On the same day the Minnesota Twins are opening the 2011 MLB season on the road, the Golden Gopher Baseball team is opening their conference season at Target Field. The Gophers have been playing this season without a home and while they get to play their first game within the borders of Minnesota they will be playing in their temporary home.
We have played 16 games this year in Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and California. The Dairy Queen Classic was moved to Arizona, the Metrodome Tournament didn't happen and several games were just canceled due to scheduling problems or rain in California. A year ago the Gophers had played 25 games heading into the 25 game Big Ten schedule. We are 9 games behind this year so hopefully the team is prepared to defend their conference regular season and tournament titles.
Before you read any of my preview you should check out Hammer and Rails taking a look at this opening Big Ten series.
Minnesota Record: 8-8
Purdue Record: 16-8
Pitching Matchups (Purdue pitcher listed first)
FRIDAY - Matt Morgan (2-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. T.J. Oakes (1-3, 3.54)
SATURDAY Game 1 - Jon Haase (2-1, 3.86) vs. Phil Isaksson (1-1, 2.55)
SATURDAY Game 2 - Brad Schreiber (4-0, 3.75) vs. Austin Lubinsky (2-3, 7.84)
The Boilermakers return a trio of sophomores who were all voted by Big Ten coaches on the preseason Big Ten Players to Watch List. Last year's 5th place Big Ten team (12-12) will be anchored by these three young men...
- Cameron Perkins, So., 3B, Purdue
- Kevin Plawecki, So., C, Purdue
- Brad Schreiber, So., SP/DH, Purdue
And to date these three are statistically leading their team. Plawecki is batting cleanup and leading the team with a .402 batting average. Perkins is hitting in the three-hole and is batting .337 with 2 HRs and 20 RBIs. Schreiber is going to be the team's third starter this weekend but he leads the Big Ten in strikeouts and is the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week.
This weekend serious should be a good conference test for our pitching staff. Purdue currently leads the Big Ten in hitting, doubles, runs scored and home runs. Don't tell them that not Paul Bunyan or even Joe Mauer can hit home runs at Target Field. But a team .326 average and returning staff ace Matt Morgan to the mound should make Purdue a formidable opponent.
The good news is that we kind of own Purdue lately winning 11 of the last 12 meetings. The bad news is that the last 12 games are kind of irrelevant.
The Gophers are who we thought they were. The lineup consists of three guys who are carrying the offensive load, three more regulars who are going to start pretty much all of the games and three more who will play more often than not but their hold on a starting spot is written in penciled. We are being led offensively by first baseman Nick O'Shea, a healthy center fielder Justin Gominsky and shortstop A.J. Petterson. O'Shea bats cleanup, occasionally fills in at catcher and is hitting .405 with a home run. Gominsky hits third in the lineup, is 6/8 in stolen base attempts and is hitting .355. Petterson is great defensively at SS, bats lead-off, leads the team in runs scored and is hitting .353.
The other lineup regulars are Matt Puhl at 2B hitting just .196, Kyle Geason at 3B hitting .255 and left fielder Trip Schultz who is hitting .326 with a home run. The other three starting spots rotate a bit more but I would expect to see Troy Larson at CF, Kurt Schlangen at C and Andy Henkemyer as a DH or outfielder.
The pitching staff is pretty well set with the weekend starters you see above and is anchored by closer Scott Matyas who is having an outstanding season. In 10 1/3 innings pitched this year Matyas is 1-0, has not allowed a run, has four saves, he's given up just one hit and has fanned 15 batters. He is having an outstanding season and if the Gophers lead in the last inning, I'd put money on a Gopher win.
Typically the Gophers win some nice games before the conference season and lose some they shouldn't. But usually they are ready to go for Big Ten teams. This year they have played several fewer games than most of their conference foes, but this is an experienced team with solid pitching from the starters to the back end. 8-8 is not ideally where we'd like to be but winning the Big Ten is most important. It starts with a win this weekend over Purdue.
For a more detailed look at our roster here is the Gopher baseball season preview I put together last month. The pitching staff and lineup turned out to be pretty much accurate so it is a good place to go and get more info on each of the guys expected to play this weekend.