For more coverage on all things Pittsburgh, head on over to Cardiac Hill's SB Nation site page and give them a read.
BC Interruption: Like BC, Pittsburgh has to deal with the stigma of being a northern team in a southern league, even after they won 40-plus games in their last year in the Big East. How has Pitt adjusted to it since moving to the ACC?
Cardiac Hill: As expected, it's been a pretty rough time for Pitt baseball since that season. The Panthers showed a lot of promise in that final Big East year but have mostly fallen off the map since then in the ACC. Over the past two seasons, they've won a total of only 42 games, which equaled the win total in that surprising 2013 season. Pitt has produced some pro prospects and had players drafted but just not enough.
Things haven't been all bad. In their debut season in the league, they swept a ranked Georgia Tech squad and also scored individual wins against ranked Virginia (No. 1), North Carolina, and Clemson teams. Last year, they again picked up a win over a No. 1 ranked Virginia team and also won a series against a ranked North Carolina team. But the team has just piled up a lot of conference losses and been tripped up in the non-conference schedule, too. There have been some highlights but too few to be competitive.
BC Interruption: Also like BC, Pitt is a college team playing in a pro city with the Pirates. Pittsburgh's baseball culture, though, is vastly different from what we deal with up here in Boston. How would you characterize the baseball culture like in a city like Pittsburgh?
Cardiac Hill: Pittsburgh is a pretty good baseball town that has started to see better days with the Pirates winning. In following the Pirates closely for the last 20 years, it's evident that, as is the case in a lot of towns, winning really does stir up genuine interest. There have always been diehard Pirates fans that paid attention to the farm systems just because of all of the talent the team traded away in really trying to build up the minor league system. But now that the team is winning, it's really brought out a lot more fans to games. I always like to joke with friends that it was sort of nice going to the stadium before the crowds came. You could often go and have a row to yourself and it's just not that way anymore.
There's not much enthusiasm for a thing like Pitt baseball, though. With the three pro teams, Pitt football, and Pitt basketball, most fans in the area have their hands full. But I imagine that if they started winning, at least some people would show up. FWIW, Pitt has a very nice baseball facility built only about five years ago. It's part of a brand new complex that also included a new softball stadium and new soccer stadium.
BC Interruption: Pitt finished as the last place team in the ACC last year at 9-21. What was the main reason for their struggles?
Cardiac Hill: Just not enough talent. Pitt has had some players drafted, but overall hasn't recruited terribly well. That could fly a little in the Big East, but when you're in the ACC against some of the best teams in the country, you just can't be that competitive without good recruits. The hope is that playing in the ACC now and having the facilities will improve that.
Last season in particular, the team didn't have enough pitching or hitting. All three of the pitchers had a losing record and the team ERA was over 4.50. T.J. Zeuch is a very promising prospect and even he had only a modest year, going 5-6 with a 3.87 ERA. Batting, the team hit only .253 and didn't have any big power threats that they had in the past. The last couple of years, Pitt has failed to produce a hitter with home runs in double digits. Four regular lineup guys last year hit about .230 or lower and that's just not good enough.
BC Interruption: Who are some of the players to watch out of the Panthers this weekend?
Cardiac Hill: The big one is the afrementioned Zeuch, assuming he pitches. He is Baseball America's No. 41 college prospect for 2016 and is the best thing the team has going right now. Zeuch just pitched in his first game of the year over the weekend after missing the early part of the season no clear reason has been given) and defeated Florida State without giving up an earned run. Last year, he pitched a gem with eight shutout innings against ace Nathan Kirby in a 1-0 win over No. 1 Virginia and won ACC Pitcher of the Week honors. If there's one player on Pitt that you'll want to see, it's him.
On offense, things are looking up from last season. Pitt has six guys batting over .300 (and a seventh at .298) and one guy to watch there is Nick Yarnall. He had a huge series against Grambling STate a few weeks back, hitting five home runs, and TWICE, he hit two homers in the same inning. He's tied for the team lead in home runs with five and also second in batting average, hitting .358.
BC Interruption: What does Pitt have to do in order to come out of this weekend with a series win at home?
Cardiac Hill: They need Zeuch to go and, after pitching Florida State last weekend, I'm guessing he will. But they'll also need at least one other decent start from either, presumably, Aaron Sandefur, Sam Mersing, or Josh Falk. With Zeuch, they can win one, but they'll need another strong performance to get a series win. They've given up at least ten runs in seven of the 17 games they've played this year, and that's obviously far too many. Granted, the team didn't have Zeuch until last weekend, but that's a clear indication that even with him, the rotation would have struggled to a degree.
The offensive concerns are lesser for me, but still present. The bats have gone mostly silent against better competition and in their two ACC series, Pitt has failed to score more than two runs in three of those six games.