Thursday, April 17, 2008

Caution: Losses And Falling RPI's

Since I last typed, we've had a fair amount of midweek games take place. Unfortunately, the results for Big Ten programs were mixed at best. Oh, forget that. Let's be honest. This batch of results was awful. I'll comment some more at the end, but you can review for yourself.

Dan Black goes yard twice for Purdue, but the Boilermakers fall to Miami, 5-3. While this performance elevates Black's Player of the Year candidacy, it's not a good loss for the program. Miami's now 10-23, while Purdue is at 17-16.

Another MAC program, Akron, jumped up and bit Penn State, 5-3. Wes Borden went 3 for 4 for your Nittany Lions. Seven errors in this one, PSU kicked four of them.

Louisville outlasted Ohio State, 13-12. OSU's Justin Miller went 5 for 5 with five RBI. Miller also slugged his first homer of the season. Brian DeLucia had three RBI for the Bucks. John Dao, Justin McClanahan and Andrew Clark all collected four hits for the Cardinals. Clark drove in four, as well.

Minnesota let a five run lead disappear and eventually lost to Northern Iowa, 9-8. Eric Decker, Nate Hanson and Jeff DeSmidt, the Gophers' 2-3-4 hitters, all went yard. Decker and DeSmidt had three RBI, Hanson had three hits. Chris Lopez and Brett Featherston both homered for UNI. Northern Iowa is now 21-10. Minnesota's 15-18.

More MAC damage: Central Michigan got past Michigan State, 10-7. Kyle Day paced the Spartans with three hits and two walks. Justin Potes hit homer number four. The Spartans are 13-17, CMU is 16-18.

(As an aside, in recent weeks CMU has toppled Michigan, Ohio State and MSU in midweek games. The Chippewas, however, fell to Oakland University, 13-7, on Tuesday. Five Golden Grizzlies went yard vs. CMU. Just thought I'd point that out.)

Michigan was not very neighborly in taking two from Eastern Michigan this week. Nate Recknagel hit a game winning homer in the ninth to lift the Wolverines past the Eagles, 5-3, Tuesday night. Jason Christian homered earlier in the inning and ended with three hits. Mike Wilson (2-3) claimed a relief win.

The next afternoon, Michigan overpowered EMU, 20-5. Recknagel hit homerun number 13 amongst his three hits. Adam Abraham had a three hit, two run, four RBI performance. Zach Putnam drove in three. Christian went 3 for 3, scoring twice and driving in two runs. Mike Dufek posted the win.

Iowa beat Creighton, 8-3, at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. Caleb Curry homered and drove in four to lead the Hawkeyes. Zach Kenyon gave up one hit and one walk over the first four innings to post the win. Jack Dahm's side is now 13-18. The BlueJays are 24-11.

As if Louisville didn't do cause enough problems in Columbus, the Cards beat Indiana, 5-4, this week. Jerrud Sabourin's three hits led IU. Andrew Means stole his twentieth base of the year.

A different set of Cardinals handed IU another midweek setback. Ball State, these MAC programs gave the Big Ten all kinds of problems this week, slipped past IU, 3-2. Once again, IU's Sabourin led the charge with two hits. IU fell to 15-18. Ball State is 21-11.

Eastern Illinois spanked Illinois, 13-3. Zach Skidmore led EIU with four RBI. Three EIU pitcherd combined to hold the Illini to just three hits. Illinois is now 18-13. EIU is 17-15.

What is that? Three wins? Two of them by Michigan and a nice road W for Iowa. 3-8 in midweek contests isn't good. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times, these midweek games just crush the Big Ten. They, generally, expose the conference's lack of depth, especially on the mound, and devastate everyone's RPI. Not to mention their street cred.

I understand the reality of this situation -- coaches trot out freshmen, try nudging players out of slumps by giving them more PT, sit some of their regulars and often don't travel with a full roster. Yet, these games do as much to hurt the programs as winning on the weekend helps.

Seriously, if you combine this batch of midweek action with the previous results from this year, can you argue that anyone in the Big Ten is truly deserving of an at-large bid? I'm willing to spot you Michigan. (Although, I think they are in a precarious spot, RPI-wise. More on that in a bit.) Other than Rich Maloney's squad, can anyone make a case for their program getting into the field of 64 without winning the conference tournament? I may be the leading advocate of baseball in this conference and even I can't say with any conviction that the Big Ten merits an at-large bid.

In reviewing both Boyd Nation's and Warren Nolan's calculations, Michigan's RPI is currently around 47. However, Illinois has the second highest RPI in the Big Ten at around 120. That's a mighty big gap and well beyond the bounds of at-large consideration.

Purdue's RPI is an underwhelming 152 (WN) and Ohio State is at 137 (WN). Even if third place OSU sweeps the second-place Boilers this weekend in Columbus, how much are they going to move up beating a 152nd ranked side? Conversely, if Purdue were to sweep, they would end up where? 120's? 100's? Is that going to land you an at-large berth in a field of sixty-four?

This is why Michigan's RPI number is so precarious. With the Big Ten's RPI in the toilet overall (16th as a conference, to be exact), it's going to be difficult to move up the RPI ladder, but painfully easy to slide down. As an example, when Michigan took three of four at Penn State a few weeks back, their RPI dropped ten slots. The Wolverines next two conference opponents are Michigan State and Indiana. The Spartans' RPI sits at 179 and Indiana is at 192 (BN). Losing to either is not the recipe for RPI success.

In what's been one of the strangest years I can recall, the Big Ten may have already positioned themselves as a one-bid league.