Louisville Cardinals vs. Boston College Eagles
Friday: 2:30 PM
Satuday: 1:30 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM
When Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten, the Louisville Cardinals became one of the most obvious choices to fill in the void in the league. A more natural geographic fit than other schools, the Cardinals presented the league with a rising national player in college athletics.
Louisville football had been a Big East powerhouse at a time when the Big East was still good even as it was losing its elite status. And the basketball program was beyond elite, having won the 2013 national championship while advancing to one other Final Four under Rick Pitino. From the standpoint of the two major revenue sports, it made total sense to get the Cardinals.
But there are downstream impacts in sports that nobody could have foreseen. By adding Louisville, ACC baseball gained one of the nation's biggest rising powers, a team that won 50 games in consecutive seasons before departing. They'd been to three College World Series in seven years and missed the NCAA Tournament only once in the Dan McDonnell era.
Losing Maryland meant the Atlantic Division lost a middle-of-the-pack team. Adding Louisville meant the ACC added a team capable of rewriting the power structure in the league. And of course - all of this happened in Boston College's division.
For the first time, Louisville comes to Boston to take on the Eagles. The Cardinals are the division leaders and a team ranked as high as third by publications. The uphill battle begins.
Record: 30-7 (13-5 ACC)
Last Time Out: The Cardinals demolished Clemson last weekend, dominating them in the first two games before winning a one-run game on Sunday. After beating them 15-2 and 7-2 in the first two games, they used a 9-8 victory to earn the sweep. Then they hosted their in-state rivals on Tuesday, defeating 12th-ranked Kentucky for the second time in a week, 7-6.
Since dropping two of three to Florida State, the Cardinals have won six in a row.
Around The Horn
This team's lineup is absolutely ridiculous, and Louisville enters the series as the league's best hitting team at .335. That's nearly 30 points better than the team in second (Georgia Tech and NC State at .308). Unsurprisingly, that gives the Cardinals an edge as the league leader in on-base percentage, slugging percentage (the only team over .500 in that category), runs, hits, and doubles. They're second in triples and second in homers. They've also struck out the least, as the only team under 200 K's this season with 170.
The team is led by Devin Hairston, a .388 hitter who is in the top five in the league in hitting. Hairston, a shortstop, has 31 runs batted in and leads the team in multi-hit games with 20. He's a short spitfire of a player at only 5'7", but he's the type of guy you can build your lineup and infield around with the way he plays the game.
Beyond Hairston, the Cardinals get Nick Solak back in the lineup. He was hitting .455 in his junior campaign before a bone bruise sidelined him for 15 games. In his place, Devin Mann, a 6'2" freshman, hit .324 with 13 RBI, hitting safely in 13 of his 18 starts.
Of the projected starters for Louisville, nearly every position features someone at or around the .300 mark. The worst hitting projected starter is Logan Taylor, who enters the series with a .268 average (even though he's hitting .360 in his last 15 game). Taylor would be the third best hitter among BC's projected starting lineup.
As for BC, the lineup power outage isn't so much of a concern as it is reality at this point. BC is the 14th place team in the league in hitting at .260, now behind Duke. They've improved and shone flashes over the course of the year, but the inconsistency's plagued them. They rank 14th in runs scored and they're the only team without 30 hits on the year. But as we've seen, they're capable of putting up eight or 10 runs on an opponent. Small ball will be a necessity from the word go in order to manufacture runs against the Cardinal pitching staff.
On The Bump
It would be one thing if Louisville could hit and couldn't pitch (like Wake Forest teams of years past), but the Cardinals enter this weekend as the second best staff in the league. They're one of two teams with a staff ERA under 3.00, and opponents are only hitting .216 against them. They lead the league in several other categories as well here, including runs allowed.
Drew Harrington and Brendan McKay are the team's centerpieces, and they'll draw the first two starts of the weekend, with McKay pitching against Jacob Stevens on Friday and Harrington pitching against Justin Dunn on Saturday.
McKay enters the weekend with a 7-1 record and a 2.15 ERA. He's struck out 73 batters, 16th best in the NCAA, and he's registered eight strikeouts in seven of nine starts this year. He's only walked 22 batters. On the bright side, he's given up the most hits of the guys who are starting this weekend (45 to Harrington's 44 and Kyle Funkhouser's 43, so...yeah). Oh, and he might not be the best pitcher on the team.
That might be Harrington, who is 8-1 with a 1.40 ERA in 58 innings pitched. He's struck out a paltry 46 guys in comparison to his teammate, but he's only walked 13. After opening the year 1-1, he's won seven straight starts to push him to the top of the NCAA charts in that regard.
Kyle Funkhouser, the staff stalwart and the only righty the Eagles will face this weekend, is 3-3 with a 5.19 ERA in 50-plus innings, but he enters the weekend as the program record holder in wins, strikeouts, innings, and starts. A mainstay for the past four years, he's a guy that's not going down without a fight.
Out of the bullpen, only three pitchers have ERAs of 4.00 or higher. Shane Hummel, Adam Wolf, Dylan Shoffner, Sam Bordner, Zack Burdi, and Anthony Kidston all appeared in at least eight games with ERA's of 3.00 or better. Burdi is the closer, with four saves in 15 appearances.
This staff operates on a nearly 3:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, with 318 K's to 133 walks. If you get on base, keep the ball. If you score, frame it in acrylic.
Does that mean they're unbeatable? Not by a long shot. Louisville is dominating teams through the first few innings of the game, having outscored opponents 103-36 in the first three innings. The great equalizer for this would be the BC pitching staff, which will send its three vaunted starters out to the hill. This is the matchup guys should dream about, and this weekend has a couple of dream matchups that should get the scouts drooling.
What could be the great equalizer this weekend is the weather. Louisville is going to enjoy Friday's conditions since partly cloudy skies should give way to temperatures soaring into the 70s with a chance of touching 80. That's more seasonal to their liking.
But after the game starts, there's going to be a 10-degree dip in temperature on Friday. If the game starts around 75 degrees at 2:30, overnight lows are going down in the 50s, and it'll be into the 60s by the end of Friday. Still not bad.
Saturday's temperatures will start in the high 50s and head up into the low 60s because those three degrees make all the difference. The temperatures by the end could be dropping since overnight lows are in the 40s.
Sunday, however, things are going to get cold. The game will start at 50 degrees, and it's not really going to get much warmer from there. With a morning temperature of 44, it's not going to be much higher than the 50 degree expected high, and winds are going to be around 11 mph. For Shea Field, expect Hoth-like conditions.
Louisville's Jim Patterson Stadium is a sterling gem of a field, with crossed bats at its entryway. A $10 million stadium, it has 1,500 chairback seats with a capacity of 4,000 people. It has a press box, and locker rooms for both teams. There's a Jumbotron.
The players themselves have leather back executive chairs for film rooms, a players' lounge with indoor batting cages, training facilities, and a spacious home locker room that'll make your head spin.
Boston College does not.
Welcome to Shea Field, fellas. Don't let the wood door give you a splinter when you're walking through the left field fence to get to your bullpen.
Music to help you score an upset this weekend
ACDC - Hells Bells.
If you don't remember Trevor Hoffman entering a game to this, then you need to build that time machine and go back to when he was saving 50-plus games out in San Diego.
Everyone at Louisville and in college baseball is predicting that this series is going to be a three-game mauling by a national contender. On paper, it should be. Louisville is more talented, has better hitting, a better overall pitching staff, and is the best team in the league. They're probably better than Miami at this point, and they could win the national title.
But that doesn't mean they have to come to Chestnut Hill for the first time and win. Nothing is predetermined in this life, and in baseball, averages play out over time, not in one game. Like I've said about BC playing their games, you might lose nine times out of ten, but that doesn't mean you're going to lose every game this weekend.
Random Fact(s) Of The Week
The six-game winning streak by Louisville actually isn't their longest of the season. They won 10 in a row between March 2nd and March 15th, a stretch that included three league games over Notre Dame.
Louisville set a single season record for conference wins in a debut campaign last year by winning 25 ACC games.
They've won four of six ACC series this year, having lost only to Miami and Florida State.
Despite winning 30 games (the first ACC team to that mark this year), Louisville is only 6-6 away from home. They're 24-1 this year at home.
Louisville has played in 22 games decided by five or more runs, in which they're 20-2. They haven't been shutout this year but have recorded seven victories where they didn't allow a run.
There is a way to beat Louisville - get a lead late into the game. The Cardinals are only 1-5 when trailing after six innings, 1-6 when trailing after seven, and 0-6 when trailing after eight. Conversely, they're 29-2 when tied or leading after six, 29-1 when tied or leading after seven, and 30-1 when tied or leading after eight, including a 27-0 mark when leading into the ninth inning.
The same could be said about Boston College. When tied or leading after six innings, BC is 19-3 compared with 0-11 in the same situation. When leading or tied after eight innings, the Eagles are 18-1, including 15-1 with leads, but they're 0-13 when trailing into the ninth.
BC has really struggled facing Friday pitchers. They're 2-5 on Fridays compared with 11-7 on Saturday and Sunday.
Louisville is one of those teams in the ACC that is a healthier program than the developing Boston College. To determine that, all you need to do is run down their facilities checklist. As a result, they're one of those teams recruiting on a completely different plane of existence, and if you look at their wins and losses, that's proven right off the bat.
But there is a way to defeat this team, and that's by making the sum greater than the parts. On individualism, if BC tries to play station-to-station baseball, they're going to get creamed. This is not a team against whom they can hit their way to victory.
For that reason, watch for the Eagles to really embrace the small ball mentality this weekend. With a guy on first and nobody out, watch for more bunts to get him into scoring position, sending the right runners from first to third on base hits, and stuff like that. They obviously aren't going to send a catcher from third on a sacrifice fly because, well, those guys run like mud, but watch for BC to execute game plans.
This is a series where the averages are going to work against BC, but if BC can make those averages work for them (aka - productive outs), then there's a way to defeat one of the best teams in the nation.