By Adam Hensley and Pete Ruden
The top six baseball teams in the Big Ten sit within a few games of each other, providing fans with a neck-and-neck race to the end of the regular season.
Purdue has been up and down this season. The Boilermakers lost an early season series to 18-30 Little Rock. They also took a series loss to Rutgers before ripping off a six-game winning streak. However, that streak was then halted when Northwestern took two out of three from them. Luckily for the Boilermakers, they have Jacson McGowan on their side, who is tied for third in the Big Ten with 44 RBIs.
Currently the third-best team in the Big Ten standings, Minnesota holds a slight edge over Michigan and Iowa (12-6 record compared to both schools’ 11-7 conference records), but inconsistencies recently paved the way for a slight dip in the power rankings. The Gophers swept Penn State (but really, who hasn’t?) but haven’t won a Big Ten series since April 2 (they’ve dropped series to Indiana, Nebraska, and Illinois). Minnesota does have Jordan Kozicky, one of the hottest hitters in the conference. His .357 batting average and .459 on-base percentage rank second in the Big Ten.
Like Purdue, Iowa has been inconsistent throughout the season, but the Hawkeyes have potential to make things happen. While Northwestern and Rutgers have taken series from them, Iowa has come out on top against Nebraska and swept a historically good UNLV team. It also doesn’t hurt that the Hawkeyes have Jake Adams, who can change the game with one swing of the bat. His Big Ten-leading 16 home runs and 52 RBIs make opposing pitchers tremble when he comes to the plate.
According to the standings, Nebraska is the best team in the conference, with a commanding 12-5-1 Big Ten record. Aside from two losses against Iowa in April, the Huskers haven’t lost a second conference series this season, most notably taking two games against Maryland. With Michigan State and Penn State remaining on the docket, Nebraska has arguably the best shot at winning the regular-season title. Jake Meyers gives the Huskers one of the conference’s top arms at the mound; he has the second-most wins in the Big Ten (7).
Maryland has been tested out of conference all season long. As the only Big Ten team ranked in the top 25 to start the season, it traveled to Baton Rouge in February to take on current No. 11 LSU, where it was swept. Then the Terrapins went to Chapel Hill, where they were defeated by current No. 3 North Carolina. To their credit, they have a series win over No. 16 Michigan and have gone on winning streaks of at least three games five times this season. When the Big Ten Tournament comes around, the Terrapins have a serious shot at taking home the title and making noise in the NCAA Tournament.
The No.16 Wolverines are the only team from the Big Ten ranked in the top 25 nationally. A three-game sweep against Oklahoma (18th at the time) bolsters Michigan’s nonconference credibility. From March 4-April 18, the Wolverines won 23 of 27 games. With two Big Ten series remaining on the schedule, Michigan enters the end of the regular season having won five of their last six. Ako Thomas leads the Wolverine charge at the plate with his Big Ten-leading .371 batting average; he’s also 20-of-24 on stolen bases. Michigan wins, plain and simple; its 36 wins are the most of any Big Ten team this year.