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Maryland Baseball: Terps look to solidify postseason chances at Boston College

Maryland travels to Chestnut Hill to face ACC bottom dweller Boston College in a series that the Terps need to continue to move up in the ACC standings.

Maryland (25-15; 9-11) at Boston College (14-27; 5-16)

Probable pitching match-ups for the series:

Friday: MD - Jake Stinnett (4-5, 2.68) vs. BC - John Gorman (2-6, 4.10)

Saturday: MD -  Mike Shawaryn (7-2, 2.63) vs. BC - Andrew Chin (3-2, 3.27)

Sunday: MD - Jake Drossner (4-0, 2.45) vs. BC - Jeff Burke (0-5, 5.25)

In a change from past seasons, the Boston College series is one where the Terps have more to lose than to gain. With the Eagles entering the series with an RPI of 182, even a sweep of the three games will do little, if anything, to improve Maryland's standing for an NCAA Tournament bid. On the other hand, losing the series would harm not only the Terps NCAA hopes but would seriously damage their ACC Tournament situation as well.

Not a weekend to take lightly

Although they closed the 2013 season with their first ever series win over the Eagles, the  Terrapins don't have an impressive history with them. The teams have met annually since 2006 and though Maryland's website shows the series record as 17-9 favoring BC, I only counted 24 meetings between the squads as ACC opponents. In those, the Terps are 8-16 for a .333 winning percentage. Playing the Eagles in New England, the Terps are a mere 3-9.

Not only has Maryland had a difficult time beating Boston College on the road, they will face an Eagles team that has won three in a row including two on the road at NC State. Still, the Terps look to be the stronger squad coming into the weekend and a sweep would put Maryland above .500 in the ACC.

Life in the ACC

It's been a bit of a strange trip for Boston College since they began ACC play in 2006. The Eagles struggled in the first three years of their transition but finished two games under .500 in league play in 2009 and 2010 making the ACC and NCAA Tournaments in both seasons. In the three season since, BC has won a total of only 20 ACC games finishing 4-25 in 2013. However, one of their four wins came at Maryland in the first game of the season's final series. In the previous eight years, the Terps have yet to win a series opener against the Eagles.

As much of a weak sister as Boston College appears to be, they have already surpassed last season's win totals both overall and in the ACC. BC is 14-27 overall and 5-16 in league play.

The 2014 Season

Boston College opened the season 6-4 essentially splitting games with teams that currently have RPIs below 100 including games against Villanova and Stetson both below 200. Then the Eagles hit a tournament in Florida and ACC play whereupon they promptly dropped nine in a row. Since ending their losing streak eking out a 2-1 home win over Wake Forest, BC has played a bit under .500 ball. However, they come into the weekend series  having won four of their last six.

With an ACC worst .232 team batting average, BC's lineup isn't going to strike much fear in any pitching staff. On the other hand, after getting by Carlos Rodon, the Eagles rocked NC State for sixteen runs on Saturday and Sunday in their latest ACC series. That outburst was not typical, however, as Boston College has scored only 136 runs on the season - fewest in the ACC. They and Notre Dame are the only squads with fewer than 10 home runs on the season. Despite the lack of power they aren't likely to run an opponent off the field either with 31 stolen bases in just 50 attempts. Only Wake Forest runs less often and less successfully.

Boston College's pitching staff hasn't been particularly strong either. Opponents bat .261 against the Eagles placing them ahead of just Virginia Tech and Pitt. Likewise, their 4.18 team ERA is among the worst in the league.

Individual stars

Right fielder Chris Shaw, the reigning ACC Player of the Week, is the most dangerous hitter the Eagles bring to the plate. Shaw leads Boston College with a .297 batting average. He also leads the team in hits (47), doubles (13), home runs (2), and RBI (23). The sophomore batted .571 in the series at NC State including going two for three against Rodon.

I can't contain myself from mentioning BC's second leading hitter not because of his .274 batting average but because of his name and position  - shortstop Joe Cronin. (To save all you youngsters a visit to baseball, Joseph Edward Cronin is a hall of fame shortstop who played eleven of his twenty major league seasons for the Boston Red Sox also serving as their manager during that time. He managed the Red Sox for an additional two years after his retirement as a player and won the AL pennant in 1946.)

Boston College's most effective starter has been Saturday starter Andrew Chin. While Friday night starter John Gorman has been rocked by some of the ACC's better lineups, Chin has generally gone deeper into games and has held his opponents to just a .218 batting average. He can be a bit wild, though, having walked 24, hit 8 and thrown 9 wild pitches. All of these lead the team in a category, where a pitcher would prefer not to find himself.

Why it's important

For the first time under Coach John Szefc and an even longer time for the program, Maryland enters a series with more to lose than to gain. The Terps currently sit ninth in the ACC and, if the season ended today, would have secured a spot in the ACC Tournament. A sweep of the Eagles would go a long way to not only solidifying that spot but perhaps moving Maryland to one of the coveted spots in the top six and a first round bye. On the other hand, dropping more than one could not only make the Terrapins' ACC placement precarious but could endanger their NCAA chances as well.

From the bleachers

For some additional insight and perspective, I had a brief conversation with Dan Rubin, the excellent writer who covers Eagles baseball for our SB Nation counterpart BC Interruption. You can find my answers to his questions here and here's what he had to say in response to my questions:

TC: Other than Dan Shaw, who's a threat at the plate?

DR: The problem with BC is that they are so hot or cold, anyone can put together a good game, but in the same breath, they could also put together one stinker of a game.  Chris Shaw is by far the best natural talent, and he's hit his way out of a slump with his performance in the last week.  Beyond him, you're looking at Logan Hoggarth and Johnny Adams.  Blake Butera has shown capability at the plate, and Gabriel Hernandez has some good, raw potential.

But with BC it hasn't been about who can hit, it's that nobody has hit together.  They were hitting just .228 as a team going into last weekend, and it always seems like they can get guys on base and then just strand them there.  They just can't get everyone on the same page, and the lineup always seems to be disjointed.  You don't hit that poorly as a team by chance - you have to figure even if you get a Texas leaguer, a groundball with eyes, or a gork off the end of the bat every now and then, you'd be able to hit .250 as a team.

TC: What triggered the stretch where BC dropped 15 of 16?

DR: It's hard to pinpoint, but the biggest issue on the field with the team is an inability to hit with men on.  They've left small villages on the base paths, owing to the fact that when one guy hits, nobody drives him in.  Then they would start pressing and everything would fall apart.  Couple that with a bullpen that could be ice cold or striking hot on any given day.

The best example of this team is what happened against Florida State.  You're up 7-2 in the top of the ninth inning and end up losing 11-7.  One thing led to another and it all just caved in.  You kind of kept waiting for it all to fall apart, and then the bad karma bus not only showed up, it ran over the entire dugout, backed up over the rotting carcass, then ran over it again for good measure.

Dwarfing all of that, though, is the management of the team.  Mike Gambino has done virtually nothing to improve this team over the course of the season.  If a team is pressing at the plate or struggling to hit with men on, or a pitcher is struggling with command, you'd think you'd see your head coach play percentages and matchups or at least tinker with mechanics and develop the players.  He's not done that.  Year in and year out, BC touts a good, solid recruiting class.  Yet none of the guys are being developed.  Over the course of a year, as more data becomes available, almost every team has been adapting to BC's weaknesses.  The coaching staff simply hasn't done enough to minimize those weaknesses.
TC: Was the weekend scoring explosion at NC State an aberration or are the bats coming around?
DR: I think the weekend against NC State provided a glimpse into what BC is capable of, but I wouldn't call it a situation where they're coming around OR an aberration.  This team is so frustrating at the dish that you watch them and see potential to drive in runs or get hits.  But it seemingly never comes around with consistency.  That begs the question if BC is then really that good and if they really have that potential.  Personally, I think that potential is there, but I just don't think they've done it with consistency for me to say that it's not just an aberration.  But I point the finger at the coaching staff in that regard and say that it's on them it's become this way.
TC: BC's Friday starter, John Gorman, has struggled this year and he's been hit hard by some of the upper tier ACC teams. What's going on there?
DR: Gorman is a prime example of a pitcher who is good but not great, and, once again, a model of inconsistency.  He has an over 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and he's capable of putting together good games, but he hasn't done it with any type of consistency.  He's the Friday pitcher mostly so BC can play matchups - Andrew Chin is probably the ace of this staff, but Mike Gambino sees fit to put Chin in position to pitch on Saturday.

Gorman is a yeoman's effort type of pitcher who would probably be better suited to pitch on Sunday for any other program if BC had anybody else who could start.  He's not going to give you any overpowering performances with regularity, but he still should be a starter.  Pitching at the front end of the weekend puts him in a position where he's almost always going to be an underdog against better teams - that's why he's rocking that 2-6 record despite having similar stats to Chin.