When Boston College lost Chris Shaw to the MLB Draft last year, there was concern that the Eagles wouldn't be able to move past him. There was no prototypical cleanup hitter on the rest of the roster, and distributing his production at the height of his game would be nearly impossible. Instead of playing to a traditional lineup, Boston College would play to a reconfigured offense, one built around a total lineup approach where the #3 hitter might not actually be better than the #8.
It's something that, at times, didn't sit well. For the majority of the season, the Eagles sat close or near the bottom of the conference in terms of overall hitting. They barely hit .265 as a team, and they were very open about being built on pitching and defense. They scored 80 runs less than the mathematics predicted they would need to win the amount of games they won.
Decision making in the lineup was even trickier. Moves aren't made to be popular, but the majority of people tuning into the team couldn't figure out how to make sense of what they were seeing. On the one hand, the balanced, distributed production runs in tune with what they know of modern day Moneyball, the SABRmetric approach that the sum is greater than the parts. At the same time, though, they employed methods that drove people insane - like the oft-discussed and argued point of bunting.
What's ironic about that offense is that as bad as it was supposed to be, it just dissected two teams over three game in the NCAA Tournament. Boston College swept the Oxford Regional to advance to the Super Regionals using the same methods they've used all year, a style of play that includes hustle and making the most of opportunities.
In sweeping Tulane and Utah, Boston College scored 17 runs on 25 hits. Their number three hitter bunted himself aboard in the third game, and their number seven hitter was named the bracket's Most Outstanding Player. They reintroduced Donovan Casey into the number seven spot, then bumped him up to the four hole.
On most teams, there's a clear-cut path through the lineup. Tulane has a prototypical leadoff hitter in Stephen Alemais and another fast option in Jake Rogers. The beef of their order is Grant Witherspoon, Jeremy Montalbano, and Hunter Wiliams, guys who can mash the ball and, in Williams' case, earn nicknames like "Big Country." They have contact hitters through the six and seven hole, then bring up a guy who is categorized as a "second leadoff man" in the back of the order with Richard Carthon.
Boston College doesn't have that. The only thing they have right now is a true leadoff hitter in Jake Palomaki. Instead, BC's batting order is based on playing off each other's strength. If Palomaki gets on base, which he usually does, literally every guy's job is to move him over. If you move him over enough, get aggressive enough on the bases, you score runs. That's why you'll a guy like Logan Hoggarth score from second on a base hit because he simply wasn't stopping, and it's why, if you blur your eyes, Michael Strem is nearly identical to him (I've mixed them up a couple of times this year).
In boxing, there's nothing worse than watching a guy who jabs his way into a knockout. You watch him dance around the ring for six or seven rounds, landing all these little shots. It doesn't make for great television or anything compelling to watch. But after jabbing his opponent for six rounds, there's a visible toll taking place.
That's when you hit that one shot that maybe wouldn't have done anything in the first round. It's not a knockout punch on its own, but after jabbing away for six or seven rounds, it's the one punch that just sort of lands the right way. The opponent will fall and will be knocked out. It's not the Mike Tyson crushing blast, and it's not the Micky Ward "left hook to the liver." But it's the punch that's needed at the right time, the one to score a knockout win.
People want to love the long ball and talk about who the best hitter in the order is, and that's fine. There's a traditional way of thinking, even if you've seen the movie, and you always want to hold things up for your best hitters. Except when we discuss Boston College, there is no "best hitter." There's a bunch of players who do things exceptionally well together. There's a bunch of guys who have somehow managed to make an individualized sport all about chemistry and teamwork. That might not have been the most popular way of doing it, but it's what's brought them to the Super Regionals round on the brink of a trip to Omaha.