After getting swept at home by Nebraska last weekend Purdue heads to Penn State in need of at least two wins if it wants to have any chance at making this year's Big Ten Tournament. At 0-3, Purdue is tied for last place with Rutgers as the only two teams that were swept in their conference opening weekends. Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana all have yet to play a conference series before this weekend. The good news is that Penn State is not a great team, either.
Purdue (4-17, 0-3) at Penn State (12-12, 1-2)
Friday 6:30pm: Mike Lutz (1-1, 4.64 ERA) vs. Taylor Lehman (1-5, 5.03 ERA)
Saturday 2pm: Shane Bryant (0-1, 6.50 ERA) vs. Sal Biasi (2-3, 4.76 ERA)
Sunday 1pm: TBA vs. Justin Hagenman (4-1, 1.34 ERA)
Penn State opened Big Ten play last weekend by dropping two of three at defending league champion Illinois. The Illini are a lot like 2013 Purdue in that they had an all-time great team that lost virtually everything, so they are nowhere near as strong as last season. The Nittany Lions split four games in the season's opening weekend, beating Army twice but losing to Bryant and Monmouth. They were then swept in three at South Carolina and lost two of three at UNC-Wilmington. Their best wins so far are over Duke and West Virginia.
Jim Haley is their best hitter, batting .362 with a pair of home runs and 17 RBI. This is not a team that uses the longball much. They have six homers as a team, while Purdue's Kyle Wood has nine by himself. Haley and Willie Burger are the only hitters batting over .300 as the team itself is batting just .237. By contrast, Purdue bats .253, but can't get hits when people are actually on base.
This series will be won with pitching, and there Penn State has a huge edge. Their team ERA is only 3.26 compared to Purdue's 6.02. Sunday starter Justin Hagenman is 4-1 in six starts with a measly 1.34 ERA. Jack Anderson is possibly the best closer in the Big Ten with a 0.82 ERA in 17 appearances. He has also saved 8 of Penn State's 12 wins. Meanwhile, Purdue has one save as a team, but that would necessitate having a lead in the ninth inning. Matt Frawley is the only Purdue pitcher that has consistently performed well. He has a 1.59 ERA and 1-1 record in six appearances. He has started once and has earned Purdue's only save. He also leads the team in inning pitched at 28 1/3. He could be the mysterious Sunday starter.
And therein lies the largest problem for Purdue. It cannot find a consistent starting rotation. Tanner Andrews has seven starts, but he is not listed as a starter this weekend. Lutz, Frawley, Nick Dalesandro, Alex Lyons, Tanner Schumacher, and Gavin Downs have all started this season and all have been mediocre to awful. Frawley has been by far the best pitcher on the entire staff, but he can only do so much. Purdue is not a great hitting team, but when the pitching staff has given up 9 runs or more in each of the last six games there is only so much they can do.
The good news for Purdue is that the next two weekends of Big Ten play present a chance to get some wins and get back into the top 8 for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament even after a slow start to the season. They get a .500 Penn State team this weekend and a 12-11 Indiana team that is nowhere near as good as it has been in recent years next week. Purdue won both games against Penn State to close last season and it absolutely needs a series win this weekend.