At this point it is like an Indiana Jones film: Purdue Baseball and the Search for a Big Ten Win. The Boilers have now lost 14 straight, have an RPI of 274 out of 300 Division I teams, are in last place by two games behind Northwestern, and, at 4-25 overall, have just two teams in all of Division I behind them in terms of record. Earlier this week they were an out away from a win, but gave up the tying run on a close play against Eastern Michigan before falling 6-5 in 10 innings.
This weekend Purdue hosts Michigan State as part of a stretch against some of the best the Big Ten has to offer. The Spartans enter with the best overall record among Big Ten teams at 23-6 and they are 5-1 in league play. They are just outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll and many projections have them solidly in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed. If they stay hot a No. 1 seed and hosting spot is certainly a possibility.
Friday 6:30pm: Gavin Downs (0-2, 6.21 ERA) vs. Cam Vieaux (5-1, 1.38 ERA)
Saturday 4pm: Matt Frawley (1-2, 2.87 ERA) vs. Ethan Landon (3-1, 2.21 ERA)
Sunday 1pm: Shane Bryant (0-2, 6.26 ERA) vs. Walter Borkovich (4-1, 4.54 ERA)
The Spartans got off to a great start this year at 14-1, losing only to Southern Miss in the first few weeks of the season. In Big Ten play they swept Rutgers at home and took two of three at Penn State. They had two games of a home series against Oregon wiped out due to weather, but they won the only game they got in 3-2 against the Ducks. Some of their better wins are over Auburn, Florida Gulf Coast, and South Florida.
As for Purdue, the administration is pushing for a big crowd on Saturday. If you go to the football spring game you can get a voucher for $2 tickets to the following baseball game. Some may call you deranged by going to Purdue football and Purdue baseball in the same day, but they are serving beer at baseball, at least. Plus, it is a beautiful spring day, so I am taking the family.
Purdue comes in ice cold, but their last four losses have each been by one run. They are getting closer, but it will be difficult to break through against a pitching staff that has a 2.36 ERA. Friday starter Vieaux is one of the best starters in the Big Ten, while Joe Mockbee has been excellent out of the bullpen with five saves. Dakota Mekkes also has a miserly 1.21 ERA in 17 appearances. Six different pitchers for the Spartans have an ERA below 2.
At the plate Purdue's awful pitching has a tall task. Jordan Zimmerman is one of the best hitters in the Big Ten. He is batting .427 with 4 home runs and 19 RBI. Brandon Hughes has driven in 20 runs, while Dan Durkin is batting .369 with 3 homers and 19 RBI.
For Purdue Cody Strong has bene hitting well of late. He is up to a team best .314 average along with Kyle Johnson. Johnson has 25 RBI, and Kyle Wood continues to lead the Big Ten with 10 HR and 28 RBI. Unfortunately, Wood and Johnson are the only two Purdue players capable of driving in runs. After them, there is a huge dropoff to Nick Dalesandro, who is third on the team with 12 RBI. No one else has more than 10.
The Spartans should sweep Purdue here, but the Boilers are due to have at least one good game, right? Their last two games against Indiana and Eastern Michigan have seen the Boilers blow late inning leads. It really comes down to pitching for Purdue. The offense is at least serviceable in getting on base and both Wood and Johnson are guys anyone in the conference would take. Purdue only has two pitchers that have done much of anything in Frawley and Eddie De LaRiva. Outside of them, the pitching is just awful.