LSU invites another snow-addled team down to the toasty (and somewhat damp) confines of Alex Box Stadium this weekend as the ACC's own Boston College comes to town. To get some perspective on the Eagles, I talked to Dan Rubin of BC Interruption. He shared his takes on the BC roster and the prospects of keeping college baseball alive in lacrosse and Red Sox country.
PodKATT: BC seems to be returning just about everyone from last year. The battery looks to be loaded with experienced pitching both starting and in relief. Who’s starting this weekend and who should we fear seeing coming out of the pen?
Dan Rubin: John Gorman and Jeff Burke are back from last year, so they're absolutely starting the weekend. After them, it'll either be Jesse Adams or Nick Poore. Both guys pitched well last weekend and earned another look in the rotation. It all depends if Mike Gambino (the BC head coach) thought one threw exceptionally better than the other. No matter who it is, the starters will probably be on a stricter pitch count around the 85-95 level. They were on an 85 pitch count or so maximum last weekend, which meant the bullpen got a lot of use in the sixth and seventh innings.
Out of the pen, I'm really encouraged by Justin Dunn and Mike King. Dunn combined with Adams to kick some tail and take some names against USC Upstate, throwing five-plus innings to pick up the win. King threw 2-plus to pick up the save over Xavier. After that, there's experience, but there's also some mega concerns. Bobby Skogsbergh needs to be better than his first inning of work against Wofford (he didn't record an out), and John Nicklas got shelled. Luke Fernandes should probably be the first man up out of the pen since he can be a solid innings eater, but my concern is that the coaching staff doesn't clearly define the role. Nobody really had a defined role last year, and likewise, it didn't look like they had a seventh or eighth inning bridge guy to the closer last week.
Last year's pitching gave up a ton of runs, so returning everyone comes with a concern. Then it went and lost its staff ace and its pitching coach (Andrew Chin was drafted and signed with the Yankees; Scott Friedholm is now in UNC-Asheville). But Jim Foster came over from Rhode Island, and he's going to be an asset, and as you mentioned, there's a plethora of experience coming back, which means guys can only get better with their roles. If the pitching can develop into those roles, BC can challenge. If it's as disjointed this year as it was last year, though, especially in that bullpen, then they could be in trouble.
One thing about the BC bullpen is that you're always kind of holding your breath hoping that the big inning doesn't happen.
PK: With 301 teams in D1 college baseball, it’s hard to pay close attention outside of your own conference. What kind of offensive team is BC (power, small-ball, hit and run) and where do returning batters Chris Shaw (.329 in 2014) and LA native Blake Butera (hitting .438 so far in 2015) fit in those plans?
DR: The top half of the Boston College lineup is very good with the capability of playing the small ball or the power game. Chris Shaw had a monster summer on Cape Cod after a very good season last year, and he's very easily the focal point of the lineup. Unfortunately, that means pitchers are going to throw around him unless their stuff is nasty enough to attack him, which requires BC to build out from there and get guys on the move.
The BC lineup has the potential to be very good, especially at the top. Gabriel Hernandez batted leadoff last weekend, and he showed he has the ceiling of a guy who can get on base while spotting some decent power. Guys like Butera and Logan Hoggarth are getting good contact on the ball, and it's boiling down to a scenario of "hit 'em where they ain't."
They have decent speed on the basepaths, but it usually looks better than it is because of timing. They're not going to be a go-go, sprint team, but they're also not going to get thrown out often. They play smart in that regard.
The bottom of the lineup is a work in progress, which is a nice way of saying they struggle at the plate.
What'll be interesting this weekend is how or if BC can get in the LSU pitching staff's head. They need to be better with men on - something that's been a big time issue over the past couple of years and the main reason they've lost games. If they're able to put that together, they'll be able to drive in some runs and produce some big innings. But they need to do it early.
PK: Bottom 9, Two out, down 1, 1 on. Who do you want to come to the plate for Boston College?
DR: I'm giving the bat to Shaw or Hernandez. Shaw is obviously the best pure hitter in the BC lineup, and he has that natural swagger of a guy who can drive in the run in that situation with a flair for the dramatic. I feel like he's the type of guy who would watch the homer sail over the fence with a smirk. Hernandez might not drive them in, but he's your next best option in terms of keeping the inning alive.
PK: We hear a lot about northern schools that don’t put a lot of emphasis on baseball, or worse think about plans to close programs. Certainly BC benefits from being in a strong baseball league like the ACC, but how would you say your program is doing these days and where do you see it headed?
The Boston College baseball program is anything but a source of 100% pride among its fan base. That's just the honest truth.
The last few years have been really tough to follow. The team lost a heckuva lot more than it won, and the days of the berth to the NCAA Tournament and ACC Tournament are long gone. The head coach is in his fifth year and has never gone to a confernece tournament. The baseball field itself doubles as a tailgate lot during football season, and last season, the weather forced BC to play the first five or six of its home games at Rhode Island, Bryant University (in Smithfield, RI), and Northeastern (up the street in Boston). It's a cold field with wind that whips off minimal stands. The parking ramp from Alumni Stadium is where fans will stand to watch a game, if they even come out. BC won't play its first home until around St. Patrick's Day in mid-March, and honestly, that's looking pretty grim this year since we're pushing 100 inches of snow in the month of February and it's all freezing over. By the time it melts and the field is playable, it might be 2016.
As a result, there's a vocal part of the populace that really wants to see BC go in another direction, that views baseball as beyond salvation. They want to cut the program, add lacrosse, and compete with the ACC programs like Syracuse and North Carolina in that regard. They want that because that, quite honestly, is the easy way out and it's a lot easier to just get rid of the program than to address what's wrong from the dugout up. That vocal population also account for the same people who lack true vision as to how to fix the programs. That's not a knock against lacrosse; it's more of an endorsement of the potential for baseball.
For starters, the school's administration is planning on building a new stadium facility for the baseball and softball programs as part of a new recreational complex, starting in 2016 (at least that's what they announced). It'll be on a different part of campus, which will allow BC to improve its baseball image from the tailgate area it currently plays on by making it a centerpiece of its new developments. In addition, the Boston College baseball team really embraced former captain Pete Frates (the guy behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from this past summer). He's a constant fixture, and baseball is really a centerpiece in our collective fight, both at BC, in the stands, and with the media, against Lou Gehrig's Disease. BC baseball has really been a rock for years since Pete was diagnosed.
Recruiting wise, the talent consistently ranges from good to better than average. Playing in the ACC, you're going to get good talent that's a little less regarded than the kids going to Miami or Florida State. By the same token, Coach Gambino talks about getting a certain type of scrappy player, a guy with a high baseball IQ and high motor. Obviously, with the results not being there, you ask yourself if he's a) right or b) able to develop those guys. I know I've questioned it at length, and there's a part of everyone, some larger than others, who thinks he might not be the guy to take BC back to even a conference tournament. There's always a difference between talking about potential and the reality of the situation, and the results simply don't support that type of a vote of confidence. But at the end of the day, this is still Red Sox country - one of the most fertile baseball supporting grounds in the country, not just the north, and with the ACC branding and backing, even mediocrity could start to lead to something special. The league is that powerful, and the door is open since BC is a part of it.