This weekend is Purdue’s first home series in Big Ten play, yet after the weekend some schools will already be halfway through their 24 game conference schedules. Wisconsin lacking a baseball program makes for some strange scheduling, and after this week Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State will have already played half of their league games. Weather has also been a factor. Indiana and Iowa lost a game of their series due to weather, so that will play havoc on the standings. Michigan State and Nebraska also lost one last week.
There is starting to be some definition in the race for the 8 Big Ten Tournament spots too. Penn State and Northwestern both sit at 1-8 in league play. This week Northwestern hosts No. 13 Indiana while Penn State hosts 21-10 Ohio State. Those two are pretty much out of the race already, leaving 8 spots for 11 teams. Nebraska at 2-6 is already in trouble in advance of playing 5-3 Iowa this weekend. Michigan State at 3-5 has its bye week and will play Valparaiso. Michigan is in the best spot at 6-0 before hosting 3-3 Maryland, while 5-1 Minnesota comes to 4-2 Purdue.
The Golden Gophers enter this weekend in the extremely rare position of having played more Big Ten games at Alexander Field than Purdue. Our Boilers swept Penn State two weeks ago and took a game at Indiana last week, while weather in Minneapolis forced last weekend’s series between Minnesota and Penn State to be moved to Purdue. The Gophers took all three games from the Nittany Lions and will return this weekend to face Purdue.
Minnesota (21-10, 5-1 B1G) at Purdue (15-13, 4-2 B1G)
Friday to Sunday, April 13 to 15 at 6 p.m., 2 p.m. and Noon ET / BTN Plus on BTN2Go
Alexander Field / West Lafayette, Indiana
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 113-54-2 / All-Time in West Lafayette: Minnesota leads 41-28-2
2017: Purdue won 2 of 3 (May 18-19 in Minneapolis)
Last Series in West Lafayette: Minnesota swept a 3-game set (May 2016)
Last Series Win vs. Minnesota in West Lafayette: Purdue swept a 4-game set (April 2008)
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday: Tanner Andrews (Sr, RHP) vs. Minnesota’s Reggie Meyer (Jr, RHP)
Saturday: Gareth Stroh (Jr, LHP) vs. Minnesota’s Patrick Fredrickson (Fr, RHP)
Sunday: Trent Johnson (Fr, RHP) vs. Minnesota’s Sam Thoresen (Fr, RHP)
The ebb and flow of Purdue baseball’s offense is at an ebb once again. After jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the 4th at Indiana in Sunday’s series finale Purdue’s offense has completely fallen apart. The Hoosiers retired 18 straight at one point and closed the game with nine scoreless innings before winning on a walk-off 2-run homer in the 13th. On Tuesday Ryan Beard threw a gem at home against Ball State, but the offense left 11 on base in a 2-0 loss to the Cardinals. It was the third time Purdue has been shut out this season, and those three shutout losses have been 1-0 at Tulane, 4-0 at SE Louisiana, and 2-0 at home against Ball State. Combined with a pair of 4-2 losses to Notre Dame and Nicholls State, plus a 3-1 home loss to Lipscomb and three home rainouts in likely wins Purdue is agonizingly close to a much better overall record and NCAA Tournament consideration.
An improved Big Ten will give the Boilers plenty of chances to get back in it, however. The Boilers are 1-3 against top 50 RPI teams, but tis next five games are against No. 44 Minnesota and No. 48 Indiana State. There is also still a home non-conference game against Indiana, a three-game set at No. 43 Ohio State, and the season finale series against Michigan.
Last season Purdue went to Minneapolis needing at least one win to return to the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in five years. It won the first two games of the series and denied the Gophers a shot at winning the regular season Big Ten title. It turned out to be a huge weekend for the program, as it clinched the first winning season since 2012.
This year a series win would keep Purdue in the overall Big Ten title race. The gophers will be a tough out, however, and they have had a bizarre schedule thus far. They technically have not played an on campus home game yet despite being 21-10 overall. All 13 “home” games were played in U.S. Bank stadium, which was designed to have a baseball configuration much like the old Metrodome. I am not sure if it was unavailable last weekend or if they have a rule that Big Ten series can’t be played there, but they were scheduled to play at their usual home of Siebert Field against Penn State before the series was moved.
Of course, being a college baseball team in the north with access to a dome stadium has its advantages. They were able to pair with Michigan State and Illinois to host the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge against Arizona, Washington, and UCLA during the first weekend in March. They beat Arizona 3-2 before losing to Washington 6-4 and UCLA 6-1. The Gophers did get an impressive series win at TCU a few weeks later and took 2 of 3 from St. John’s in late March.
Terrin Vavra is their top hitter, batting a scorching .397 with 3 HR and 29 RBI. Ben Mezzenga bats .384 and both Toby Hanson and Eli Wilson are at .353 to give them a very formidable lineup. The .301 team average gives them the most potent lineup in the conference, which is not good new when Purdue’s own offense has been struggling. The Gophers are also third in the league with a 3.57 ERA, just ahead of fourth place Purdue. To be fair, Purdue did face the league’s top pitching staff in Indiana last weekend.
Saturday starter Patrick Fredrickson has been excellent with a 4-0 record and 1.48 ERA. Brett Schulze has also been very good with a 6-0 record and 1.96 ERA in 11 relief appearances. The other two starters in Reggie Meyer (2-2, 2.93) and Sam Thoresen (1-1, 5.09) have not been quite as good. Thoresen has made only two starts, while Nick Lackney and Jake Stevenson have struggled to be the No. 3 guy.
Purdue has seemed to settle into a solid rotation of Tanner Andrews, Gareth Stroh, and Trent Johnson. Stroh got hammered by Indiana last week, but is still 4-1. Andrews is 3-3 with tough losses of 1-0 and 3-1 on his record. His 2.12 ERA over a team best 46 2/3 innings definitely has him as the staff ace. Johnson has been sold with a 2.14 ERA in four starts and 8 appearances. Ross Learnard continues to impress as Purdue’s late innings guy with a 1.17 ERA in 15 1/3 plus three saves over 12 appearances.
This will be a tough weekend, but Purdue was very close to a series victory at a top 10 team last week. As usual, it will depend on the bats. Purdue’s offense has been up and down all season and appears to be in a down cycle right now. It has also not done well at home with just 11 runs scored and a 2-2 home record despite only giving up 8 runs at home. It will need to be on this weekend against a very good Minnesota lineup.