After a first week that was the highest of highs we all could've hoped for, the Boston College baseball team fell somewhat back to earth this past weekend by losing two of three to the Stetson Hatters of the Atlantic Sun Conference down in DeLand, Florida. Let's wonder aloud about the weekend that was, shall we?
This Wasn't That Bad
I said last week in the weekend preview that the Eagles needed to take two of three or have their expectations reset on the season. I stand by that statement - the losses to Stetson temper the excitement caused by the way BC won three in a row to close out their first weekend. But they don't dampen any excitement about the team moving forward.
This Eagle team is very much a work in progress, a construction project from the bottom up. Seven games into a 50-plus game schedule, they're still over .500. They have one-third of the wins total as the entire season from a year ago. And they weren't really blown out by a Stetson team that's better than people first thought.
Yes, Stetson's stats heading into the weekend were awful. But the Hatters are a decent baseball program. The Atlantic Sun Conference used to be one of the better baseball leagues in the nation. When the conference was primarily a Florida conference, it rivaled the Big West Conference in terms of state power. Where the Big West had teams like Fullerton, Irvine, and Long Beach State, the ASC had Stetson, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, and Central Florida. I've seen guys cycle from this league through the Cape, and they were everyday players, not role players or temps.
So it's understated that Stetson is a much better program than their first four games would've indicated. They're a marginal .500 program from last year, and last year's BC team, one of the worst in the country, should've lost these games. But BC didn't, and the games that they did lose were close.
BC's pitching was there, and they couldn't finish with men on. I doubt BC will continue to leave men on base with the frequency and volume they did this weekend (something I'll get to next), and it seems like they lost these games as opposed to getting beat by the Hatters.
Eagle Runners Wearing Turtlenecks and Chains - Cuz They're On a Lonely Island
BC lost, 5-3, on Friday and left eight men on base. They won 8-0 on Saturday and still left nine men on base. BC left 11 runners on base in a 3-1 defeat on Sunday. They're hitting the ball; they're just missing the opportunities to cash in with runners on base. It's a case where, within the numbers, the Birdballers lost games but weren't beat by teams playing better than them.
Three BC hitters are over .300 through the first seven games, including sophomore Chris Shaw at a team leading .370 and freshman Johnny Adams at .357. Only two Eagle hitters are under .200, a far cry from last year when the entire team struggled to hit the ball consistently. Of the team's 61 hits, 14 are going for extra bases.
I said last week that BC needed 477 hits and 634 total bases in order to win 20 games. Through seven games this year, BC has 61 hits and 77 total bases, an average of 8.71 hits per game and 11 total bases per game. BC is on pace for 470 hits and 600 runs (or thereabouts). So they're right where they need to be. They just need to drive runners in and manufacture some more runs. That will come as players get more experience and get more comfortable on the bases.
It's easy for us to ignore the larger body of work with a week-to-week performance. But let's keep it in perspective and remember that this is a long season.
The Pitching is Much, Much Better.
Last year, Eric Stevens was 0-12 with an ERA over 6.00. That's a bad season. This year, Stevens is still winless, 0-2 in his first two starts, but he has a 3.72 ERA. John Gorman and Andrew Chin both have ERAs under 1.00 through their first couple of starts, and Chin is 2-0 with a shutout to his resume.
But the real surprise is the bullpen, which is turning into a stabilizing force. Five relief pitchers are yet to give up runs. The team ERA is 2.66, substantially better than the opponent's ERA of 4.00. And from a statistics standpoint, BC is turning into a solid pitching unit. It's still really early, so I need to preach patience and not get too excited, but it's hard not to be optimistic.
The pitching and hitting certainly put BC in position to win. The problem is that they didn't. They weren't able to execute at the time when they needed it most. Sticking with my Pythagorean win-loss comparisons, BC should have six or seven wins this year. Right now, they only have four. As long as they keep this up, they'll be okay. But the pressure is to keep it going.
Turning Point Weekend
The first real turning point comes this weekend when BC heads back to the Sunshine State. After playing the Boston Red Sox in the annual exhibition game, the Birdballers will play eight games over nine days. They'll take on some northern programs, which will be another good litmus test, but they'll take another couple of steps up when they take on a very good Florida Atlantic program and Miami, their first ACC test of the year.
The Owls went to the Chapel Hill Regional and came within a game of winning it. After losing to Towson in the first round, they dropped to the losers' bracket and proceeded to run roughshod. They smashed Canisius in an elimination game by scoring 14 runs, then defeated Towson in a rematch by a 6-5 final. On the same day as beating Towson, FAU beat North Carolina to force an elimination game, winner-take-all the next day, a game they lost in 13 innings in walkoff fashion. This is one of the nation's "baseball programs," and it'll take a Herculean effort for the Birdballers to take games from the Owls.
That said, I'll temper my expectations based off the results of this weekend. Had BC gone out and won these games, I think we'd all be looking at baseball season with a much different attitude. The Eagles certainly have done enough work to belie some of the criticisms of the program, and they've certainly played well enough to warrant compliments. But they lost the weekend. They proved that they're not a bad team, but they're a team still a step away. And what they have to work on moving forward is showing that they can make that step, complete the execution, because this is a team on the verge. Now they just have to get there and grab that next rung.