It has been called “The biggest series in the history of Alexander Field” and it is here. The final regular season weekend is always shifted a day forward to a Thursday-Friday-Saturday series to allow a little more rest before conference tournaments get underway next week, usually on Wednesday. That just gets this exciting series here a day early.
An NCAA berth is probably on the line. With some help from Rutgers a Big Ten title is on the line. As I have said all week, it feels like a “Losers Leave Town” match in terms of NCAA at large consideration. Purdue and Michigan have both had lengthy winning streaks this season (13 for Purdue, 20 for Michigan), but need to do a little more to be on the happy side of the NCAA Bubble.
The winner of this series is assured of no worse than second place in the Big Ten and the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. If Purdue wins only two games they need a Rutgers sweep of Minnesota to get a share of the Big Ten. If Purdue sweep Michigan we only need Rutgers to win twice for a share. The only way Purdue can win the Big Ten title outright is a sweep of Michigan and a Rutgers sweep of Minnesota.
For Michigan, they have similar stakes. They are currently a game ahead of Purdue in the standings, so they need just one Minnesota loss to open the door for them. Michigan, Purdue, and Minnesota are the only three teams that have a chance at the regular season title (and I should mention that Indiana was the heavy preseason favorite, while we were picked to finish 11th). If Purdue is swept it can fall all the way to 6th place in the conference.
So yeah, it is big, and we need big crowds at all three games. On April 25th we set a program attendance record with 2,369 people in attendance for the home win over Indiana. We can break that this weekend, hopefully three times. It all starts tonight at 6pm.
WEEKEND SERIES INFORMATION
No. 17 Michigan (32-16, 15-5 B1G) at Purdue (31-18, 14-6 B1G)
Thursday to Saturday, May 17 to 19 at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 1 p.m. ET
Thursday Webcast on BTN Plus / Friday and Saturday on BTN, BTN2Go and Fox Sports Go
Alexander Field / West Lafayette, Indiana
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 146-59 / All-Time in West Lafayette: Michigan leads 69-32
2017: Michigan swept a three-game set (May 12-14 in West Lafayette)
Purdue’s Last Series Win vs. Michigan: Purdue won 2 of 3 (May 2012 in West Lafayette)
First Meeting: Michigan 18, Purdue 0 (1893 in Ann Arbor)
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Thursday: Tanner Andrews (Sr, RHP) vs. Tommy Henry (So, LHP)
Friday: Gareth Stroh (Jr, LHP) vs. Ben Dragani (Fr, LHP)
Saturday: Ryan Beard (Jr, LHP) vs. Karl Kauffmann (So, RHP)
Thursday: $2 tickets, domestic draft beers, hot dogs and nachos
Friday: Salute to Service Night -- $1 tickets for military, first responders, hospital staff
Saturday: Senior Day; Set No. 3 of Purdue Baseball cards giveaway; $12 family 4-pack ticket
All Weekend: $2 domestic draft beers while supplies last; $2 tickets for Purdue faculty and staff
These teams are virtual mirror images of each other. Michigan is batting .281 as a team and Purdue is hitting .279. Michigan has an RPI of 50 and Purdue is at 47. Purdue has 3 top 50 wins and Michigan has 2 (though one of them is at No. 2 Stanford). Both teams have feasted on the bottom of the Big Ten as Purdue is 12-0 against the bottom 6 teams in the standings. Michigan has sweeps of Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, and Maryland (game three was cancelled due to weather) to go 11-0 against that group. They did drop a game to Rutgers, however.
In one of the strangest results of the year they dropped a game to NAIA Lawrence Tech 8-3 on March 14 to fall to 4-11. That was their home opener, and they reeled off 20 straight wins after that. Maryland, at 98, was the only team they beat above 150 in the RPI during that streak. Last week they dropped two of three at home to Illinois.
The Wolverines have a couple of strong hitters in their lineup. Jordan Nwogu is batting .398 with 6 HR and 28 RBI. Jesse Franklin cleans things up with a .315 average, 9 HR, and 45 RBI. Jonathan Engelmann (.367, 6 HR, 43 RBI) and Dominic Clementi (.378, 4 HR, 29 RBI) are also hitting over .300.
It was the pitching staff that dominated last season in their sweep of Purdue at Alexander Field. They won all three games 2-0, 9-4, and 5-1 to close out the home season on us. The good news is that we are facing three new pitchers this year, and the lights out bullpen they had is not there anymore. As a team they have just 6 saves. Purdue, meanwhile, has 12 from Ross Learnard alone.
Tommy Henry (3.28 ERA, 7-2) is a strong staff ace on Fridays. He’ll go against Tanner Andrews (2.97 ERA, 5-4), who has not earned a win since Rutgers. Ben Dragani (2.79 ERA, 6-1) vs. Gareth Stroh (5.09 ERA, 5-2) will be a tough one tomorrow night too. Stroh has not lasted very long of late and really needs a strong outing. He made it just 4 innings last week against Ohio State. The Saturday matchup is Karl Kauffmann (2.78 ERA, 6-2) against Ryan Beard (4.07 ERA, 4-3), with Trent Johnson available for long relief. Johnson and beard have traded off the No. 3 spot all season, and Beard was doing very well Sunday with a 6-1 lead at Ohio State before the bullpen blew it.
It appears that Michigan has the pitching edge, but when Andrews and Stroh are on they are both capable of complete game shutouts. We have seen it before. Andrews often struggles with the fact he is going against a fellow ace. He’ll do well, but the other guy might be just a little bit better. An example is the 4-2 loss at Ohio State last week or the 1-0 loss at Tulane. Stroh is the opposite. He seems to benefit more from early inning offensive fireworks.
This should be a great home series though. There is a ton at stake and with a series win Purdue probably moves to the happy side of the Bubble. Here are your four series outcomes and what it means for Purdue:
Michigan Sweep – Big Ten title hopes are obviously done and Purdue almost certainly needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to reach the NCAAs.
Michigan wins 2-1 – No Big Ten title, but Purdue has a small chance at an at large berth. It would likely need to reach the Big Ten Tournament final with some wins over the likes of Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, or Ohio State to have any at large chances. Once you’re in the final you might as well win it and get the autobid.
Purdue wins 2-1 – Purdue probably moves into the at large picture and gets into the tournament as long as it does not go 0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament. We get a share of the Big Ten regular season crown if Rutgers sweeps Minnesota. This also clinches the 2 seed in the B1G Tournament.
Purdue Sweep – Purdue definitely moves to “in” when it comes to the NCAAs and likely clinches a bid with at least one B1G Tourney win. Purdue ties Minnesota for the regular season title with two Rutgers wins and wins it outright with a Rutgers sweep.
Big Ten Baseball Standings 5/17
|* - denotes team has clinched Big Ten Tournament berth|