It's an annual rite of passage each winter for baseball fans to go down to Fenway Park and watch the equipment guys load up a truck with a bunch of stuff that heads to Florida for spring training. I've never understood it. Fans literally go and watch an 18-wheeler get loaded with a bunch of toys that'll be used by multimillionaires. I remember one year a motorcycle ended up in there somehow. It never made much sense to me...and I'm as big of a Red Sox fan as they come.
My favorite day in the winter is always the first day of college baseball season. I'm as anti-aluminum as they come, but that first ping of a real game always made me realize that the snow will one day melt, the days will become longer, and that first day when I have to apply aloe because I was dumb enough to walk outside in the sun. It's a beautiful thing.
So as the snow falls in Boston, we can rest assured that the spring and summer are right around the corner. Why? Because college baseball is back. Boston College heads west for its first trip, a three-day kickoff special with Santa Clara and Nevada. Each team will play four games across three days, with Nevada playing a double-header on Friday, BC playing a twinbill on Saturday, and Santa Clara doing it on Sunday. The Eagles will draw the Wolfpack on Friday, both teams on Saturday, and the Broncos on Sunday.
We know that Boston College isn't particular a strong team, but this is the perfect chance for them to establish their ceiling early. The Eagles play games against a team that finished last year just as bad as they did (Santa Clara), and they'll play a team statistically better but playing in a weaker conference (Nevada). If BC intends to show marked improvement, they get a great chance right out of the break.
There are major on-field questions about the Eagles and their talents both at the dish and on the bump. We know Andrew Chin is one of the weekend starters, and Eric Stevens will get a crack at his first win since 2012 after going 0-12 last season. The open competition will feature four starters, which means someone is the odd man out after this weekend when BC transitions to three-game series.
Since first pitch is finally here, it's time to stop talking about 2013's miserable season and instead use it to frame the 2014 season:
Friday vs. Nevada (5:00 PM ET)
BC: LHP Eric Stevens (0-12, 6.31 ERA, 13 appearances, 13 starts, 71.1 IP, 105 Hits, 63R, 50ER, 30BB, 23K, .323 OBA)
NEV: LHP Tyler Wells (4-6, 4.39 ERA, 15 appearances, 15 starts, 82.0 IP, 93 Hits, 53R, 40ER, 39BB, 68K, .292 OBA)
Wells is expected to lead the Wolfpack's pitching staff this year after playing injured most of last season. The scary thing is that he wasn't particularly bad; he was just hurt. His freshman year was a revelation, though, after he worked his way into the rotation. If he returns to freshman year form, he's capable of going deep into games - he threw six-plus innings against Utah Valley, UNLV, and Louisiana Tech that year. And he won four games last year with some solid stats despite not being at top form.
He'll oppose Stevens, who enters this year without a win since Bobby Valentine was the Boston Red Sox manager. He was absolutely abysmal last year, going winless in 13 starts and achieving the worst ERA on the staff among regular starters. But he's been vastly improved in his training, and he looked much better in January than he did all of last year. Two years ago, he was the staff leader in opponents batting average, so if he can find a happy medium this year, he'll win games as long as BC's lineup is what we think they are.
This is going to be a fun matchup for first start of the year. Both guys are looking for bouncebacks this year, but I'm guessing Stevens gets more slack than Wells and is more likely to go deep into this game. Stevens is also fighting for a role on the staff despite being given the greenlight as the opening day starter, so I'm looking forward to seeing how he attacks hitters, something nobody did last year.
Saturday at Santa Clara (4:00 PM ET)
BC: LHP Andrew Chin (1-8, 14 appearances, 13 starts, 67.1 IP, 65 Hits, 38R, 29ER, 28 BB, 45K, .255 OBA)
Santa Clara: unknown
Santa Clara was flat out abysmal last year, winning only one game in the West Coast Conference and overall falling off the map in their first year under head coach Dan O'Brien. Heading into this year, O'Brien lost most of his starting rotation, so it's unknown who will step to the hill. Conventional transitive property says the following - if BC is in the third or fourth year of their "rebuilding project" and Santa Clara is in their first full year, that shouldn't be a problem for the Eagles.
Key word = Shouldn't.
Andrew Chin heads to the mound as the prohibitive "best pitcher" on the staff. Stevens is the most experienced, but Chin is the one with the highest ceiling. His record last year was terrible, but let's face it - everyone's was. One thing that's great to see out of a BC pitcher is the nearly 2:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. The other is that Chin held opposing hitters to a .255 average when opponents batted nearly .300 against BC pitching. He was shut down in the fall, but that was merely preventative after he spent the entire summer pitching for the Chatham Anglers out on the Cape. If I had to guess, this is a game where BC is positioning Chin to look dominant in shutting down the Broncos and help the Birdballers pick up a win. Come ACC season, he's pitching the first game.
Saturday vs. Nevada (9:00 PM ET)
BC: RHP Jeff Burke (1-2, 1 save, 5.60 ERA, 24 appearances, 1 start, 35.1 IP, 41 Hits, 25R, 22ER, 21 BB, 20K, .311 OBA)
Jeff Burke is the announced third starter for BC, which means he'll draw the nightcap of the doubleheader on Saturday. We don't have a very large case study on Burke; he put in yeoman's efforts last year by pitching out of the bullpen and still tallying 35-plus innings. He got better as the year went on and didn't walk a batter in seven of his final 11 outings and didn't allow a run over that save timeframe. I thought he'd be moved into more of a closer's role since he did get stronger as the year went on, and he looked dominant by closing out Maryland last year. Shows you what I know.
Sunday at Santa Clara (3:00 PM ET)
BC: RHP John Gorman (3-4, 2 saves, 6.85 ERA, 20 apperances, 5 starts, 44.2 IP, 59 Hits, 35R, 34ER, 15BB, 32K, .335 OBA)
Santa Clara: unknown
Gorman was transitioned last year from reliever to starter then back to the closer's role, which is a move that I utterly hated. It meant he couldn't get into a rhythm and was never really comfortable, and the statistics showed it. He had 22 appearances out of the bullpen as a freshman, then started there last year. He ended up starting five games and finishing 11, but I assumed that Burke would've been made the closer to allow Gorman to transition to a full-time starter this year. Apparently, this weekend will be a tryout for both of those guys to see who ends up in the back end of the bullpen and who ends up in the rotation moving further.
Again, we don't know who will start for Santa Clara because it's the beginning of the year and there's a lot that can go haywire.
Predicted Lineups/What To Watch
I have no idea how this weekend's lineup is going to look because it's the first game of the year and BC was one of the worst hitting teams in the league last year. It's actually to the point where I can't really predict it because the BC coaches even admitted that five players will interchange in the three non-first base slots in the lineup.
So assuming the platoon of Nick Sciortino and Steven Sauter happens behind the plate, the BC lineup (anemic at best this year) could be getting a radical overhaul this year. Logan Hoggarth and Chris Shaw both transitioned at the end of last year to the outfield, opening up the corner infield slots for guys like John Hennessy and Gabriel Hernandez. Hernandez should start in the infield, but he could easily find himself replaced by Johnny Adams, a freshman from Walpole High School. Hoggarth could also give up some time, but your guess is as good as mine as to who plays there. Nick Colucci maybe?
One thing's for sure. This lineup needs to be a lot better this year than it was last year.
|C||Nick Sciortino (Fr.)
|DH||Johnny Adams (Fr.)
I don't think BC is good enough to beat Nevada, at least not consistently. But there's no reason this team should lose to Santa Clara, in their first full year of rebuilding at this stage under a second year head coach. I would like to see BC be competitive against the Wolf Pack, but I'll also temper my expectations accordingly. People not in the baseball know will be the first ones to jump on the team's back if they struggle early, but given the way they've played, I'm not looking for them to be good right now. Competitive would, however, be really nice. A 2-2 weekend shouldn't be out of the question.