After dispatching Central Michigan in a rainy midweek game, Michigan resumes conference play in Ann Arbor this weekend against Purdue in the conference home opener. In an effort to get a feel for Purdue, I did a Q&A with Hammer & Rails writer TMill to get a glimpse of how Purdue's season is going.
TMill is just getting into his fledgling baseball coverage over the last week due to some sort of basketball tournament-thing that's been going on, but he's got a better idea of where the baseball team is compared to most outsiders.
No return Q&A will be going on at H&R, so I'll conclude the Purdue preview tomorrow with my series thoughts.
Content after a jump:
FA: Purdue had a rough start to the season. Was there any particular facet of the game that stood out as the cause? Was it something different each night/weekend? Was it just bad overall?
TMill: Take your pick between a bad bullpen and multiple errors. Against both West Virginia and Missouri the Boilers had a seven error game in losses. Against Cincinnati, Morehead State, Southern Illinois, and Minnesota they blew late leads. The sad thing is that Purdue has played virtually no one this season. They had one of the weakest non-conference schedules you can possibly have and they are still barely above .500. This team has committed 51 errors in 25 games. I would say it has cost them at least five games if not more.
FA: Yikes! That's some errors, but things look like they may be turning around. You swept a pair of teams and took one game from both Missouri and Minnesota. Did something change to bring the team together?
TMill: They probably stopped spiking themselves, but they really should have taken two from Minnesota and both of the Missouri games. In the loss to Missouri they had seven errors as I mentioned above. In the third game against Minnesota they led 5-2 in the 8th and 5-4 in the ninth before giving up five runs in the top of the ninth. They simply don’t have any consistency. The starting pitching has been fine, but they are getting no help from the bullpen or the defense.
FA: Speaking of Minnesota, last week you guys went 1-2 against an arguably good Gopher team. How close was the series? Did Purdue hang tough all weekend? What was the story of the series from a Purdue standpoint?
TMill: It was close. Purdue won game one by getting a tying run in the ninth and the winning run in the 10th off of one of the best closers in the conference. Game two was awful. Purdue gave up a 10 run second inning and was never really in it. As mentioned above, game three was blown by the bullpen. Historically, this seems to always happen to Purdue. They either have a great non-conference season and lousy Big Ten season or it is the other way around. They are have struggled in nearly every close game this year, so it looks like they are trying something new.
FA: You mentioned earlier that the starters aren't bad. How does the starting rotation set up? Obviously Matt Bischoff is back, is he as dominant as he's been in the past? Who else is behind him this year?
TMill: Bischoff has been very solid as a #1, going 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA. He has already picked up a couple of Big Ten Pitcher of the Week awards, including this past week. Matt Morgan is 2-0 as a #3 guy, but Matt Jansen has alternated between being dominant and being shelled at the #2 spot. Both wins have come against Ohio and Chicago State. From what I have heard, both teams are about two steps behind awful.
FA: Hmmm… that means he's due this weekend. Interesting. So you've established that the back end of the pitching staff is rough. What kind of depth does Purdue have in the bullpen? Doing a brief once over of the stats, the team ERA looks moderately respectable. Who are the go to guys there?
TMill: Calvin Gunter seems to be the top guy out of the pen. He has 3 saves in 11 appearances and a 1-0 record. Former closer Kevin Cahill has been awful though with an 11.12 ERA in six appearances. I have no idea what happened to him. He led the team with 6 saves a year ago and was fine, but now he has no confidence and gets drilled whenever he pitches. Joe Haase has also been solid along with Gunter, but those are about the only two guys.
FA: You lost All-Big Ten talent Dan Black and Brandon Haveman since last season, just to name a few of the major losses. How has Purdue replaced them this year? Who is the big RBI producer for the Boilermakers?
TMill: We certainly miss Black’s production, but senior Barret Arthur has been a fantastic surprise. He played in only 16 games last year after sitting out three years since high school. He is leading the team in average at .381 and home runs with four. Kevin Plawecki, a freshman catcher who played on last year’s Indiana state runner-up is also having a great first year. He’s batting .371 with 25 RBI’s and four homers. He is going to a producer in this lineup for a long time. Sophomore Tyler Spillner is taking Black’s place as our walks leader. He has 16 free passes and is batting .333.
FA: You guys appear to have a bit more team speed this year on the base paths (65 steals all of last year, 43 in just half a season so far). Has that lead to more small ball from what you've seen?
TMill: I haven’t seen much of the team play because I’ve been focusing on basketball, but they do seem to be using the steal more. Part of it might be out of necessity since the bullpen isn’t helping the team much. The team does have 26 home runs through 25 games, so they aren’t totally a small ball team.
FA: We just played a series in Bloomington to start the season. Their fans have developed a stereotype of being "vocal" and "obnoxious". Don't even get me started about the DRUM OF DOOM. So despite that this series is being played in Ann Arbor, what kind of atmosphere surrounds a game in West Lafayette?
TMill: Honestly, there is not a great atmosphere. When I was in school most people didn’t even realize we had a team. My wife is from the University of Miami and is a huge supporter of their baseball program. We go down once a year for a series and they usually get about 5,000 in the stands for a marquee opponent (FSU, North Carolina, etc.). Purdue is usually lucky to get about 500 per game.
FA: Predictions of all sorts: What's your prediction for the weekend? Where do you see Purdue finishing the season in the Big Ten?
TMill: I think they can take a game because of Bischoff, but ultimately I don’t trust them to survive errors and their bullpen. If they can get into the Big Ten Tournament again this year I think it will be a successful season.
This is quite encouraging, and somewhat as expected. Purdue lost most of the leadership and production at the top, and their pitching depth is suspect as usual. There's something to be said about consistency when you think about 101 years without a Big Ten Championship.
Thanks to TMill of taking the time to answer some questions and give some insight on Purdue. You can catch his coverage of all things Purdue at Hammer&Rails.