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Purdue Baseball Travels to Rutgers

If Purdue is going to make the Big Ten Tournament this is a critical weekend.

Courtesy of Purdue Baseball.

Purdue got back on the winning track in its lone midweek game this week, and this weekend it heads to New Jersey for one of its last two road series left in the regular season. First let’s look back at the win over Butler.

Purdue 5, Butler 3

An RBI double from Ryan Howe in the bottom of the eighth gave Purdue a 4-3 lead and Howe was able to later score on a dropped fly ball as the Boilers got a nice home win over the Bulldogs. Bo Hofstra then worked a perfect ninth for his fourth save of the season. A total of six pitchers saw action on the mound for Purdue with Trent Johnson getting the win in an inning and 2/3. Purdue pitching continued to rack up big strikeout totals with 12 on the night.

At the plate, Cole McKenzie and Howe each had two hits and two RBI.

Weekend Series

Purdue (12-23, 5-6 Big Ten) at Rutgers (13-20, 5-4)

2pm Friday, 1pm Saturday, 11am Sunday

This is basically an elimination weekend for Big Ten Tournament consideration. Michigan State and Penn State are both well out of the hunt with a combined 1-18 mark in conference play, leaving 11 teams battling for the eight spots. Rutgers is tied with Maryland and Northwestern at 5-4 for the last three spots, and Purdue is just behind them at 5-6. A series win would be very big for Purdue. We have the series win over Northwestern in our favor and we still have to play Michigan State, who is winless in conference play.

Purdue has done slightly better against top competition than the Scarlet Knights. They are 0-6 against top 50 RPI teams, getting swept by Indiana State and Miami. Purdue is 1-9 with its lone win at Texas, but with some near misses against Indiana and Indiana State. Rutgers has a win at Iowa as its best win, but almost all of their wins have come against teams under 150 in the RPI. They are just 3-14 against top 150 teams and Purdue is 4-15. Rutgers did have a five-game win streak broken in a midweek loss to Hofstra, as they swept Michigan State last week.

Both teams have struggled at the plate this year, but Purdue has improved. We’re no longer dead last in the league, as our team average of .228 is not three points above Michigan State. Rutgers is ninth at .244. Both teams have similar pitching staffs with Rutgers sporting a 4.69 ERA and Purdue at 4.74. What has really hurt Rutgers is a league worst 58 errors.

Individually, Rutgers is lead by Tim Dezzi, who is batting .322 14 RBI. The only team with fewer home runs than Rutgers’ 10 is Purdue with just six, but the Boilers were on a bit of a power trip with a pair of homers in the doubleheader against Iowa on Saturday. Mike Nyisztor is the only other hitter above .300 with a .301 average. Carmen Sclafini leads them with four of their 10 home runs, but he is hitting just .216.

Neither team has a set rotation for the weekend, as Patrick J. Smith threw last night for Purdue after being the Friday starter the last few weeks. Harry Rutkowski (1-3, 3.23) has nine starts on the season and appears to be their No. 1 option. Tevin Murray (2-3, 3.66) has seven starts, but the rest of the rotation is up in the air. Serafino Brito is one of the Big Ten’s better closers with six saves and a 3-3 record.

Purdue is looking for answers in the rotation to be sure. Hofstra has been great at the back end with a 2-2 record and 4 saves, but there has been no consistency at the top. Andrew Bohm is 0-4 in nine starts with a 6.38 ERA and Ryan Beard is 0-5 with a 6.18 ERA in seven starts. Smith has been the best with a 3-3 record and 4.97 ERA in eight starts, but the bullpen has thrown a lot of innings. Coach Wasikowski might shake things up a bit this weekend, as redshirt freshman Cory Brooks got his first career action last night and threw two scoreless innings in his return from an arm injury.

Purdue also continues to be short some big names. Dalton Parker, a reliever who had 34 appearances and six saves the last two seasons, has not pitched since the Oral Roberts series in early March after being a weekend starter each of the first three weekends. He was even our Opening Day starter. Ben Nisle, who was on the all-Regional team in the NCAA Tournament last year, has not played since the home opener against Milwaukee. This means Purdue has played most of the season without its top starter and its top hitter.

Another issue is Purdue’s danger on the basepaths is way down. Last season Purdue stole 95 bases in 59 games. This year Purdue has stolen just 17, with only a 50% success rate. The loss of Nick Dalesandro (27 of 30 attempts last year) and Harry Shipley (16 of 23) has been profound. Nisle leads the team with four stolen bases and he hasn’t even played in 21 of our 35 games.

Purdue needs a series win this weekend or its Big Ten Tournament hopes are probably toast. Yes, we still have Michigan State at home for hopefully three wins, but Ohio State and Illinois will not be easy in the other two conference series. The Buckeyes are a respectable 21-17 and Illinois, even though they are 3-6 in conference play, is 22-13 and a probably NCAA team. A sweep would be great, but just a series win would move Purdue it 7-7 with a handful of tiebreakers for the last few conference tourney spots.