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Birdball Midseason Review

At the halfway point of the season, let’s reflect on what’s happened and look at what’s to come

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We are more than half-way through Boston College’s 54-game baseball schedule, and exactly halfway through the yearly ACC slate, so it’s time to check in and offer some analysis of the year’s results to-date. Let’s get this thing fired up:

Let’s start with the obvious: through 30 games this season, BC has an overall record of 10-20, including a 1-14 mark in the ACC. Neither of those is good, and the bottom of the conference is not where a lot of people saw this team sitting midway through the season after coming within one game of Omaha in 2016. At least not this far at the bottom. So, with the immense success of last year’s team, the question has to be asked, what’s happened this year? The answer to that is, well, a lot of things. Let’s start at the top.

In his weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Head Coach Mike Gambino was asked about this past weekend’s series against North Carolina, specifically the lopsided nature of all three loses. While he gave credit to the Tar Heels and mentioned that they are ranked fourth in the country for a reason, he went on to say that, in reality, the responsibility for the weekend and the struggles of the team this season fall on him for not preparing them properly. He mentioned that, to a man, the players have a great attitude and desire to win, but the lack of execution is a reflection of preparation. Personally, I find this statement to be refreshing, as we as BC fans have gotten all too used to excuses like “we’re young” coming from our head coaches. I also think there may be a deeper component to the coaching staff’s approach to this season, beyond simply “we didn’t prepare them well.” Last year’s team, filled with veteran talent, was one that a coach could assume would know what to do in any situation. At almost every position a year ago, Gambino and his staff had a player who had “been there” and could be relied upon not only to give his best effort, but to also understand every situation and execute what was needed. Because of this, a coach could go with a somewhat “hands off” approach in the fall and early spring, simply letting his guys go out and play to get ready for the season ahead. With this year’s team, stacked with an enormous amount of youth, an approach like that in the offseason would be detrimental, and I feel like that’s exactly what occurred. Instead of being micromanagers and starting with the assumption that this team knew nothing and teaching them the basics, the BC staff was lulled into the 2016 style of coaching because of the success experienced with that team, and the results have shown the folly of that thinking. While this misstep in coaching philosophy, in my opinion, has contributed to the disappointing nature of this season so far, there are several other factors that have played a role in the results we’ve seen.

As mentioned in reference to the style of coaching during the fall and early spring, I believe the players lost to graduation and to the draft had a much deeper impact than many expected. Obviously, anyone who had followed BC baseball, or college baseball for that matter, knew that the losses of Justin Dunn and Mike King were going to be felt. However, I do not think most people, myself included, truly understood what guys like Joe Cronin, Nick Sciortino, and Jesse Adams meant to their team. It’s understandable that their potential impacts were overlooked, after all, Cronin hit only .267 a season ago, Sciortino .271, and Adams compiled a 4.41 ERA. Not bad stats by any stretch of the imagination, but also not the type of stats that would make an outsider say, “Woah, that production is going to be hard to replace.” Most people figured BC could replace those numbers with players who had gotten on the field sparingly in 2016, and thought the success of 2016 could be easily replicated. Instead, what was most overlooked was just how steady Cronin was anchoring the middle of the BC order, what a calming effect Sciortino had on the entire pitching staff with his stellar play behind the plate, and what a shutdown presence Adams was at the back end of games. That’s not to say that the players who have taken their places are completely inadequate, I’m just implying that the drop-off actually experienced from those guys, as opposed to what was expected, was much steeper than most people thought it would be heading into the season, making this year’s results, so far, somewhat shocking. Is the loss of players to the draft and graduation an excuse? Of course not, every team deals with it and must find a way to win games with the players they have. I just see the overlooked loss of those guys as contributing to, perhaps, some over ambitious expectations of this team.

I’ve written about this at length before, so, I will not spend a ton of time rehashing the issue, but the plague of injuries and illness that have hit the Eagles so far this spring is getting to the point of ridiculousness. At the time I wrote the original injury post, between 13 and 14 players on the roster had missed significant time due to injury. Since that piece went up, more players have been added to that list, with some returning for a second and third time this season. Much like the draft and graduation, injuries are something that every team must deal with every year, and should not be used as a crutch for poor play. And that is not what I’m advocating. What I’m saying is in BC’s case I believe these three factors, a misguided coaching philosophy in the offseason, lofty expectations based on the perceived replicability of players lost to the draft and graduation, and a swarm of injuries limiting roster options, intermingled to create a perfect storm for the first 30 games of the 2017 season. Add into that storm the fact that the Eagles started the season with 26 “road games”, with almost half of them coming against top-ten opponents, and you have a recipe for a 10-20 record.

I cannot stress enough the fact that I do not view these issues as excuses. BC has earned its current record and standing in the ACC with its play on the field. I’m simply trying to give context to that play. Besides, it has not been all bad. So far the 2017 season has seen the emergence of players like Jake Alu, Jack Nelson, and Donovan Casey who have all performed well in some difficult circumstances. Also, many of the younger players on the roster, like freshmen Jack Cunningham, Brian Dempsey, and Dante Baldelli are getting a ton of experience being on the field every day thanks in part to some aforementioned injuries, which can only bode well for the future. For those who would point to their statistics and argue that their low numbers prove the future isn’t very bright and that they are, in fact, part of the problem, I’d ask them to take a look at BC’s team stats from 2013 and 2014. If they did that, they would see a freshman named Chris Shaw hit .165 in 2013, and was actually below .100 for a while before getting hot toward the end of the season, and that a freshman named Justin Dunn had an ERA over seven in 2014. Both of those players went on to become first-round draft picks. I think the younger guys will be just fine. They may not end up being first-rounders, but I’d be surprised if there was not major improvement between now and this point in the season next year.

So, where do we go from here? With 24 games left on the schedule, 14 of them at home, I think we see a rejuvenated Boston College baseball team this weekend in Durham. Will they make the postseason? Probably not, as a return to the NCAA tournament is completely out of the question and a trip to Louisville for the ACC Tournament will be very hard to come by, though, a series win this weekend at Duke would help. However, I think this team will win some games and series down the stretch, and we will see some of those early one-run losses turn into victories. Last weekend’s series sweep at the hands of UNC served as a wake up call Eagles and hopefully forced them to hit the reset button on their season. No matter the eventual win-loss record for these remaining games, one thing I can promise you is that there is no quit in this team. They will continue to play hard until the season’s last out is recorded, and there is something to be said of that.