If you're a fan of great college baseball Evanston, Illinois is not where you want to be this weekend. Pretty much nothing of consequence is on the line when Purdue heads to Northwestern. Both teams are already eliminated from Big Ten Tournament consideration with three weekends left. Purdue has already played at California while the Wildcats get to host the golden bears next weekend during their "bye" week in conference play. They bring a combined 17-68 2016 record into this weekend and both are 2-16 in league play.
Basically, the winner gets to celebrate not finishing in last place in the conference, which, for Purdue, would not be improvement. In 2015 Purdue finished last at 6-17, a half game behind Penn State. In 2014 Purdue went 6-18 and finished a half game ahead of the Nittany Lions to avoid last place. In 2013 Purdue was also 6-18 and finished two games ahead of Penn State. With Purdue still to host nationally ranked Big Ten leader Minnesota this is likely the last shot to win a series this season.
Purdue (7-34, 2-16) at Northwestern (10-34, 2-16)
Friday 4pm: Gavin Downs (1-4, 5.06 ERA) vs. Reed Mason (2-5, 4.17 ERA)
Saturday 3pm: Matt Frawley (1-5, 3.05 ERA) vs. Joe Schindler (1-1, 4.15 ERA)
Sunday 2 pm: Shane Bryant (0-3, 5.72 ERA) vs. TBA
This should be an oddly competitive series, kind of like the Purdue-Illinois football game in 2013 when both teams were so bad that SOMEONE had to win, so it was competitive and entertaining. IN terms of the RPI the teams are neck and neck with Purdue at 261 and Northwestern at 263 (out of 300 teams nationally). They are the two worst major conference teams in the country in terms of RPI, with the next best being Kansas at 189 (who already has beaten Purdue this year).
It is hard to say who is truly better. Northwestern has played three more games than Purdue and won them all. They at least started well at 4-4 with two wins over Nevada and Pacific each. They also have two wins over Chicago State, one of the worst teams in the country. In conference play they have beaten Ohio State and Nebraska, while Purdue has two very good wins over Maryland and Michigan State. Northwestern enters on a seven game losing streak with the last four being by one run, including three one-run losses at Indiana last week. Purdue enters having lost six in a row, and the Boilers only scored four runs against Ohio State last week.
As expected, these are the two worst teams in the conference in almost every statistical category. Matt Hopfner is their best hitter at .368 with 2 home runs and 20 RBI. Purdue's Kyle Johnson is the only Boilermaker hitting over .300, and Kyle Wood has cooled off, but still leads the Big Ten with 10 home runs.
As bad as things are, it could get a lot worse next year. Purdue's "best" players are all seniors in Johnson, Wood, Cody Strong, Jack Picchiotti, and the greatly improved Gavin Downs. Downs is a pitcher that deserves a ton of credit for turning things around. His last two outings have been stellar with a victory at Maryland and last week he pitched well in a close loss to Ohio State. He may give Purdue and edge in today's game. Frawley leads the team in ERA with Saturday's start, but Purdue needs to start hitting. The offense was putrid last weekend against Ohio State, scoring only four runs in three games while the pitching finally came through and gave up only 11.