With two weekends left of regular season play Purdue is in good shape to make the Big Ten Tournament, but the easy part is over. Purdue got through a run of Rutgers-Illinois-Northwestern (three of the bottom five teams in the standings) with a 5-4 record, but it lost two of the three series. As things stand right now, Purdue is in 7th place in the Big Ten at 10-8, two games ahead of both Michigan State and Northwestern who are tied for the 8th and final tournament spot.
Northwestern has the critical tiebreaker, however. They travel to Maryland tonight while Purdue hosts Michigan. The Wolverines are only a game ahead of Purdue in the standings at 11-7, but they are also nationally ranked at No. 16 and are likely headed to the NCAA Tournament with an at large bid with their 36-12 overall record.
That makes this a critical series for Purdue this weekend. The Boilers are not going to the NCAAs without winning the Big Ten Tournament, but they have to get there first. Two more wins in the last six conference games of the year likely clinches a berth in the tournament, which will be played in Bloomington. Simply making the Big Ten Tournament, and hitting the 30-win mark, would be a huge step forward for this team after the last four years.
WEEKEND SERIES INFORMATION
No. 16 Michigan (36-12, 11-7 B1G) at Purdue (26-21, 10-8 B1G)
Friday to Sunday, May 12 to 14 at 6, 6 and 3 p.m. ET / BTN Plus on BTN2Go, Sunday on BTN
Alexander Field / West Lafayette, Indiana
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 143-59 / All-Time in West Lafayette: Michigan leads 66-32
Last Meetings: Michigan swept a three-game series (April 2015 in Ann Arbor)
Last Series in West Lafayette: Michigan won 2 of 3 (April 2014)
Purdue Last Series Victory vs U-M: Purdue won 2 of 3 (May 2012 in West Lafayette)
First Meeting: Michigan 18, Purdue 0 (April 1893 in Ann Arbor)
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday: Tanner Andrews (Jr, RHP) vs. U-M's Oliver Jaskie (Jr, LHP)
Saturday: Gareth Stroh (So, LHP) vs. U-M's Alec Rennard (Jr, RHP)
Sunday: TBA for Purdue vs. U-M's Michael Hendrickson (Jr, LHP)
Purdue has not had many opportunities this year against top 50 RPI teams. The Boilers are only 2-2 against the current top 50 despite having played 47 games. We took two of three from Indiana (No. 23 in the RPI) and lost at Louisville (No. 5). As a result, Purdue’s RPI is only 116, and last week’s series loss to No. 226 Northwestern hurt.
The Wolverines are No. 36 in the RPI and have had a good season outside of the Big Ten. They won two of three in the Dodgertown Classic in February against USC, UCLA, and San Diego. They easily won a four-team tournament at Santa Clara against Santa Clara, St. Louis, and Creighton. Their best series was a three-game sweep of No. 22 Oklahoma in Ann Arbor during their Big Ten bye weekend. Last weekend they took two of three from Ohio State and in the midweek they split two games with Central Michigan.
For Purdue, the Boilers enter having lost three of four where the offense completely deserted them for the most part. The only win was a 2-1 12 inning affair against Northwestern last week. The Sunday game last week was a back-and-forth 8-7 loss, but Purdue only managed 2 runs last Friday in a 7-2 loss and in the midweek was actually no-hit by Butler in a 4-2 loss.
Michigan enters as the second best hitting team in the conference at .289, only behind Minnesota (who Purdue plays next weekend). They also have the best pitching staff in conference play. They would be doing better, but the Wolverines lost series to Indiana and Maryland to knock them out of the conference race. Ako Thomas leads the Big Ten in batting with a .371 average. Drew Lugbauer is one of the best power hitters in the conference with 11 home runs. Thomas and Jake Bivens are also dangerous on the basepaths with 20 steals each.
Purdue’s struggling offense also has to face Oliver Jaskie tonight, and he leads the conference in strikeouts with 92 over 68 2/3 innings. He has a 6-2 record as a starter while Alec Rennard is 6-1. For good measure, Jackson Lamb is probably the best closer in the Big Ten. He is 2-0 on the season with 10 saves in 23 2/3 innings pitched and he has yet to give up an earned run. Mac Lozer also has not given up an earned run in 18 appearances.
This is a very tough series for Purdue. Then again, I thought last weekend would be an easier one and Purdue lost two of three. We know Purdue can compete from that weekend series against Indiana. The goal should be to take at least one so Big Ten Tournament qualification looks a little better. If the Boilers win the series then we can go into next weekend’s trip to Minnesota looking for a better seed.