Rutgers and Maryland.

They are the Big Ten’s red-hatted stepchildren.

Both have been the subject of ridicule and resentment for Big Ten traditionalists since joining the conference in 2014.

Adding these East Coast interlopers was seen as nothing more than a craven money-grab by former commissioner Jim Delany, assuring the Big Ten Network a spot in New York City and Washington, DC, cable TV packages. Putting the conference basketball tournament in those cities in 2017 and ’18 was possibly the most unpopular decision in B1G history.

“Nobody asked for you anyway” is essentially the attitude from the league’s other fan bases.

And given the performance of both schools on the football field since joining the league in 2014, little has changed that perception. In 8 seasons, neither has posted a winning record in conference play.

But on the baseball diamond, the 2022 Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are making the rest of the Big Ten finally put some respect on their names.

As the final weekend of the regular season begins Thursday, Rutgers and Maryland are tied for first place.

If that seems unusual, it is. And not just to Big Ten traditionalists. This is history in real time.

Maryland hasn’t won a conference championship in baseball since 1971. Rutgers has yet to win a Big Ten championship in any men’s team sport.

These programs are heading toward a watershed moment.

The Slugging Terps

Maryland mashes.

The Terrapins are 2nd in the country with 106 home runs. Only Tennessee, which is ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America Top 25, has hit the ball out of the park more often. Maryland is also 5th nationally in slugging percentage.

It’s a fitting philosophy for the locals. Baltimore was baseball’s best city back when Earl Weaver believed the 3-run homer was the best play in the game. Weaver’s spirit seems alive and well with Terps 5th-year coach Rob Vaughn.

Shortstop Matt Shaw — all of 5-11 and 185 pounds — is tied for the B1G home-run lead with 19. The guy he’s tied with, of course, is a teammate. Centerfielder Chris Alleyne hit his 19th homer in Maryland’s final nonconference game.

Overall, Maryland has 5 of the top 12 home-run hitters in the Big Ten.

But you can’t get to 40 wins, which the Terps already have, without at least a little bit of pitching. And Maryland is as good as anyone at the top of its rotation.

Despite playing in a homer-friendly park, No. 1 and 2 starters Jason Savacool and Ryan Ramsey respectively rank 2nd and 3rd in the Big Ten in innings pitched.

Savacool leads the B1G with 102 strikeouts. Ramsey largely entrusts his defense to get the job done, and it works. He’s 2nd in the conference in holding opponents to a .180 batting average, and he is the only Big Ten pitcher with 10 wins.

Success itself is nothing new to the Maryland program. The Terps have 4 regional appearances since joining the Big Ten, and advanced to Super Regionals in 2014 and ’15.

A conference title, however, remains a long-elusive goal.

Maryland won back-to-back ACC titles in 1970 and ’71 but hasn’t finished on top since. Alas, unlike those 2 seasons, the Orioles seem quite unlikely to win corresponding American League pennants to make it a truly banner year for baseball in Maryland.

The Swingin’ Scarlet Knights

Maryland hits the ball over the wall. Rutgers specializes in hitting it off the wall. It’s every bit as effective.

The Scarlet Knights are 3rd in the country with 127 doubles. And it’s not as if they don’t crank it out of the park. Rutgers is also 2nd behind Maryland in the B1G with 86 homers. Both explain why the Scarlet Knights rank 2nd nationally with 487 runs scored.

Whereas Maryland has the Big Ten’s top 2 sluggers, Rutgers is led by the league’s top hitter.

Catcher Nick Cimillo has only been at Rutgers for 1 season, but he may leave campus a legend. Cimillo spent the previous 3 seasons at Manhattan and could end up that program’s most significant baseball contribution since inventing the 7th-inning stretch.

Cimillo is 2nd in the B1G with a .406 batting average, just behind Penn State’s Matt Wood at .407. Their battle for the batting title will be an interesting subplot to the final weekend, much as the home-run race between Alleyne and Shaw.

Cimillo leads the Big Ten with a .514 on-base percentage and 1.263 OPS. It’s hard not to be reminded of another slugging Big Ten catcher, Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber, who led the Hoosiers to the College World Series in 2013.

The ultimate Jersey Guy left-infield combination of third baseman Tony Santa Maria and shortstop Danny DiGeorgio has also helped give Rutgers the Big Ten’s best defense. The Scarlet Knights lead the B1G and rate 15th nationally with a .980 team fielding percentage.

Despite not having a dominant pair of starters like Maryland, pitching is the area in which Rutgers elevates itself from the Terps. The Scarlet Knights’ team ERA is nearly a run better than Maryland’s (3.91 to 4.77).

Granted, park factor exacerbates that difference. In terms of opponents’ batting average, Rutgers is 2nd in the B1G (.228) and Maryland is 3rd (.237).

But overall Rutgers has more arms in its bullpen, led by closer Dale Stanavich. Stanavich is 2nd in the Big Ten with 10 saves and has a 1.37 ERA. He also has an impressive ratio of 39 strikeouts to 7 walks in 26 1/3 innings.

Much like Maryland, Rutgers has prior success in the sport — it’s just a bit dusty. The Scarlet Knights were among the Big East’s best programs, winning 3 titles and making 6 NCAA regional appearances from 1998-2007. Rutgers hasn’t won a title or been back to the postseason since.

The battle to the finish line

History is unlikely to be denied. Both teams enter their final series 2 games clear of Illinois and Iowa.

Maryland finishes with 3 games at Purdue (29-17, 9-10 B1G) while Rutgers closes at Michigan (26-24, 10-11).

If they do finish tied, the Terrapins will have the No. 1 seed at next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Omaha. Maryland won a wild series over Rutgers in Piscataway, sandwiching 16-8 and 9-4 wins around an 18-7 loss.

It would be perfectly fitting if these teams meet again at Charles Schwab Field.

At the most obvious level of symbolism, each team represents the Big Ten’s best chance at getting back to Omaha in June. But as the Big Ten’s westernmost outpost, it’s also the perfect place for 1 of these East Coast programs to quiet the haters and earn their respect.

Nick Cimillo photo courtesy of Christian Wilbrant, Rutgers Athletics. Chris Alleyne photo courtesy of Zachary Bland, Maryland Athletics.