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First Pitch: Baseball "Hosts" NC State For First Home Series Of Season

After month-long road trip, Eagles to play first games in the Bay State in a must-win scenario to ACC Tournament hopes

Dave Weaver-USA Today Sports

At the beginning of the year, I detailed a number of ways to determine Boston College's success for the 2015 season. While statistically, this can be measured (and will be at different points as we move along), the bottom line is that they need to win their way into a trip for the first time in the Mike Gambino era.

In order to win their qualification, I hypothesized that 13-15 wins should have them as the lowest possible seed in Durham this spring. To get to that level, we focused on the areas where the Eagles could pick up wins and wrote off the series where opponents overmatched them.

I wrote off Florida State, Louisville, and Clemson as automatic three-game sweep losses. That left 13-15 wins out of NC State, Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. Assuming BC could sweep Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, they would need to come up with 7-9 wins out of NC State, Duke, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech while allowing for a three-game sweep loss to a team like North Carolina. While they don't play Pitt this year, avoiding Miami and Virginia is a huge aid to this theory.

That puts a premium on needing wins in this series. With FSU and L'ville in the rear view mirror, it's time for BC to pick up wins in the league and start asserting themselves as at least a player in the tournament race. Playing at home, they'll have some added benefits, even if the series was moved to Northborough, MA.

Bottom line is that this is as key of an early season series as it's going to get for BC.

On Paper

Record: 11-8 (2-4 ACC)
Last Time Out: Swept by Miami (3-2 in 10, 9-2, 6-0) then split with UNC Greensboro (3-7, 8-3)

Around The Horn

Similar to any other ACC team BC will face this year, the Wolfpack can hit and hit well. Through the first 19 games of the season, they're mashing at a .278 clip with 110 runs scored. They dropped 14 runs on Villanova, nine on Albany, nine on North Carolina A&T, and seven on East Carolina. In their opening series with Clemson, they took two of three games by scoring 30 runs, including 8-3 and 14-6 victories.

After hitting .284 as a freshman, Preston Palmeiro is really making "the jump" as a sophomore, hitting .365 in his first 20 odd games. He leads NC State with 23 runs batted in and three homers, in addition to four doubles. He's joined by Andrew Knizer, a preseason All-America First Team selection and defending all-conference selection. After hitting .330 last season with four homers and 47 RBI, he's out to a .286 clip with 13 runs batted in and a .338 on base percentage.

They're backed up by Jake Fincher's .364 batting average and Logan Ratledge's .333. Ratledge also has three long balls to go along with 14 runs batted in. Brock Deatherage is hitting .320, and Jake Armstrong is hitting .304 with 16 RBI. Joe Dunand, the worst hitter among regulars at 1.94, even has 11 RBI. So this is a team that can drive in runs when they're in position to.

If there's one factor almost assuredly helping the Eagles this year in this series, it's the weather. This is the first time NC State's bats will travel north of their home state, and the weekend forecast is bleak to downright awful. Temperatures are expected to touch into the 40s only, with afternoon and nighttime lows pushing down into the 20s. Since the games are starting in the mid-afternoon, temperatures will drop as the game goes on.

Cold weather makes swinging an aluminum bat downright brutal. Where metal bats are extremely forgiving in terms of mistake hits (i.e. a batter can screw up his swing and still hit one to left center for a double), they're extremely unforgiving in the cold. Mistake swings lead to more stingers in the cold, and it almost always caters to the pitcher, even if they're going to have trouble throwing in the same conditions.

On The Bump

Carlos Rodon is gone (thank God) after being selected third overall in the 2014 draft by the Chicago White Sox. A lefthander with ungodly nasty stuff, he signed with a bonus of $6.582 million—the largest number in franchise history, the largest number in his draft class, and nearly $1 million over his slot value in the draft.

With Rodon gone, the Wolfpack rebuilt their pitching staff around one of the best freshman recruits in the nation. Brian Brown went 8-1 with a 0.59 ERA and 101 strikeouts in just under 60 innings as a senior in high school, a year after he went 9-0 with a 0.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 68 innings as a junior. He's started four games for NC State, going 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA. In 18-plus innings, he's struck out 18 while walking seven, and he's holding hitters to a .234 batting average.

Brown will throw with Cory Wilder, the "returning veteran" of the staff as a sophomore. Although he made only one start last year, Wilder's gone 1-3 this year by averaging over four innings per start in five appearances. He has 26 strikeouts and is holding hitters to a .155 batting average, but he has major control issues. He's thrown three wild pitches, hit three batters, and walked 18.

The third starter is a matter of conjecture. Johnny Piedmonte, Brad Stone, Evan Mendoza, and Ryan Williamson have all started games for NC State with varying degrees of success.

The bullpen is very good, with Will Gilbert, Tommy DeJuneas, and Jon Olczak all throwing very well in multiple appearances. Curt Britt is likely to be the first option out, going 2-0 with seven appearances in which he's averaged between two and three innings.

NC State's pitchers are very good, but they don't go deep into games. In the extreme cold, BC will need to be very patient at the plate. Pitchers typically can't get a great grip on the seams, making the ball slippery and slick. They're likely to lay off the breaking stuff and focus on throwing gas and offspeed pitches. Because of the cold, umpires may allow pitchers to blow on their hands, but it's at the umps' determination whether that can be done while the rubber is engaged or not. If they have to disengage the rubber, they won't be able to blow on their hands while awaiting the catcher's signals.

I know the cold will impact the BC pitching staff, but it's more likely to have an impact on the hodge-podge starting rotation of NC State. Wilder is, well, wild (see what I did there?), making him the most susceptible to the elements. Whoever throws that third game is also a potential soft spot for the Eagles at the dish.

Scoreboard Watching

A huge series is going on this weekend down in Charlottesville, where FSU takes on Virginia. We'll also see a litmus test for Notre Dame and Duke against Louisville and Pitt, respectively. Notre Dame is actually hosting that series, so it'll be interesting to see what happens with the weather there. North Carolina goes to Georgia Tech in one of those series that we'll need to keep an eye on—if one team wins that decisively, that'll impact our expectations for the Eagles.

While we're at it, we'll also be paying attention to Holy Cross and Yale. Not because it has a huge impact on Boston College but because it'll be on one of the other fields in the New England Baseball Complex (the Crusaders and Bulldogs are also playing this weekend in Northborough).

The BC-Holy Cross game is reportedly rescheduled for March 25th (Wednesday) in Northborough. At least that's what I see on the Holy Cross website.

Music to Listen To As You're Freezing Your Tail Off In The Dugout

When you're sitting in that dugout or that bullpen, and you're freezing colder than an ice cube, just remember: today was a good day.

Fun Fact Of The Week

This weekend's series was moved from on campus in Chestnut Hill to Northborough, MA and the New England Baseball Complex. The complex is a three-field, all-turf complex—even the dirt is turf—with the capability of playing under the lights. Field 2, where BC will play, has a concession area right near a community concessions stand below Field 1.

I'm not a huge fan of playing on all-turf fields, but there's no question of its feasibility in New England. I think baseball was meant to be played on real grass with dirt. Fundamentally, the ball either bounces weirdly or doesn't bounce at all on all turf, and I have no idea how sliding works. But it's a field, with base lines, foul poles, and bases, and it's probably going to be the home of the Eagles until sometime in April because Mother Nature if a vengeful son of a—yeah, you get the idea.

Prediction Time

BC needs to pick up one or two wins. Brian Brown is going to outpitch Jeff Burke in the first game simply because he's the next Carlos Rodon for the NC State pitching staff. The key, then, becomes BC's ability to win the second and/or third games. They absolutely cannot be swept in this series, and I think with the cold in their back pocket, they take at least one of three against the visitors from Raleigh.