As I wrote earlier this week, Purdue has an excellent chance to finish strong and make the NCAA Tournament for only the third time ever. Fluctuations in the RPI this week due to midweek games around the country saw Purdue’s mark actually improve from 58 to 54. That is now two spots ahead of Michigan and three behind Iowa, both teams that D1Baseball.com has as “in the tournament”. That makes this weekend crucial.
Purdue is hosting Northwestern, who is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. They come to Alexander Field this weekend with a 4-14 conference mark, and three of those wins came last week when they swept Penn State, who is now a dismal 1-17 in conference play. Their RPI of 224 is lower than every other team Purdue has played except Penn State, and only Fort Wayne’s 291 on Tuesday will be worse the rest of the way.
That makes it a prove it week. If Purdue is going to make a run at a Big Ten title and an NCAA bid it simply has to sweep the Wildcats.
WEEKEND SERIES INFORMATION
Northwestern (14-25, 4-14 B1G) at Purdue (24-16, 10-4 B1G)
Friday to Sunday, May 4 to 6 at 6, 6 and 1 p.m. ET / BTN Plus on BTN2Go
Alexander Field / West Lafayette, Indiana
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 111-94-2 / All-Time in West Lafayette: Purdue leads 59-43-1
2017: Northwestern won 2 of 3 (May 5-7 in West Lafayette)
Purdue’s Last Series Win vs. Northwestern: Swept a 3-game set (April 2012 in Evanston)
Purdue’s Last Series Win vs. Northwestern in West Lafayette: Purdue won 3 of 4 (March 2008)
First Meeting: Northwestern 10, Purdue 3 (May 1900 in Evanston)
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday: Tanner Andrews (Sr, RHP) vs. NU’s Quinn Lavelle (Fr, LHP)
Saturday: Gareth Stroh (Jr, LHP) vs. NU’s Hank Christie (So, RHP)
Sunday: Trent Johnson (Fr, RHP) vs. TBA for Northwestern
Do not let Northwestern’s overall record fool you too much. They can be dangerous. Back in early March they took game 1 of a four game set at No. 24 Texas, giving them a win over a team currently in the top 25. They also have a 2-0 win over Notre Dame (Purdue split with the Irish) and had won five in a row before a Wednesday loss to Western Michigan (A team Purdue swept to start the season). They also got hot and ran all the way to the Big Ten Tournament title game last year, nearly stealing the automatic bid before losing to Iowa.
That Western Michigan loss says a lot about the Wildcats. They lost that game 26-15 in a game that included a 15-run inning for the Broncos. Northwestern has also lost a home game to Chicago State.
The Wildcats are 11th in the conference in hitting at .243 as a team with only 19 home runs. Purdue only has 20 as a team, but Jacson McGowan is one of the best power hitters in the conference with 11 by himself. Where the Wildcats really struggle is a league worst team ERA of 5.98. They do lead the Big Ten with 78 stolen bases, so catcher Nick Dalesandro will be challenged. He leads the conference in caught base stealers.
Jack Dunn is the team’s leading hitter at .318 with a home run and 16 RBI. Jack Claeys leads the team with 5 home runs along with Willie Bourbon. Dunn is also an accomplished base stealer with 17, leading to a team high 32 runs scored.
Friday starter Quinn Lavelle has been decent with a 4.36 ERA and 3-5 record in 10 starts. Out of the bullpen Tommy Bordignon has been their best overall pitcher with a 2.57 ERA and 5 saves, but he is the only pitcher with an ERA under 4. In a search for pitching Northwestern has tried an astounding 16 different pitchers for at least one inning this season, including a few position players. Not much has worked.
Purdue needs to not look ahead to next weekend. The Boilers are hot right now on a season long 8 game win streak. We have never swept three Big Ten series in a single season before this year and hopefully this will be the fourth after we have given brooms to Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers. A sweep means a lot of things. It might be enough to move Purdue as “in” for many NCAA Tournament projections. It can get Purdue closer to Michigan and Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. The Gophers lead Purdue by a game for second place, but host Indiana. Michigan leads Purdue by 2 games, but goes to Rutgers.
Hopefully the guys have a great home crowd this weekend. Friday night will feature $2 concessions (yes, even $2 beers). On Saturday $25 gets you a ticket, 10 craft beer tasting tickets, and a Purdue pint glass. It makes for a great weekend to go see some college baseball.