The final weekend of the baseball regular season is here, and it is the rare Thursday-Friday-Saturday series as conferences account or next week’s longer conference tournaments. It builds in an extra day of rest since the Big Ten Tournament begins next Wednesday in Bloomington.
Speaking of the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue is in a spot to qualify as of right now, but has not clinched a spot just yet. Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana have already qualified for the tournament. Here are the current standings, and the top 8 teams will advance.
Michigan State 9-12
Ohio State 7-14
Penn State 3-18
Minnesota hosted Rutgers on Tuesday for a doubleheader to make up two of their games that were cancelled earlier this season. The Gophers swept them, helping Purdue somewhat. Unfortunately, that puts Minnesota in control of its own destiny to win the regular season title. It helps Purdue in that the Scarlet Knights would need to sweep Northwestern this weekend just to catch Purdue and the Wildcats for one of the last two spots.
Northwestern and Purdue currently hold the last two spots, with Northwestern holding the tiebreaker with Purdue due to their 2-1 series win in West Lafayette two weeks ago. Michigan State is a game behind both, and they hold the tiebreaker over Northwestern via a 2-1 series win.
I asked baseball SID Ben Turner what the tiebreaker scenarios were in regards to Purdue and MSU since they did not play and the tiebreaker is record vs. common opponents. Purdue and Michigan State both played Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Iowa. Right now, Michigan State is 8-7 against those teams and Purdue is 7-8. Michigan State plays 3 against Michigan this weekend and Purdue plays Minnesota. Since MSU would have to have a better weekend than Purdue to catch us, this tiebreaker is basically already lost.
In the event there is a three-way tie for the 7th and 8th spot the tiebreaker goes to the only teams all three teams played. That is Iowa and Illinois. Purdue is 4-2 against those two, Michigan State is 4-2, and Northwestern is 3-3. That would give MSU and Purdue the last two spots, with Purdue being the 8 seed.
Illinois and Ohio State could still get in here, but Ohio State must sweep Indiana to even have a chance and Illinois has to likely sweep Iowa. Purdue would have the tiebreaker over both since it beat Illinois 3-0 and Ohio State 2-1.
This is all a very longwinded way of saying that Purdue likely needs at least one win this weekend against the Gophers. One win would also be rather significant. It clinches that Purdue can finish no worse than .500 just one year after going 10-44. Purdue did snap its five game losing streak with a 9-7 win over IPFW in Kokomo on Tuesday, so it has a little momentum. We’ll be watching the scoreboard all weekend though.
If Purdue wins two games it will be in the Big Ten Tournament as long as Michigan State does not sweep Michigan and Northwestern doesn’t sweep Rutgers. If Purdue wins just one game it needs Michigan State to lose its series with Michigan or Northwestern to get swept by Rutgers. If Purdue gets swept it is still fine as long as Michigan sweeps Michigan State and Rutgers does not sweep Northwestern (as, in that scenario, Rutgers would pass both Purdue and NW and Northwestern would win the tiebreaker with Purdue for the 8 seed).
So there is work to do.
Purdue (27-24, 10-11 B1G) at Minnesota (32-17, 14-6 B1G)
Thursday to Saturday, May 18 to 20 at 7:30, 7:30 and 2 p.m. ET / First 2 Games on BTN, BTN2Go
Siebert Field / Minneapolis, Minnesota
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 112-52-2 / All-Time in Minneapolis: Minnesota leads 65-22
2016: Minnesota swept a 3-game set (May 13-15 in West Lafayette)
Last Series in Minneapolis: Minnesota swept a 3-game set (May 2014)
Purdue's Last Series Win vs. Minnesota: Purdue swept a 4-game set (2008 in West Lafayette)
Purdue's Last Series Win in Minneapolis: Purdue won 3 of 4 (May 2000)
First Meeting: Minnesota 14, Purdue 9 (1901 in West Lafayette)
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Thursday: Tanner Andrews (Jr, RHP) vs. MINN's Lucas Gilbreath (Jr, LHP)
Friday: Gareth Stroh (So, LHP) vs. MINN's Brett Schulze (Fr, RHP)
Saturday: TBA for Both Teams
As usual, Purdue faces an excellent pitcher tonight and needs to get its series opening magic back. The Boilers were 9-2 in opening games before losing to Northwestern 7-2 and Michigan 2-0 the last two weeks. Tanner Andrews (7-4, 4.40 ERA) will face Lucas Gilbreath (5-1, 2.45 ERA) tonight. Andrews was good last week, but got no run support and suffered the tough loss to the Wolverines. On Friday Gareth Stroh (4-4, 4.15 ERA) will face Brett Schulze (4-2, 4.40 ERA). Stroh has been pretty solid of late. He has three straight excellent outings against Illinois, St. Louis, and Northwestern. He was even pretty strong last week against before running out of gas in the 8th.
Sunday might be Purdue’s best chance for a win depending on what else happens around the league. It is possible that Minnesota could have the outright title clinched and will have nothing to play for, but that is unlikely. Basically they would have to win the first two games, have Nebraska lose twice to last place Penn State, Michigan lose twice to Michigan State (endangering Purdue), and both Iowa and Indiana losing once. The pitching matchups have not been decided yet for that one, as Purdue’s third starter has been in flux all year. Most likely it would be Mike Kornacker or tanner Schumacher against Toby Anderson.
One of the things that really hurt Purdue against Michigan last week was a lights out bullpen for the Wolverines. This week doesn’t get any easier. Brian Glowicki is 2-1 with 15 saves as one of the best closers in America. Tim Shannon has also been solid with a 3.00 ERA in 30 appearances. Purdue’s own Ross Learnard has still been really good with a 6-0 record and 0.44 ERA after getting the win Tuesday night. Michigan got him for an earned run last week, just his second of the year. Learnard still hasn’t thrown enough innings to qualify for the national ERA lead. He has 41 1/3 innings and it looks like he needs at least 10 more innings to qualify (at least 1 inning pitched per game average).
Minnesota leads the Big Ten with a .297 average, which will definitely challenge Purdue. Micah Coffey is going for the league batting title, as he is second with a .353 average. Toby Hanson is third in the Big Ten with 50 RBI on the season, just ahead of Purdue’s Jacson McGowan with 47.
This is going to be a very tough series for Purdue. Hopefully the slump of the past couple weeks is over because we’re likely going to need at least one game unless Michigan sweeps Michigan State.