First, the good news. Purdue tried really hard this year to help its schedule imbalance by scheduling the most home games it has ever scheduled in program history. When the original schedule was released, the original intent was to play 28 games of the 56 game regular season at home. That’s wonderful, especially for a “northern” team when the season starts the third weekend in February.
The bad news is that spring weather has not cooperated, and in the end, it could cost Purdue an NCAA Tournament berth. Already one game against Bellarmine (a likely win), one game at Illinois State (a toss-up), and two in conference against Ohio State (with a split very possible) have been completely wiped from the schedule. Games at Indiana State (an important one, as it is one of the few strong non-conference games on the slate) and at home against Purdue-Fort Wayne (a likely win) are postponed and pending. That is a grand total of six games, two of them in conference, that may or may not be made up. Given the overall weakness of Purdue’s non-conference schedule the team needs a sheer volume of wins. There were probably four to be had right there, and the game against a possible NCAA team in the Sycamores would be great to make up. The number of double headers (five in all) Purdue has played due to weather issues also has not likely helped the struggling bullpen.
Still, the Boilers are 21-7, and 3-4 in the Big Ten. The early NCAA Tourney projections by Baseball America and D1Baseball do not have Purdue in the field of 64 right now, but with 22-24 games left (pending those games against Indiana State and Purdue-Fort Wayne being rescheduled) there is time to change that. 15 of those games are against Big Ten teams. If I had to guess, and assuming those two games are made up, I would say Purdue has to go no worse than 15-9 overall and 9-6 in conference to have a chance, and that likely also means it would need a couple wins in the Big Ten Tournament after that. Anything better is obviously good.
Purdue got in to the 1987 tournament at 36-24-1, but missed with 37 wins a year earlier. It was a lock at 44-12 in 2012, but got the automatic bid as the B1G tournament champion. The 2018 team was 37-19 and got in, but it played a stronger schedule and made a Big Ten Tournament run with three wins there, so it had 34 in the regular season.
The schedule is backloaded for a boost, too. That Indiana State game is on the road and against a potential NCAA team. The season’s final series is against Maryland, a current top 25 team and possible regional host. The three game series at Iowa is also against a potential NCAA team, while the remaining non-conference home series vs. Belmont (21-12) is against a top 100 RPI team.
Purdue has stacked wins well so far. Bullpen collapses against Illinois-Chicago, Indiana State, and Illinois hurt, but at least the team is in a position to make some noise. It won its series with Indiana (barely) last weekend, so it needs to maintain momentum this weekend at Penn State.
Purdue (21-7, 3-4 B1G) at Penn State (12-18, 3-6 B1G)
Thursday to Saturday, April 14 to 16 / Watch B1G+
Series Opener: Thursday, April 14 at 6 p.m. ET
Middle Game: Friday, April 15 at 6 p.m. ET
Series Finale: Sunday, April 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Medlar Field / University Park, Pennsylvania
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Thursday: CJ Backer (Jr, RHP) vs. PSU’s Jaden Henline (So, RHP)
Friday: Jackson Smeltz (R-Jr, LHP) vs. TBA for Penn State
Saturday: TBA for Both Teams
This series is going Thursday-Friday-Saturday due to Easter on Sunday, so things get going to tonight. The Nittany Lions have struggled in their marquee games, getting swept by top 10 Virginia, but they do have single wins over Big Ten leaders Maryland and Rutgers. They are not a great hitting team, batting .259 as a team with a league worst 11 home runs, but Purdue’s tremendous pitching struggles of late can equalize that. Aside from Jackson Smeltz’z fominant game in the 17-0 win over Indiana last week Purdue has given up at least 10 runs in 7 of the last 9 games, and that ninth game was an 8-1 loss to Illinois.
The good news is the Purdue offense has been up to the task for the most part, and Penn State is ninth in the league on the mound with a 5.79 ERA. They are also 12th in fielding with 41 errors.
Individually Matt Wood is among the league leaders at the plate with a .398 average for Penn State. He trailed Purdue’s Evan Albrecht, who at .417 is currently leading the race for the Big Ten batting title. Purdue’s Cam Thompson leads the conference in slugging percentage at .765, and Albrecht’s on base percentage of .509 is incredible. Mike Bolton Jr. (17) and Curtis Washington (16) also lead the conference in stolen bases.
So far this season Penn State has gotten one win each in its three Big Ten series against Maryland, Rutgers, and Northwestern. Purdue needs to continue that trend, as anything less than a series win would be damaging to the postseason hopes. A sweep would be much better, and would make up for the sweep at the hands of Illinois on the road two weeks ago.