If this weekend's Big Ten baseball match-ups were occcuring in football or basketball, ESPN would be touting it as Rivarly Week. Alas, it's baseball and I'm not even sure if any of the games are being broadcast locally let alone on cable giants. That doesn't, however, alter the fact that the hardball games beginning today feature some of the better rivalries in the conference.
In Bloomington, Purdue (5-3/18-9) takes on Indiana (2-6/10-18). This baseball series between the schools in basketball crazed Indiana should be good, as well. The Boilermakers, led by the big bats of Mitch Hilligoss and Eric Wolfe, take on the Go-Go Hoosiers. I have dubbed them the Go-Go Hoosiers because IU has three of the top four conference leaders in stolen bases. In addition to running like crazy, IU has freshman DH Cameron Satterwhite hitting .500 in Big Ten, which is tops in the league.
You have to like Purdue's chances this weekend. IU remains at the bottom of the Big Ten and Purdue is challenging for first place. However, this is an in-state rivalry game--whip out the cliches and let's sit back and see what happens.
Northwestern (6-2/9-18) in traveling down to Champaign to visit Illinois (3-6/15-13). The Wildcats hope to maintain the top spot in the Big Ten, while Illinois looks to play themselves back into the top half of the conference standings. NU's Antonio Mule has cooled off some, but is still amongst the better hitters in the Big Ten. Illinois' Matt Whitmore has taken over the conference lead in saves.
I like Illinois' depth a bit better, but if NU can get out in front, thus keeping Whitmore from being a factor late, the 'Cats could continue their unexpected run in conference play.
In what is usually the last Big Ten football match-up of the year, Michigan State (4-4/15-13) plays Penn State (3-5/9-21). The baseball version of this meeting will feature a battle of the Spartans' bats vs. the Nittany Lions pitching corps. The Lions staff has a number of strikeout artists and MSU can really hit. (I'm thinking Ryan Basham, MSU outfielder, is due for a big series.)
In all likelhood, the series will depend on when PSU is batting. If the host Lions can hit around the Spartans' staff, and cut down on their fielding mistakes, this series could go to Robbie Wine's squad.
No fancy pig trophy this time. Nope, it's Iowa and Minnesota in baseball action. The host Hawkeyes (4-4/14-14) find themselves one game better than rival Minnesota (3-5/15-13) heading into the weekend meeting. I suspect neither coach is pleased with this offense to this point, but both schools' pitching has been decent.
I like the depth of Minnesota's rotation, but Tim Gudex gives Iowa the edge in the bullpen. Whichever team hits better this weekend will probably win. (And, yes, I realize that's a genius observation on my part.) How about we call it a split series?
Then we get to the biggest Big Ten rivalry, #24 Ohio State at Michigan. On paper, the Buckeyes (6-2/20-7) have everything going their way heading into the weekend. OSU has tremendous starting pitching, a solid closer and their offense is on fire. About the only thing the Wolverines (4-4/16-12) get a check for is home field advantage.
Michigan's Rich Maloney has also made an interesting decision heading into tonight's opening game. Heralded freshman Zach Putnam is going to make his first start of the year against the nationally ranked Buckeyes in front of his hometown faithful. I have to admit I a bit surprised to see Coach Maloney start Putnam today, but it does making Friday night's game all that more intriguing.
Tonight's game is also the first BTH road trip of the season, so I am excited to see an Ohio State powerhouse roll into Ann Arbor and to get a look the the Wolverines' top recruit make his first career start. The young Wolverines can hit, but OSU pitching has just been so good, it's hard to imagine Michigan taking the series. Yet, this is rivalry week and as we know, upsets do happen.
Have a happy holiday weekend and enjoy the college baseball action.