In the landscape of college baseball, the Louisville Cardinals are the newest kid on the block. A former member of three different leagues, it wasn't until they started competing as part of the old Big East that they became a national powerhouse. There were plenty of good seasons along the way with the Metro Conference, the Missouri Valley, and Conference-USA, but they weren't a national brand before 2006.
Dan McConnell's been the architect of that turnaround. In his first year, 2007, the Cardinals went to the College World Series. He's only missed the national tournament once. He's helped produce three 50-win seasons, and this year, his team drops right into the middle of arguably the best baseball division on college - the ACC Atlantic.
BC will wrap up their month-long road trip to start the year by going to Louisville for their first league games against the Cardinals. A team coming off a College World Series appearance last year, they're going to be tough, arguably tougher than Florida State. But with the end of the series comes the knowledge that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, games in Massachusetts and New England, and the start of the real season after a start with some brutal challenges.
Record: 11-6 (2-1 ACC)
Last Time Out: Took two of three from Miami last weekend (9-6, 5-9, 5-4) before splitting with Ole Miss during the week (5-3, 3-8)
Around The Horn
Like Florida State a week ago, Boston College is going to face a very top-heavy lineup that has a couple of guys capable of truly mashing the baseball. Sutton Whiting is hitting at a .377 clip with seven RBI, but it's his .519 on base percentage that makes him truly dangerous. Will Smith is also dangerous, entering with a .304 average. Devin Hairston, a freshman phenom for the team, leads all players with 15 RBI. Corey Ray has 13. Brendan McKay is sitting a t a .400 average after hitting .500 a few weeks back.
If there's a good news for BC's pitching, it's that this team doesn't mash the baseball. They have just eight homers on the season so far. The bad news is that they're very good at manufacturing runs. They've scored 93 runs and have racked up 147 hits. They're a singles style ballclub that's very good at stealing bases (25-for-36). They're going to make the most of their opportunities.
BC's best hope is to be smart on the mound. Pitchers will need to be on the top of their game, and solid defense is going to be paramount. While solid pitching can usually overpower hitters, I have the vibe that this series is going to require fundamental smarts and excellent placement of key spots.
On The Bump
The Louisville pitching staff is just downright filthy. They enter the weekend with a 3.32 ERA, a number more impressive when you consider it's been driven up by two guys in particular. Josh Rogers and Anthony Kidston are a combined 1-3 in eight starts with ERAs of 6.63 and 7.20 respectively. They've only lasted about five innings per start, and both are getting drilled. Rogers is allowing opponents to hit. 286 against him, while Kidston is getting whacked to the tune of a .321 average.
The rest of the staff? Yeah fuggedabouit. Junior preseason All-American Kyle Funkhouser is 1-2 on the year, but he's struck out 28 guys to just 10 walks. His 1-2 record stems largely from some control and defensive issues - of the 14 runs he's allowed, only nine are earned, and he's hit five guys this year. Opponents have just 23 hits in 96 at-bats, and he can be, at times, totally overpowering.
As for the bullpen, Drew Harrington is 2-1 in seven appearances (one start) and two saves with a 0.48 ERA. Opponents are hitting .108 against him, and he has 27 strikeouts and three walks in 18.2 innings. So that's bad.
Brendan McKay is 2-0 in seven appearances with four saves in 12 innings. Opponents are hitting .100 against him, and he has 21 strikeouts to five walks with a 0.00 ERA - he hasn't allowed a run, earned or otherwise. So that's worse.
Sean Leland - four appearances, one start. 11 innings. 9 hits. 9 strikeouts. .231 opponents batting average. 1.64 ERA.
Robert Strader - 6 appearances, 1-0 record. 10 innings. 17 strikeouts (though he does have nine walks). A .094 batting average against. 1.80 ERA.
Lincoln Henzman, Butch Baird, and Kade McClure all clearly stink - they have ERAs over 2.00. Henzman is at .251 with seven appearances and a start. Baird is at 2.70, and McClure is at 3.86. They're a combined 4-0 and have a combined 30 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting poorly.
So we got that going for us. Which is nice.
Let's check the ACC scoreboard:
Top-five ranked Virginia was in the process of losing bad to Old Dominion on Wednesday. They'll play Virginia Tech on the road, where they will most likely do completely unholy things to the Hokies.
Wake Forest goes to Florida State. Wait until they see what BC left for them in the visiting team's clubhouse.
Notre Dame took one of three last week from Georgia Tech and now heads south to play Clemson. Let's hope they lose their uniforms, which are unquestionably the worst ones in the league.
Speaking of the Ramblin' Wreck, they're heading to Durham to take on Duke. I got nuthin'.
NC State goes to Miami to play the 'Canes. That's a series that has some serious potential.
And UNC heads to Pitt, where we're not sure but their field might be plowed out.
Just a reminder that BC's next opponent, Holy Cross, is taking on St. John's this weekend. And the Eagle home opener is on the 18th against Bryant. We're now taking bets on which state that game will actually be played in.
Music You're Listening To As You Crush Some Long John Silver's (more on this in a bit)
THE KING LIVES!
Fun Fact Of The Week
While we refer to them as our Papa John's Overlords, the Louisville baseball team plays in Jim Patterson Stadium. Jim Patterson is a former Louisville baseball player who founded Long John Silver's seafood chain of restaurant. The stadium cost $10 million to build, of which Patterson donated half.
The stadium is actually pretty historic, having been built on a former abandoned field site. The beams are furnished with some of the original bricks from old Parkway Field (a former minor league, Negro League, and college baseball site back in the early days of baseball). There's a sports medicine center just beyond the stadium that is affiliated with Jewish Hospital of Downtown Louisville, and there's apparently a Louisville-themed Kroger's kicking around in the new development.
Your other fun fact - Hillerich & Bradsby is a company centered in Louisville, KY. What is Hillerich & Bradsby? The manufacturer of the Louisville Slugger. That's right folks - BC is going to be playing in one of baseball's all-time heartlands.
Boston College does not need to win these games in order to make the ACC Tournament. That said, they squandered a perfect opportunity to win at least one from Florida State and proved they could hang with a good team. Problem is - Louisville is a national championship contender that has a nasty pitching staff. BC is going to need to be on the top of their game, and even then, they'll still need some luck to knock off the Cardinals.
Louisville takes all three here, but it's not for lack of effort. It's just that they're simply better and in a more well-oiled position. Consider it a success if BC remains competitive.