of UCLA (2.97 team ERA), issuing just 87 walks all season. UCLA, however, has earned a Pac-12-high 161 free passes. Who is more motivated here? We'll see.
Well, let's get at it, shall we? Here are the pitching matchups:
Saturday Game 1: Joe Haase (7-0, 3.38 ERA) vs. Adam Plutko (5-3, 3.65 ERA)
So far it has been simple this year. If Joe Haase pitches, Purdue wins. The Boilers are 11-0 when he starts and lately his games have been finishing in under two hours as a testimony to his efficiency. Plutko is used to facing the No. 1 starter of some really good teams, however. So far UCLA lost the opening games of series against Oregon, Arizona and Stanford, their main challengers in the Pac-12. They are currently in third two games behind Oregon and a game behind Arizona.
Both Platko and Haase stick around for awhile. Each has thrown over 66 innings this year. Platko has UCLA's lone complete game, while Haase has one as well. Plutko lives by the strikeout with 62 in 69 innings pitched against 28 walks. Haase only has 38 K's, but just 15 walks. He'll rely on his defense behind him more than Plutko. Haase has also faced the best the schedule has had to offer each week and bested them each time. Plutko has not.
Saturday Game 2: Lance Breedlove (6-3, 2.71 ERA) vs. Nick Vander Tuig (5-3, 5.32 ERA)
If Purdue is going to get just one game, this is the most likely candidate. Breedlove may be 6-3, but he has a pair of complete games, leads Purdue in strikeouts with 59, and has only given up 22 earned runs in 73 innings. Purdue needs to find its bats, which were silent for way too long against Michigan State last week. They can pound Vander Tuig, who has given up 78 hits in 66 innings. He still has 41 strikeouts to 18 walks though.
Sunday: Connor Podkul (2-1, 3.19 ERA) vs. Zack Weiss (2-2, 3.80 ERA)
This will be a battle between guys that did not begin the year in the weekend rotation. Podkul got absolutely no help last weekend as the offense was shutout, so it didn't matter how well he pitched. Weiss has been solid, but he gave up five earned in 4 2/3 last week against Stanford. This is a game where the bullpens can come into play. Blake Mascarello has been nothing short of lights out for Purdue, notching an 8-1 record in 20 appearances as a reliever. He's thrown 49 innings, struck out 35, and has a 1.84 ERA. Don't forget Nick Wittgren (1.71 ERA, nine saves) at the end of games.
UCLA counters with an excellent bullpen of Scott Griggs (1.11 ERA in 23 appearances, 10 saves), Ryan Deeter (0.83 ERA in 26 appearances), and David Berg (1.47 ERA in 28 appearances). Those are just absurd numbers.
UCLA has five guys hitting over .300 with Jeff Gelalich (.381, 6HR, 29 RBI) leading the way. Beau Amaral (.329-4-31) provides him support and they are very similar to our own Cameron Perkins (.367-6-44) and Kevin Plawecki (.372-4-34). Barrett Serrato (.317-4-34) has been on a bit of a tear lately and had the huge grand slam in game one of the Michigan State series. Eric Charles (.394 average) sets the table for us and has scored a team high 63 runs.
Overall, the teams are very close at the plate. Purdue bats .318 as a team with 21 home runs, and UCLA is .306 with 12 homers. Their opposition bats .234 against their team ERA of 3.35, and Purdue's opposition bats .247 against a team ERA of 2.97.
UCLA's strngeth of schedule is second nationally and Purdue's is 65th. That's from playing in the Pac-12 as well as on the west coast, where most of their midweek opponents are better than our Big Ten opponents. They will be prepared.
The teams have a common opponent in Maryland. The Terrapins beat the Bruins in two of three to start the season, then beat Purdue in a windy, rainy 11-1 game the next week at East Carolina. UCLA still has a damned impressive series win over Baylor (who is 38-8 and won 24 in a row at one point). Baylor is UNDEFEATED against the Big 12 at 18-0 for crying out loud! UCLA is 14-11 against the top 50 RPI, Purdue is 4-1, so they have clearly played a stronger schedule and won't be starry-eyed.
As long as Purdue avoid being starry-eyed they should be fine. The teams are roughly equal on paper, so this will be quite an entertaining series. Purdue is 15-1 against teams below 100 in the RPI, so the only bad loss came against a Penn State team that is at least competitive in the Big Ten. UCLA, however, is 15-1 against teams below 50 in the RPI, with the one loss coming against No. 79 Washington State.