For the first time in a long time with Boston College baseball, we reach a crossroads. After winning three of four games over the last week, something that could've easily been a four-game winning streak, the Eagles head south to take on Duke from their new home in the state of Delaware.
This is a key series for the Eagles. At 1-7 in league play, the Eagles are the last place team in the ACC. They're a game and a half at the least from contending for coming out of the basement. They sit behind a log jam of teams including Notre Dame, NC State, Virginia, Pitt, Duke, Clemson, and Wake Forest. They're the only ACC team with an overall record below .500, and they're the only ACC team without 10 wins on the year.
But bear this in mind: they played six games against Louisville and Florida State. Louisville is 8-1 in the ACC, the first place team in their first year in the conference. Florida State is a game behind them at 7-2. With those games already out of the way, it makes BC look a lot worse than they already are.
That's what makes these games so important. Having gone 0-9 against Louisville, Florida State, and LSU—three of the nation's best—BC is 8-4 against everyone else. In order to be a contender, they'll need to beat Duke, a 19-win program currently 4-5 in the Coastal Division.
If BC is able to win a couple of games this weekend, they would be 3-8 in the league, right on the heels or possibly in front of Notre Dame or Virginia. A three-game sweep loss, and the Eagles are 1-10 with a lot of baseball left to play. It wouldn't be out of the question, but they would need to make it up somewhere.
Bottom line is that this is a crossroads where the pressure is mounting. This is a crossroads that will likely last the rest of the season (or at least the majority of it). You're either a contender or you're not. The big games begin today.
Record: 19-6 (4-5 ACC)
Last Time Out: Defeated Liberty, 3-1; Took two of three from Pittsburgh last weekend (5-3, 3-4 , 7-6)
Around The Horn
Duke is not a particularly strong hitting team. Their .272 batting average is seventh best in the league—right smack in the middle—and they're only a Texas leaguer or a gork here and there ahead of Boston College in this department. They're not a team that's going to score power shots with homers (they are worst in the league with six), but they're going to score runs in bunches.
With 144 runs on the season, Duke is one of the best at manufacturing big innings. Six Blue Devils have 10 RBI or more, and some of the best at driving in runs aren't some of the best at actually getting on base. Cris Perez has 20 RBI this year, but he's only hitting .241. He's still able to get on base with a .343 on base percentage, owing to the fact he's drawn 13 walks. Justin Bellinger is hitting .265 but has 16 RBI. Jalen Phillips is at .263 with 15 RBI.
This is very much a "set the table" offense with a top-to-bottom ability to get on base. Only one regular, everyday player is above .300 (Andy Perez at .333), but only one is below .200 (Evan Dougherty, at .173...but even he has nine RBI).
Duke leads the league with 17 sacrifice flies, and they're tied for third in stolen bases. They barely ground in double plays, and they're seldom caught stealing. They're one of the smartest teams BC will face. They've drawn 106 walks—5th best in the league. They work pitch counts. This is going to be a challenge because it will be a chess match. Whereas BC's faced masher lineups this year, this will be a change, and it's not going to be easy.
On The Bump
The best comparison for the Blue Devils is to a National League team. At the plate, they don't kill the ball. On the mound, they're incredibly strong. At 2.58, they have the league's lowest ERA, having allowed only 65 earned runs in 227 innings. They don't walk batters, tied for best in the league (with Notre Dame, Clemson, and BC) with 74 walks. They pound the mitt, registering an ACC second-best 230 strikeouts.
Bailey Clark and Andrew Istler are among the league leaders in innings thrown with 36 and 38 innings thrown, respectively, through six starts. Both are 2-1 on the year. Clark has a 2.50 ERA with 36 strikeouts to nine walks, while Istler has a 3.08 ERA with 36 strikeouts compared to five walks. Neither allows a ton of hits, and both have pinpoint command.
As for the rest of the staff, Sarkis Ohanian and Mitch Stallings bring nasty stuff. In 11 appearances this year, Ohanian is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA with 18 innings thrown. He's struck out 26 batters and walked...ZERO. Stallings is 3-2 with a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 innings. He's struck out 25 but is responsible for the majority of the team's walks with 12.
Six Duke relievers have ERAs below 2.00, including Michael Matuella 0.44, Kenny Koplove's, 1.32, Chris McGrath's 1.74, and Ryan Day's 0.00 (#fireryanday). Koplove is the resident closer with five saves, although Stallings recorded two this year.
You don't just fall into a 2.58 ERA by accident. It's going to be imperative for BC to be smart on the basepaths and at the plate because runners are at a premium.
This is a huge weekend to the Eagles' ACC Tournament hopes because of the teams involved. The ACC's race for 10th (the last spot in the tournament) currently looks something like this without taking into account any tiebreaker situations since this is still relatively early in the season
1) Louisville 8-1 (Atlantic #1)
2) FSU 7-2
3) Miami 6-3 (Coastal #1)
4) Georgia Tech 5-4
4) UNC 5-4
4) Virginia Tech 5-4
7) Wake Forest 4-5
7) Clemson 4-5
7) Duke 4-5
7) Pitt 4-5
11) NC State 3-5
12) Notre Dame 3-6
12) Virginia 3-6
14) Boston College 1-7
Obviously, it's key for BC to win baseball games this weekend. But bear in mind that Pitt plays at NC State, Virginia plays at Notre Dame, and Wake Forest plays at Clemson. Those are series where teams directly in front of BC will play each other, potentially creating some separation for the middle and the top of the league but shifting the bunch and the logjam further down.
While we're at it, Georgia Tech plays at Louisville and Virginia Tech plays at Florida State. Miami plays at UNC. I don't see any of those series really impacting BC because the Eagles can't catch any of those teams and aren't likely to finish in those slots in the standings. So what we're really looking at this weekend are the following series:
Pitt @ NC State
Wake Forest @ Clemson
Virginia @ Notre Dame
Of course the easiest way into the tournament is to keep on winning.
Music To Listen To Because Your Home Field is 300 Miles Away
Good news, everyone: most of the snow on my front yard is melted thanks to a 60 degree day and yesterday's rain. It's not the most ideal situation, but we're getting closer and closer to when the Eagles can finally play on Shea Field again. They're not the only team in this situation, but they're going to be battle hardened, and when they can play at home, it's going to be a great day.
They're on the way home sweet home...eventually.
Fun Fact Of The Week
Chris Shaw had eight homers in 43 games for the Chatham Anglers in the wood bat Cape Cod Baseball League. If he can hit two homers this weekend, he'll reach the mark in half the time. Aluminum bats: do they make you twice the hitter? You be the judge.
10 hitters for the Eagles this year are hitting between .200 and .299. The only two that have played substantial time that aren't are Donovan Casey (who is at .377 in 14 games played) and Johnny Adams (.187 in 21 games). Everyone else is in between, allowing the Eagles to tally a .263 team batting average with 110 runs scored.
My only fear for this weekend is that Duke is substantially better on the hill, but the statistics are completely skewed by the fact that BC had two really bad outings against very good teams. They also had to go 15 innings and use guys who probably aren't going to see time this weekend when they played NC State.
Mike Gambino is maximizing his pitching staff by continuing to throw Jeff Burke on Fridays. Burke is likely to face Mike Matuella (1-0, 0.44 ERA), which poses a problem. Burke might not win that game, but it's kind of a throwarway when you're not pairing best pitchers against each other.
The key to two victories is going to be the way Gambino manages the staff. Mike King is getting the start against Andrew Istler on Friday, which is going to be a huge game. King pitched great in relief against NC State; he's going to need to come up with some magic to upend one of the league's best.
You have to assume John Gorman pitching on a Sunday will lead to a victory. Gorman is most likely scheduled for the third game after throwing on Tuesday against Northeastern.