Boston College Eagles vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Thursday First Pitch: 7 PM
Friday First Pitch: 7 PM
Saturday First Pitch: 1 PM
Mike Gambino will be the first one to say that the playoffs begin when ACC conference play begins in March. A win here or there at the beginning of the season is something that can play a role later in the year, and a misstep or lucky bounce in any game is something that can be the difference between postseason play and the end of a season.
At the beginning of the year, Boston College saw two games snowed out against Florida State, the result of freak weather in April. Had the Eagles played those two games and lost, they would be longshots to make the ACC Tournament despite winning five weekends of conference play. Had they played those two games and won, they would be virtually assured of a slot in the postseason, an NCAA berth, and qualification in pool play.
Couple that with the razor thin margin of error exhibited in losses to Clemson and Notre Dame, and all of a sudden, the season is put into perspective. The entire year has been full of ups and downs as it is every year, but for the first time in Coach Gambino's six seasons, the Eagles enter the final weekend with something on the table.
Six postseason slots are up for grabs this weekend with all 10 seeds yet to be decided. Boston College, a team that defeated four of the league's top six teams, enters with a chance to clinch its first ACC postseason berth since 2010, its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009.
Their opponents? Georgia Tech, a team virtually assured of a slot in the Round of 64. Despite this, the Yellow Jackets, an eighth place team in the league, could easily miss the postseason. It's the nature of the beast in the nation's toughest conference.
So despite the season-long postseason feel, this weekend feels like a best two-out-of-three series. The playoffs start today. Boston College and Georgia Tech. This is what you live for.
Record: 34-18 (12-14 ACC)
Last Time Out: Georgia Tech solidified some playoff positioning with a win over Georgia on Tuesday in Atlanta at Turner Field, the last college game played at the soon-to-be old home of the Atlanta Braves. For what it's worth, the win gave the Yellow Jackets half the wins (one) as the Braves have (two) in the stadium this year.
Georgia Tech in conference is struggling. They haven't won a weekend series since taking two out of three from Clemson late in April. They lost two out of three to Miami after defeating the Hurricanes, 12-1, in the first game, surrendering 29 runs in the next two games. Last weekend, they lost the first two games to Virginia before salvaging the third game.
Around The Horn
It's feast or famine for the Georgia Tech lineup. When they out-hit an opponent, they're incredible, going 25-4 on the season. They've played 31 games decided by four or more runs compared to just 11 decided by one run, and while they're 18-13 in those situations, they're only 7-11 in league games.
When they lead after six, they're 29-2. When they trail after six, they're 3-16. They haven't lost a game they've led after seven (28-0) or after eight (29-0), but they're 0-14 in league play when trailing after both seven or eight leads. When they allow five or less runs, they're 29-1, including a perfect 12-0 record in the ACC. When they allow six or more, they're 5-17, including a perfect 0-14 record in the ACC. But when they score six or more, they're 23-7.
This is a team built around their offense. Connor Justus, who has started the last 91 games for the Yellow Jackets, has 12 multiple RBI games this year alone and 22 multi-hit games. He's one of the team's best players at getting on base, evidenced by 35 walks on the year, and he's 9-11 in stolen base attempts. But he might not be the best hitter on the team.
That honor goes to Matt Gonzalez, who at .372 is a beat at the plate. He has 115 total bases on the year, including 14 doubles and nine homers with 43 RBI. Surprisingly, that doesn't lead most offensive categories.
Kel Johnson has 16 doubles and 11 homers to lead the team with 49 RBI. His 122 bases rank best on the roster, and his .345 batting average would be by far the best on the BC roster. Still, he's only the fourth best hitter on the team.
Georgia Tech sports six hitters at .300 or better with a seventh at .299. On the season, this is a team that's put up an obscene amount of runs - 376 - with 58 homers and just about 900 total bases. As a unit, they're hitting .312, one of the best in the league. They're ridiculous, and their lineup goes from top to bottom at challenging pitchers. Even in ACC play, they're hitting .306 with 180 runs scored.
That means the Eagles pitchers will need to be on top of their game. BC's tweaked the rotation for the weekend, reinserting Mike King as the first game starter today. King recorded his seventh victory of the season last week, becoming the first Eagle hurler to reach the mark since Kevin Moran won eight games in 2010.
Justin Dunn gets the call on the second game, with Jacob Stevens in the third game. Dunn's had five starts since joining the rotation, and over that time, he's allowed only three earned runs in 28 innings with 23 strikeouts. As a starter, he has a 0.96 ERA, and he's still high on most draft boards.
Stevens, the big burly righty who spent most of the year with a sub-1.00 ERA. Even though he's been hit a little bit as of late, it's been more of a evening out process considering how strong he's been. He would be matched up with a lineup opposite a Georgia Tech starter who is yet to be determined.
Consider this about Boston College's pitching staff. In ACC-only games, the Eagles have the second-best pitching staff in the league, just behind Louisville. The Cardinals are at a 3.23 ERA with BC right behind them at a 3.31 ERA. This is a staff that since switching over to Dunn in the rotation has been on a roll and hasn't lost a weekend with the exception of the Notre Dame series.
On The Bump
What of those Georgia Tech pitchers anyways?
To be honest, they leave something to be desired and possibly feared for the Ramblin' Wreck. On the season itself, they're not awful; they sport a 4.72 ERA and have a front-of-the-rotation starter in Brandon Gold. Gold has 67 strikeouts to just 25 walks, and he's a guy who was expected to eventually become the team's best starter.
But he wasn't expected to have the role quite so soon. In the past two months, Georgia Tech's been without Jonathan Hughes and Jonathan King, and the staff has absolutely suffered. Overall on the season, opponents carry an ERA over 6.00 against GT, a number that drops to 5.95 in league play. But the ERA of 4.72 - which already isn't great but isn't awful - jumps to 6.23 in league play. Overall, Georgia Tech has the 2nd rated hitting lineup, but they're 12th in pitching, which contrasts with Boston College's 14th overall hitting and fifth overall pitching.
The majority of starts under Gold have gone to Zac Ryan, who has made five starts in ACC games. In 21 innings thrown, he's 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA. Jake Lee, who will start opposite Dunn, is 0-1 in nine appearances with three ACC starts with an 8.55 ERA in 20 innings. Overall he's 3-1 with a 6.87 ERA in 38 innings, but he's been obliterated in conference play.
We're not sure who would start the third game, but this is a golden opportunity for the Eagles. King will need to outduel Gold, who is allowing opponents to hit .270 against him on the season. After that, there's a couple of gross mismatches that the Eagles absolutely have to exploit.
What of those Boston College bats? Even though they're ranked dead last in the league, the team average is up to .261, a couple of percentage points behind both Duke and Notre Dame. They're within striking distance still of the top 10 in the league, and they're 14th more or less because the other teams got hot at the right time.
The Eagles have talent in their lineup. Johnny Adams has a .370 batting average (30-81) in the last 21 games and enters the weekend with a 12-game hitting streak. Nick Sciortino is hitting .322 since the Notre Dame series where he was moved into the two-hole in the lineup, and Jake Palomaki has been on base in 40 of BC's 47 games this year. He has 82 career walks as a sophomore.
Mother Nature is a cold, ruthless, heartless heathen.
Atlanta weather this week is going to be tough with rains expected to fall on both Thursday and Friday. Temperatures all week should hover around 70-80 degrees, with humidity making it feel pretty hot down in Georgia.
On Thursday, the temperature will stand about 75 degrees at gametime with a diminished chance of rain, with the highest percentages for rainfall coming in the mid-afternoon. On Friday, it's the inverse; the highest chance of rains are currently expected right around 9 PM - which would be close to the middle or late innings of the game. Temperature should stay around 70 all day, but again, it's going to be very humid.
Saturday is going to be gorgeous, with temperatures starting in the low 70s and approaching 80 with no shot for rain in the afternoon. All rains should be done overnight, which is good, considering the teams cannot play later than Saturday evening. Games cannot be rescheduled to Sunday because of the weather, either; the ACC season finishes on Saturday.
Where in the World is Boston College Baseball?
Russ Chandler Stadium as been the home field of Georgia Tech baseball since 1930, and it stands as an absolute gem of a ballpark to host America's Pasttime.
The original stadium opened in 1930 as Rose Bowl Field and stood as part of the football team's practice facility. It had only bleacher seats until 1985, when Russ Chandler donated for the construction of a new grandstand for the stadium. That renovation came a couple of years after lights were first added to the stadium.
It was completely reconstructed 14 years ago in 2002. Rebuilt to include sweeping views of Downtown Atlanta, it seats over 4,000 people from third base around to first. There are over 1,000 chairback seats with room for expansion down the foul lines. It features a press box for more than 30 people with two enclosed luxury boxes on either side.
There's a state-of-the-art locker room for both Georgia Tech and the visiting team, with three covered batting cages and practice mounds. The third base side, for the Yellow Jackets, features a complex with a player's lounge, video room, locker area, training facilities, weight rooms, and workout areas dedicated to baseball.
Russ Chandler Stadium has been named twice as the Field of the Year, most recently in 2014, although the natural grass surface would probably be a bad fit for New England.
The field itself is asymmetrical and very unique. The left field line is about 328 feet while the right field line is 334 feet. It extends to 391 feet in left center, reaching an apex of 409 feet just offset from center field, which is just about 400 feet from the plate. It dips back to 353 in the right field power alley.
Music For Playoff Baseball
Kevin Rudolf - Let It Rock ft. Lil Wayne
A little over seven years ago, I got my first taste of college postseason with a school that wasn't part of a summer amateur league.
They used to come out of the locker room to this song, and it used to always get the adrenaline going. This song is a little older now, and it's been just about the same for me when I hear it. It gets my adrenaline and juices going. I would give anything to be on the field, playing in this game. I would really give anything to be a part of the atmosphere of what's truly playoff baseball. Alas, I'll have to be watching from afar, yelling at the television.
There's no pressure on BC, something I'll talk about in a little bit. The pressure's on Georgia Tech. That should make this fun and make it everything we hope it will be.
Random Fact(s) of the Week
Last season, Mike King pitched the series opener against Georgia Tech at home in Chestnut Hill. He fired a complete-game one-hitter for a 1-0 victory over the Yellow Jackets, striking out a career high eight with no walks.
Boston College has not been to Atlanta since 2013 when the Yellow Jackets earned a three-game sweep.
Boston College has only one won game in Atlanta, a 2007 victory by a 9-2 advantage. Georgia Tech leads the all-time series by a 16-10 advantage, but the Eagles swept the series in Boston last year.
Prior to the Virginia series, Scott Braren had two at-bats in 2016. He had a walkoff winning hit in that series.
How important is an early lead? We talked about the Georgia Tech stats earlier, but think of it this way - Boston College is 0-17 on the season when trailing after eight innings but is 24-1 when leading into the ninth. When leading or tied after six innings, BC is 28-3, but they're just 1-15 when trailing after the same tally.
When outhitting opponents, BC is 22-2, but they're only 6-13 when an opponent outhits them. When they score first, they're 24-7, and they're 16-4 when scoring six or more runs. When an opponents scores six or more, they're only 4-8.
We talked about how Georgia Tech hasn't played a ton of one-run ballgames. How about this one then - BC is 11-3 in one-run ballgames this season alone. Talk about battle tested.
Jesse Adams is currently second on the BC single-season record books with a .201 opponents' batting average. The all-time record is .196.
Justin Dunn's 1.22 ERA would set a new single-season record if he can record 5.2 innings.
I don't know which Georgia Tech team shows up, and pretty much everything depends on it. The Yellow Jackets very easily could mash their way to a 12-0 victory, but there's an old adage that good pitching always beats good hitting.
If that's truly the case, Boston College is going to be an incredible team this weekend. They have arguably the best pitching staff in the ACC, and they're going up against a staff that has really fought it in league play. But past trends are only that, and teams can buck them just as easily as they can set them.
I don't know how this weekend will go, but I know that two wins would go a long way to helping BC get into the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. One win might get them there, but it's also likely not going to be enough. So in the words of Al Davis, I'll leave it on the line by saying, "Just win baby."