Baseball Preview/Prediction: Holy War vs. Notre Dame

BCEagles.com

Lost in the shuffle from hockey were back-to-back losses to the Ivy League in baseball before a rematch with Mik Aoki. LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!

After losing to Dartmouth, 2-1, on Tuesday, the Boston College baseball team hit the road for that long, arduous trek to Cambridge on Wednesday. Taking an early 4-0 lead, the Eagles completely squandered and lost to another mighty Ivy League opponent, this time in the first round of the Beanpot.

Thanks to the Frozen Four coverage going on this week, we were able to gloss over that loss.

But now we put some focus back on the baseball diamond as Boston College heads to Chicago to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The three-game series was moved from South Bend to Chicago State's field as the cold and arduous winter inhibited the Irish from finishing up new turf on their field. As a result, Notre Dame's been more nomadic as BC, which is saying something.

Both of these teams limp into this weekend as the last place squads in the ACC. Boston College comes into Chicago in 13th place in the ACC with two league wins - one over Wake Forest and one last weekend over North Carolina. Notre Dame's 1-13 record is one game behind the Eagles in dead last (not bad for a team that lost in the Big East final last year to UConn. I'm sure they're thrilled to be in the ACC now). They beat Virginia Tech, 2-1, but have since lost six straight league games with two postponements.

The difference in this weekend is that Notre Dame is coming off two wins midweek, including one against Michigan, and Boston College lost to two Ivy League schools (bad ones at that). Either way, the recipe this weekend is for a pillow fight of a series between two teams desperately trying to hang on in the race for a playoff spot. A bad weekend by either one of these teams, and the race is effectively over.

BC Offense vs. ND Defense

Notre Dame sends Sean Fitzgerald, Pat Connaughton, and Michael Hearne to the hill this weekend against a Boston College offense that officially ranks dead last in the league in hitting. Fitzgerald and Hearne are decent enough to give BC bats fits, while Connaughton steps forward for his fifth start after struggling through most of the first part of the year with a 6.89 ERA.

BC has the benefit of not going against Nick McCarty, who made his eighth start of the season midweek against Chicago State and threw his first complete game of the year.

But BC's offense, which is pedestrian at best and struggles mightily with men on base, will still be clear underdogs this weekend. Fitzgerald and Hearne are both holding teams under .250 batting on the season, and Fitzgerald is flirting with holding hitters under .200. Connaughton hasn't been particularly great this year, which is good for BC considering his start is up against Andrew Chin. But then again, if the BC offense fails to show up, even a guy with a .349 opponents' batting average could look like a Cy Young Award candidate.

Out of the bullpen, expect to see guys like Christian Torres, who has two saves this year (the only Irish pitcher with that statistic) in 11 appearances. We're also likely to see Donnie Hissa, who leads the Irish in 17 appearances on the year.

As a staff, Notre Dame ranks right in the middle of the league in ERA at 3.35. The Irish pitching staff can exhibit decent command, striking out 208 batters while only walking 149, a nearly 1.5:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

The Boston College bats will counter with the league's worst lineup, with Chris Shaw as the team's best hitter at .275. As a team, the Eagles are only hitting .225, a full 20 points below the league's 13th best team (ironically, Notre Dame).

Of the BC expected starters, only three are hitting over .250, and the team's only hit three long balls all season. They also struggle to drive in runs outside of Tom Bourdon and Chris Shaw, who have 33 combined RBIs (17 and 16, respectively). Logan Hoggarth and Joe Cronin each have 12, but the next highest RBI total among expected starters is Blake Butera with nine. If the lineup can sync up, then they can actually drive in runs. That is usually unlikely to happen.

They also struggle to get on base. Only four guys in the expected starting lineup have on base percentages over .300. In contrast, Notre Dame will only send six guys on their entire roster who fit that same criteria, with a team OBP that's 20 points better than Boston College.

Cronin does enter this weekend with a seven-game hitting streak. So that's something at least to watch.

BC Defense vs. ND Offense

Over the course of the year, I've been saying how Boston College's pitching staff has been vastly improved and much better. On reputation from their first couple of months and based on individual performances, that might be true. But statistically, the Eagles are drifting well towards the bottom and are shaping up to be one of the league's worst staffs. That's about as good as it can get to illustrate the extremes of the hot-and-cold nature of this season.

BC will send the typical weekend starting crew of John Gorman, Andrew Chin, and Jeff Burke to the mound. Chin's the clear ace, but his performance last weekend ballooned his ERA up to 2.98. He is holding opponents to just a .200 batting average, but his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is nearly 1:1, and he'll need a big bounce back performance on Saturday against the worst of the three Irish starters. Regardless of how he's looked, he's still only 2-1 on the year in eight starts, meaning the bullpen either can't hold leads or the lineup can't get him a lead.

As for Gorman and Burke, they've had decent individual performances, but they haven't been good enough to win ballgames consistently (kind of the trend along the whole year). Gorman is holding batters to an opposing .255 batting average, and his 2.6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio shows signs of dominance (34 strikeouts to just 16 walks). But he's 2-4 on the season, and he combined with Burke to form a 2-9 starting rotation. So it's either just good enough to lose or the bullpen/lineup aren't doing enough to pull BC out of ruts.

The bullpen has a couple of clear go-to guys and a couple of unmitigated disasters. Mike King is developing into a borderline starter and dependable arm with just seven earned runs allowed in 26.1 innings. And Luke Fernandes is capable of going multiple innings. But the rest of the bullpen is exhibiting flaws - guys who can come in and get outs, but at the same time, they can just as easily come in and give up bombs. King and Fernandes both have ERAs under 3.00; the next lowest out of the pen is freshman Bobby Skogsbergh at 3.45, and seven guys have ERAs over 5.00.

That translates to a staff ranking 13th out of 14 teams in the ACC. Virginia Tech is the only team with worse pitching, and if nothing else, they're horrendous. BC has a team ERA so far of 4.31, not far off from the 4.17 held by Clemson and well ahead of the 5.21 the Hokies have.

The positive for BC is that this weekend represents a good shot at redemption, even if they've lost the last two games to Ivy League opponents. Notre Dame can't hit; they're ranked 13th in the league and have only one guy hitting over .300 - Blaise Lezynski at .328 with 19 RBIs. They've hit just five homers, so BC won't necessarily have to worry about the potential to go deep; station-to-station baseball almost assuredly will favor the pitchers (we know that better than anyone).

Prediction Time

Notre Dame is coming off wins against Chicago State and Michigan. Boston College enters off losses to Dartmouth and Harvard. That, to me, shows teams trending the opposite direction. Based on overall body of work, I'd pick Boston College for a couple of wins this weekend, but, really, can we do that anymore? This is a team that has proven it can lose to pretty much everyone.

The Irish picked off a win against Florida Atlantic earlier this year, a team that swept Boston College. But they also have two wins over Appalachian State and Valparaiso - not exactly teams in the running for the top seed in the NCAA Tournament - and they've lost twice to Santa Clara, a team BC beat. Their lone league win is against a bad Virginia Tech team trying to catch Maryland in the hunt for the eighth spot in the playoffs. At least BC's beaten Wake Forest, who is 10-5 in the league this year and in second place in the Atlantic Division, and North Carolina, currently an ACC playoff team.

Either way, this is a pillow fight weekend in baseball. This is a clear-cut case of a two teams perfectly capable of losing all three games this weekend. The team that comes away with more wins is the team that didn't do enough to lose. I don't think either of these teams ends up in the ACC Tournament, but a debilitating weekend of losses all but eliminates one of them from contention. That's exactly why BC will lose. They haven't proven to me at all this year that they can pick up a win when they absolutely needed to. And the losses to Dartmouth and Harvard are telling me never to expect anything good anymore. So I'm picking Notre Dame for a sweep, and anything above that is great.

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