Is there a better phrase in the entire English language? Heck, it’s actually Opening Night, but we still call it Opening Day because it causes that small tingle in the base of our spines. Forget Groundhog’s Day, you know spring is coming when you see the first pitch thrown in anger.
LSU opens this season with, as per the norm, dreams of Omaha. The Tigers came up just short last season, but despite the defection of the entire starting rotation, this should be another really good team.
Notre Dame on the other hand, well… they have some decent players on the roster. But this is a team coming off of a losing season, and not much is expected of them. Let’s look at the tape:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2017 Record: 26-32 (10-20), 7th in the ACC
2017 RS/RA: 255/311
2017 RPI/ISR: 130/124
Notre Dame found itself on the wrong side of the runs scored ratio, which is never a good sign. This resulted in the computers taking the Irish out and beating them with sticks. By contrast, LSU scored 482 runs and allowed 281. Now, LSU was the nation’s runner up, but it does give you a quick peek at the gap between the two programs right now.
This isn’t to say the Irish present no threat whatsoever. They play big boy baseball in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, and they won’t come into the Box overawed. They also return their best player, OF Matt Vierling, who slugged .549 last season. Coupled with the .400 OBP players like Jake Johnson and Nick Podkul, the Irish’s top of the order should be able to generate some runs. There’s danger here. The problem is not top end talent, but depth.
Could their mascot beat Mike the Tiger in a fight?
While I would never doubt the pugilistic ability of an Irishman, particularly after a few pints of Guinness, this is still a live tiger against a human being. Mike’s got him by a few hundred pounds, easy. And that’s before we get into Mike’s superior speed, agility, and those razor sharp claws. The very thing that lets the Irish fight so well (beer), is the very thing that would hold them back in a cage match with Mike. Beer really slows down the reflexes.
However, it is the Fighting Irish. This could be a reference to the Irish’s military prowess, and not simply drunkenly punching random people in the face in bars. The question is whether we’re dealing with Michael Collins or Johnny McAldoo. If we get the soldier, then we add guns to the mix, and all bets are off. One on one, though, this is Mike all day long.
Friday: Sr. LHP Scott Tully (2-0, 3.71 ERA, 17.0 IP, 10 BB, 12 SO)
Saturday: Fr. LHP Tommy Sheehan
Sunday: So. RHP Cameron Junker (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.2 IP, 0 BB 2 SO)
Tully was a decent pitcher in limited action last season, but the Irish, much like LSU, are completely rebuilding their rotation this year. Tully counts as the experienced one, as Notre Dame’s next two starters are a freshman and a guy who recorded two outs, albeit both by strikeout, so well done there.
LSU might have problems matching up with lefties this season given the concentration of lefty bats at the top of the order, but let’s see how the season plays out before we list that as an actual concern. There’s not much to fear from this Irish rotation other than the sheer mystery of it. Maybe there is a stud in there about to reveal himself. Let’s not take them lightly.
Oh, and the Irish’s punter, Cole Kmet, is a reliever on the baseball team. I only bring this up because two-sport athletes are really, really cool. But we should heckle him anyway.
OF Matt Vierling (330/398/549, 7 HR, 7 SB)
*OF Jake Johnson (305/401/435, 2 HR, 6 SB)
2B Nick Podkul (285/386/439, 5 HR, 10 SB)
The Irish return their three most productive hitters from last season plus their best base stealer, Cole Daily, who swiped 12 bags. Eric Gilgenbach came off the bench in May and went on an absolute tear in his short tryout, hitting 333/500/608 in 51 at bats. The Irish aren’t too sacrifice happy, averaging about half a sacrifice per game, and they run a good amount without getting carried away. Notre Dame is efficient on the basepaths, stealing 55 bases on 71 attempts last year.
That’s the good news for the Irish. The bad news is that the team hit 250/338/368 as a team. Once you get past the top of the order, things get dicey real quick, though there might be some reinforcements in the new starters. Both Gilgenbach and Eric Feliz put up big numbers in their late season tryouts, and if those guys are for real, suddenly the Irish’s lineup goes fairly deep and can score a lot of runs.
The Irish weren’t quite as bad as their record last year. Yes, they were underwater on runs scored, but it seems they may have found some help at the plate, and they have the potential to score more runs this year.
However, this team’s rotation and bullpen is one giant question mark. They return one starter from the rotation, but he boasted a 5.55 ERA and has been relegated to the pen. They also lost their bullpen ace. There should be talent, as this is a major program which can attract kids, but none of it has produced on the mound yet. There’s a chance the newcomers dazzle, but hope is not really a plan.
As the Tigers knock the rust off of the cleats, expect them to drop a game, probably on a bonehead play that will make you unreasonably angry because its been so long since you’ve had baseball to watch. Things will be fine, but the Tigers will have growing pains, too.