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Baseball Preview/Prediction: NC State

BC still in the hunt for the final ACC playoff spot, but the magic number is at four for elimination from contention.

Sometimes, there are no superfluous words or build up necessary. BC is five back in the loss column with 12 ACC games left on the schedule. Three of those games are against the 10th place team, Maryland, next week. That essentially means they're still in the hunt and can actually put themselves right smack dab in the middle of the race with good showings over the next six games.

That said, two bad showings and it's over. The last playoff team can be no worse than 7-23 in ACC play this year (if Maryland lost out). That means BC, at 3-15, has a magic number of four to elimination. So they pretty much have to win every weekend from here on out and get mega amounts of help. They also don't play Virginia Tech or Duke, and they play on the road at Clemson to finish the season. Translation? They can't lose. Excellent.

BC Offense vs. NCSU Defense

As for the staff itself, Carlos Rodon is the staff ace with a 2.29 ERA and an opponent's batting average of .231. He's struck out 72 guys while walking 21, creaing an ungodly 3.5:1 strikeouts-to-walk ratio. But he's only 2-6 and it's clear he's gotten ZERO help from his lineup. He's thrown over 60 innings across nine starts, averaging over seven innings per outing, meaning BC really has to work counts and get quality at-bats and base runners, then make something happen. Quick outs and sacrifice bunts probably aren't the best idea here. Time to play moneyball and work walks and station-to-station runs manufacturing, even if that's been a problem all year.

Logan Jernigan is 4-3 on the year with a 3.40 ERA, but he's only thrown 45 innings in 10 starts. Normally I'd talk about consistency and the need to work counts and chase starters in bad outings, but the Pack has five pitchers either at or near or just below 30 innings. Jernigan's thrown over 40, second most on the team, which positions him as a clear #2 starter. He started the second game of the College World Series, a 2-1 loss to the eventual national champion UCLA Bruins, last year, and he pitched in the Super Regional win over Rice.

As for the rest of the team, NC State is built on a lot of good, quality arms. Eric Peterson's thrown 30 innings, all out of the bullpen, and Patrick Peterson is a likely candidate for the starter for the third game. DJ Thomas has an ERA of 1.23, and Andrew Woeck is at 2.17; both have thrown between 20 and 30 innings on the year. With the exception of Joe O'Donnell, every pitcher with bad stats hasn't thrown 10 innings this year. I'm guessing none of those guys down the bottom of the stat sheet will throw this weekend unless the Wolfpack is up by 50 runs.

BC's going to counter with their lineup that is proving itself capably average yet inconsistent. I won't give the BC lineup a failing grade, but this is a team that will need to play a style it hasn't played all year in order to win games. They have one every day player over .300 in Michael Strem, but he's only made seven starts in nine appearances in the lineup.

And while BC is proving itself capable of manufacturing runs (much in the way Strem recorded five RBI against Lowell), they haven't done it in a way that works counts and beats pitchers with patience. The Moneyball mentality is to work walks, take balls, not swing, and play as station-to-station as humanly possible. Nobody gets paid to steal bases or sacrifice through bunts and flies, as the theory goes.

BC will need to play straight up singles baseball to work through this pitching staff and stretch it as thin as humanly possible. Make pitch counts go up and make the most of every at bat. The game needs to be very long, very drawn out, very patient. And most importantly, the Eagles need to hit. That's something they haven't done really all year, and they've been very poor as of late. But if they can slowly drag this game out to a grind, they can score three or four runs and leave the rest up to the pitchers. If they don't, then NC State's starters and bullpen can come in and mow down hitters with their proven theory of multiple arms in multiple scenarios.

The problem with that theory? BC is only hitting .228. NC State's pitching staff is giving up an opponent's batting average of .239. This is how they're a 20-win team capable of shutting down opponents. And that's pretty much why BC enters this game with a major disadvantage. The way to beat a balanced pitching staff is to play a game that the Eagles haven't really done all year.

BC Defense vs. NCSU Offense

If there's a place where the Wolfpack are identifiably struggling, it's on offense. They are a completely imbalanced hitting team. Andrew Knizer is hitting just over .370, and Brett Austin is hitting .341. Trea Turner is hitting .301. They've combined for nine homers, 62 RBI, and nearly 200 total bases. But they're getting no help.

After Turner, there's a significant drop off among every day players. Jake Fincher is hitting .254, and Logan Ratledge is at .248. The team itself is only hitting .265. If Knizer, Austin, and Turner all hit at more pedestrian paces, the NC State offense would be a helluva lot worse than it is. Right now, they're a potentially 10th-place offense dressed up as the 7th place team because of the way three guys are hitting the ball.

That could bode well for a sneaky decent BC pitching staff. I have a concern with the fact that Luke Fernandes threw three-plus innings in a nonleague game on Wednesday. I also have a concern that weekend starter John Burke threw a couple of innings instead of getting the regular week-long rest he usually gets between appearances. BC will need Fernandes in order to solidify the back end of a game, especially where John Gorman and Andrew Chin have faltered over the last couple of weeks. Mike King, the other above-average reliever this year, also appeared against Lowell.

That means we're likely to see lots of Bobby Skogsbergh and Steve Green against NC State through the early part of the weekend if Gorman or Chin fails to go deep into a game. BC is banking on a deep performance by Gorman, and Chin needs to become the ace of the staff once again. If that happens, that lines up Fernandes with full rest on Sunday along with either a start by Burke or a spot start by someone like Justin Dunn. Dunn hasn't been heard from in weeks, but he's capable of giving BC one or two innings to start and lining up someone like Eric Stevens for a couple of innings.

Bank on seeing guys like Eric Stone, Jesse Adams, or Steve Green at some point. John Nicklas probably should get the weekend off with his struggles, and I can't remember the last time I saw Nick Poore.

Prediction Time

The Wolfpack pitching staff recorded has the capability to shut down teams who can't manufacture runs against them. They destroyed North Carolina A&T by a 15-0 score. They shut out Appalachian State, Michigan, and Notre Dame (twice). But all of that happened before April 1st.

Since April 1, NC State's been an average ball club . They took two of three from Clemson, but they split with East Carolina and lost twice to Duke (2-0 and 11-10). Just prior to the month change from March, they got swept by Miami. So this is a team that's proven they were good enough to win games but are sluggish down the stretch.

NC State is feeling a major sense of urgency to win games, though, given that they're a game out of the playoff hunt and right in on Maryland's heels. Losses to BC would cripple them, and this is a weekend where they really need to handle business. They're a bubble team this year, and losses to the Eagles could push them from a third seed in an eastern location like Florida to a western spot like Seattle, Corvallis, or worse. Quite simply, if they miss the ACC Tournament, they'll be in a bad spot for the selection committee, and while they might get in, they know what's at stake with a win.

Compare to BC. BC is holding on for dear life to get back into the ACC Tournament race. Good performances the next couple of weeks likely won't get them in, but they can at least get into the conversation and be a factor somehow. That said, you don't fall this far out without a reason. Can BC win a game or two this weekend? Absolutely. But I go back to a point I made last year - would you trust this team? I'm taking NC State this weekend to win two out of three, setting up Birdball for the inevitable elimination next week.