After picking up three wins in four games out west, Boston College baseball hits the field in the same time zone as Boston this weekend for its first full series against a single opponent. They'll head to DeLand, Florida to take on the Stetson Hatters of the Atlantic Sun Conference down in Deland, Florida.
While heading to Florida sounds great, DeLand is actually located closer to Daytona, roughly 23 miles west of Daytona Beach. It's the part of the Sunshine State where temperatures during the day get up towards the 70-80 mark, but the mercury has a tendency to dip below 60 at night. While substantially warmer than home, BC will still have to play one game in cool spring-like temperatures as opposed to day-time warmth.
As for the Hatters, they were swept in their season-opening series by Ole Miss, losing big by 7-0, 11-1, and 8-2 finals. After a midweek game against Florida International in Miami, they'll benefit from playing again at home. Let's take a look at the matchup and predict what might happen this weekend for the Eagles:
BC Offense vs. Stetson Pitching
Boston College's offense clicked and clicked hard last week. Chris Shaw was named Eagle of the Week on BCEagles.com, hitting .375 with six hits, five for extra bases. He hit four doubles and a homer, recorded six RBI, and drove in what would eventually be the game-winning runs in the 8-6 comeback victory over Santa Clara. He's looked increasingly comfortable at the plate through summer ball, fall practice, and the first series. And he'll anchor a BC offense that, through four games, showed it has the potential to damage pitching staffs.
That'll come in handy against a Stetson pitching staff that, honestly, is weak. Josh Powers had the lone decent start of last weekend, going five innings and allowing three runs (of which one was unearned) against the Rebels. But he gave up nine hits, a number that plays right into BC's wheelhouse if the bats are going to continue turning it up.
Austin Perez and Kurt Schluter got the other starts and ended up with poor numbers. Perez couldn't complete his fifth inning of work, going 4.2 and giving up five runs on nine hits. Schluter was hung out to dry by his defense as the Hatters gave up four unearned runs in his 2.2 innings pitched. He only gave up five hits, but the six runs contributed to a bad day for the Hatters.
It's funny thing; pitching can be ripped apart by bad defense. BC saw that last year. Stetson committed eight errors against the Rebels. All of those extra outs decidedly gave games away. It's possible they'll make some wholesale changes. The one thing that's for certain is that Tyler Bocock will start in the middle of the infield. He went 3-for-10 in a series where his team hit just .193.
We'll see Schluter throw the first game, with Perez throwing the second game. Powers gets the third game. If I had to guess, Perez will have the shortest leash after his disastrous first outing.
As for the BC hitters, why break what works? Even through the first three games, we're already seeing players grow comfortable into slots in the lineup. While baseball lineups vary from week to week and other players obviously need to get reps and plate appearances to keep the right players fresh, I'm positive the Eagles can't really do that until the season really gets going. You play bench players in between ACC matchups against teams like Harvard. You don't do that early in the season on the first three-game series.
A look at who I think will start for BC this weekend. Bear in mind that since we only have one week of stats, we're still basing it on the 2013 numbers for now.
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Stetson Offense vs. BC Pitching
Boston College's pitching staff did a tremendous job last weekend in shutting down both Nevada and Santa Clara. While the duo aren't on par with Miami or Florida State or North Carolina, it's an optimistic start and springs hope that the unit isn't going to be as bad as it used to be. The biggest thing for BC is its depth - the Eagles used 17 players on the mound last year, but it was hardly due to its ability for anyone to take the mound and shut down. At times, it felt like BC was throwing any amount of poop against the wall and praying to figure out what would stick. The problem? Nobody stuck.
So last week is cause for optimism as the Eagles take the hill this weekend against Stetson. This is a weekend where BC should use different combinations and different pitchers. Like last week, BC should use multiple pitchers across multiple outings. It'll probably be rare to see the bullpen shortened; the starters are unlikely to pressure deep into games.
Based off of last week, the Eagles will roll out a rotation of Eric Stevens, Andrew Chin, and John Gorman. They earned the starts this weekend after putting together the better performances. Jeff Burke pitched well enough in his start, but he had a couple of tougher innings to start his game on Sunday; given the performances of the other three, that's enough to keep him out of the rotation (for now).
As for the bullpen, it should be all hands up as I mentioned above. John Nicklas is going to wind up in the back end of the rotation, and Bobby Skogsbergh should be pitching in front of him. If all goes according to plan, Skogsbergh setting up Nicklas could be pretty dangerous (and allow the capacity to flip-flop who is closing on any given night) once the Eagles hit the bulk of their schedule.
As for Stetson's offense, it wasn't very good last week very good. They used three very different lineups for three different games last weekend, and some of their pitchers played the field. That's a common trend across college baseball, but when guys come off the bump and can't hit, it's a sign the team isn't particularly strong.
Bearing in mind that the lineups won't be the same based on who's pitching, I'm not even going to try and predict the lineup. Kurt Schluter could easily be playing first in addition to pitching, as could Josh Powers. Powers hit .800 in two games in the field to help lead the Hatters, and we'll definitley see him start one of the games on the hill.
Four or five players I can predict you'll see include Tyler Bocock. Bocock's older brother, Brian, had a couple of cups of coffee in the majors with San Francisco and Philadelphia before spending last year with the Royals organization, but the key is that he also played at Stetson. So there's a familiarity with the Hatter brand and style of play that will go a long way in helping a junior get acclimated and expand his game over three years' time.
Behind Bocock, Powers is the next best option for the lineup, along with Darby McCormick. McCormick hit .319 and will be substantially better than how he played against Ole Miss. Kevin Fagan went 1-for-10 against the Rebels, but he hit .275 with over 20 RBI last season. And Kyle Zech hit over .300 coming off the bench with a few starts; he only went 1-for-9 against the Rebels and should be in the lineup against the Eagles. Garrett Russini had only 10 errors in the field while playing 50-plus games last season; it's expected he'll get a start and provide some ability to get on base in the bottom of the order after a .335 OBP last season.
I think this is a tough series to predict. Stetson got massacred by Ole Miss in the first weekend of games, but that's hardly their fault. After all, the Rebels have 10 appearances in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments. They came within a regional final of advancing to the Super Regionals, losing to Texas A&M in College Station. A team from the Atlantic Sun Conference, for the opening series of their year, isn't going to be able to compete with that.
But Stetson was a decent ballclub last year. They hung tough with Florida State and beat Ohio State. They went 15-12 in their league. They showed they had the ability to beat a team dealing with struggles. So this is not a weekend where BC, if they have newfound confidence, can go in and waltz through three games to get to Fort Myers for the Red Sox game.
I think, based off of early returns, BC can be vastly improved this year, and if they're going to take three of four games out at Santa Clara, they're going to have to deal with some type of heightened internal expectations. As a result, I'm going to issue the challenge for the Eagles to take two of three in Florida. I think it's time for Eric Stevens to pick up a win, and I think Andrew Chin will look dominant. I think that loss needs to be a hard-fought loss where they don't get beat up, and judging from first performances, it'll most likely come if Gorman is outdueled by Powers on Sunday.
If BC expects to improve this year, this is a series where they need to take more than just a single victory. Stetson is very clearly a team, like Nevada, a good team should be able to beat. Lose two, then, and we're right back where we started by way of expectations with questions about this team's ceiling. Win two or sweep, and this team's ceiling can continue to raise the roof.
Friday: BC - Eric Stevens (0-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. Stetson - Kurt Schluter (0-1, 6.75 ERA)
Saturday: BC - Andrew Chin (1-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. Stetson - Austin Perez (0-1. 7.71 ERA)
Sunday: BC - John Gorman (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Stetson - Josh Powers (0-1, 3.60 ERA)