Boston College Eagles vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Thursday: 3 PM
Friday: 1 PM
Saturday: 1 PM
There's something to be said for a bounceback performance.
After absorbing a sweep against the Clemson Tigers, Boston College heads back on the road this weekend for a three game series against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Ordinarily, a 2-4 league record and sweep loss would be cause for concern among the faithful, especially since BC hasn't been to the ACC Tournament since 2010. But the entire Atlantic Division is continuing to struggle, and the 2-4 record still has the Eagles well out of last place in the league.
That's what makes this weekend an important series for the Eagles. Wins this weekend can firmly plant them back inside the ACC Tournament bubble, and although the season is still in its infancy, a solid series can go a long way later by winning now.
Record: 9-8 (2-4 ACC)
Last Time Out: The Panthers lost two of three to #11-ranked Florid State, getting pummeled in the first two games by a combined 27-6 score (17-4, 10-2). They rallied in the third game to take a 5-2 victory when TJ Zeuch made his season debut in the snow.
Saturday's third game of the BC series marks the first "Saturday for a Cause" for Pittsburgh. They'll welcome the Colleges Against Cancer cause to Cost Field.
Around The Horn
In a takeoff from their previous ACC incarnations, Pittsburgh is mashing to start the season. Four players enter the weekend hitting .300 or higher among expected starters.
What's weird about the Pitt lineup is that one guy is better than another at one thing but someone else is better than them at another. Shortstop Charles Leblanc is hitting .388 on the season with a team-high 26 hits, but his four doubles and one home run fail to lead the way. His 17 RBI are tied for second with Alex Kowalczyk, who is tied for the team lead with first baseman Nick Yamall in homers with five. Centerfielder Aaron Schnurbusch also has five homers, but his .279 batting average isn't among the team leaders.
The point is that with the exception of Jacob Wright, who is only hitting .210, this is a lineup that's going to challenge BC pitching. The Eagles have three solid starters, but this is a team that's proven it can hit extremely well. Like the Eagles, the Panthers are set up to be a tough out from top to bottom, which means it'll put plenty of stress on the pitching arms.
Wright might be hitting .210, but he's tied for the team lead in runs scores with Schnurbusch at 18. Leblanc and Kowalczyk lead the team in hits and are the only two players over 20. Sherman, Kowalczyk, Leblanc, and Shnurbusch lead the team in RBI. Kowalczyk leads in doubles, followed closely by (you guessed it) Leblanc, Schnurbsusch, and Sherman. Sherman has four triples. Three guys have five homers.
And they're capable of stealing bases.
BC is going to counter with their typical rotation. Mike King gets the call on Thursday hoping to bounce back from his first defeat of the year, while Jesse Adams and Jacob Stevens go on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Stevens, who gave up his first earned run of the year against Clemson, is 2-0 with a 0.31 ERA. Out of the bullpen, John Nicklas, Bobby Skogsbergh, and Justin Dunn should be the first option, with Thomas Lane handling long relief duties.
On The Bump
Pittsburgh positioned ace TJ Zeuch as the Game Three starter, meaning he'll go head-to-head with Jacob Stevens in the rubber match of the weekend. Zeuch, a top-10 type prospect who is among the five best pitchers entering this year's draft, had a no-hitter through five innings against FSU last weekend and wound up throwing six shutout innings with eight strikeouts for his first victory of the year.
The rest of the starters are serviceable, with Josh Falk and Aaron Sandefur getting the other starts on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Falk is 2-1 on the season with a 2.21 ERA, and Sandefur is 1-2 with a 3.67 ERA.
If BC can get through the starting pitchers and work on the bullpen, they'll find themselves in a much better opportunity. Pitt has a 5.01 team ERA (compared to BC's 2.97), and their fielding percentage is a full 30 points lower than the Eagles.
Outside of the starters, only one pitcher on the Pitt staff has an ERA under 4.00 - reliever Garrett Wrambel with a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings thrown over six relief appearances. Yaya Chentouf and Gus Culpo both are under 3.00, but they've only thrown four innings between them.
As for the rest of the staff, there's a number of bad numbers in there, with Isaac Mattson at 5.40, Jextin Pugh at 6.14, Sam Mersing at 7.08, and Collin Liberatore at 11.37.
If the Eagles lineup can get past the starters, they have a golden opportunity to break open the game. Working counts and forcing Pitt to play their game is going to be key.
Pitt played Florida State last week in snowy conditions at the end of the week, something the Seminoles were entirely ill-prepared to compete in.
So naturally this weekend is going to have temperatures soaring. Pittsburgh is due for rain on Thursday, but temperatures should hit the 70 mark just about the time that the first game is kicking off.
Unfortunately for both teams, it's going to get incredibly cold after that, with temperatures steadily falling over the next 24 hours. Although the rain should hold off, temperatures will drop 20 degrees on Friday before elevating into the 60s again on Sunday.
And you thought New England weather was weird. Oh wait - it is. Boston is going to be in the 40s on Thursday, going up into the 60s on Friday before dropping back into the 40s on Saturday. So it's the polar opposite of Pittsburgh. There's a metaphor there.
Ahh Pittsburgh. The Steel City. Sitting at the mouth of the Allegheny river, the city's been one of the United States' industrial leaders for years. It's a city typifying everything about the Pennsylvania Rust Belt, a city built on the very blue collars that still inhabit it today.
The University of Pittsburgh sits in the Oakland district of the city - a borough where old Forbes Field used to reside. Unlike their football team, which plays off campus at Heinz Field, the baseball team plays on campus at Charles L. Cost Field, a 900-seat stadium build as part of the Peterson Sports Complex.
Cost Field is only five years old, having entertained its first game in 2011. A Field Turf field, it measures 300 feet down the base lines and 375 feet into the power alleys. Center field stands 400 feet away.
The entire field is turf, and there is lighting, meaning if the game goes long, they'll have the ability to keep playing. The seating is exclusive behind home plate, with a press box behind the plate and grandstands extending from the opening of one dugout around to the other. It sits nestled among the soccer facility and softball field.
Music To Wave Your Terrible Towel To
A Tribe Called Quest - Can I Kick It?
There is absolutely nothing that this has to do with baseball, but I wanted to take a second to recognize one of the absolute greatest hip hop groups of all time, given that MC Phife Dawg passed away this week at the age of 45.
Coming out of Queens, Phife and his childhood friend Q-Tip debuted their first album in 1990 with People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Content-wise, they were known for a light-hearted approach with a much different sense of humor from the hardcore rap scene, and their lyrics talked about the experiences of youth. They were the beautiful alternative to the rap of the day.
Over time, they became more socially conscious, but they always remained ridiculously cool. When they debuted, it was during the thick of Ice Cube and the LA "gangsta rap scene," and they came along with a new flavor from the East Coast. They had style, they were fun, and they had soul. They were smart, but they never made you feel dumb for listening to their music.
Random Fact(s) of the Week
-Boston College and Pitt first played each other in 1966, but they've only played 47 times in their history. Pitt holds a 24-23 advantage.
-This is the first BC trip to Pitt since 2004, when the Eagle were still part of the Big East, and it's only the second meeting as members of the ACC. The only other time they played in ACC play was in 2014, when the Panthers came to Chestnut Hill and took two of three.
-Pitt is 78-44 all-time at their home field, including a 43-28 record in conference play against both the Big East and the ACC.
-Pitt has only won 22 games in conference play as members of the ACC, going 11-19 in their first year and 9-21 last season. They're 2-4 this season.
-The Boston College season-opening road trip is now up to 22 games after this weekend due to rainouts. Heading into Tuesday's game against UConn, they will have traveled 14,100 miles before playing a game at home.
There's something about Pitt that actually scares me this week. I think they're a better team than their record would indicate, and really their only true weakness so far has been their bullpen.
But that's the difference. Good pitching has a way of shutting down good hitting, which gives an advantage to the Eagles. In also looking at what it would take to get to the ACC Tournament, this is a weekend where the Eagles need to pick up steam and rebound from last week. They played okay last week and they competed with a very good Clemson team. But the bar's been raised, and in order to keep things going in a positive trajectory, this series has to come out in favor of the maroon and gold with Florida State and Virginia on tap.