Down the stretch, Tuesday Stock Reports have become a regular feature on the blog, so we might cut back on mailbags in the final month of the regular season and move our player features to Wednesdays. But for now, here is a mailbag to complement the features we posted on two-sport stars Matt Szczur and Kyle Parker.
Due to Boston College's recent success the last two ACC weekends (with sweeps of Wake and NC State on the road) and with perennial NCAA tourney teams Georgia Tech, Florida State, and probable tourney team UConn remaining on their schedule, do you see them making the NCAA tourney?
South Burlington, Vt.
I partly addressed BC's regional hopes in yesterday's Stock Report, which moved the Eagles into the field of 64. Yesterday I wrote this:
"Boston College replaces N.C. State on the bubble after sweeping the Wolfpack in Raleigh this weekend. The Eagles are 12-9 in the league, which is a good thing, but they are just 3-12 against the top 50, which is not. Give BC credit for winning series against Maryland, Wake Forest and N.C. State, but those series won't get the Eagles into regionals. They'll have a chance to rack up some signature wins over the last three weeks of conference play against Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech, but that's also a daunting stretch, and it's easy to envision BC fading. But there are not 64 teams with better resumes at this point, so the Eagles get in, for now."
Boston College is No. 46 in the NCAA's official RPI report (released yesterday, updated through Sunday's games), and that's up 15 spots from where it was the previous week, so clearly BC is trending in the right direction. That RPI should continue to rise if BC can hold its own against the quality opponents left on its schedule. I think BC needs to win at least one of its three remaining series and avoid being swept in the other two. A 4-5 finish down the stretch in conference play would make BC 16-14 overall. That mark, combined with a solid RPI, will be good enough to get the Eagles back to regionals for the second straight year.
So the question is this: Are the Eagles good enough to go 4-5 against Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech? It helps that those last two series are at home, although BC did win a series at Florida State last year—but that was when stars Tony Sanchez and Mike Belfiore were still on the roster.
Those were the two most valuable and most talented players on BC's 2009 regional team (Sanchez, a catcher, was the No. 4 overall pick, and two-way star Belfiore was a supplemental first-rounder). This year's club lacks that kind of star power, but it is filled with quality college players who will play pro ball, like senior outfielders Robbie Anston (.363/.430/.602 with 14 steals) and John Spatola (.329/.415/.589 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs).
"I think there is some pretty good talent on this team—maybe not the high-end talent you had with Sanchez and Belfiore, but Anston is very comparable to (departed outfielder Barry) Butera," Boston College coach Mik Aoki said. "I think Anston and Spatola are better than just good college players—I think they're really, really good. I think we were really fortunate to get Anston back as a senior. He didn't sulk or pout, he's just gone out and played his rear end off. Spatola's the same type of kid; he's played really, really well. I think the one constant for our whole team is I think we've defended really well all year from a position player standpoint."
One reason for BC's strong defense is the willingness of the biggest name player on the team—junior Mickey Wiswall (.298/.385/.614 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs)—to move from third base to first. Aoki said Wiswall is a good third baseman but is "a premium defender at first base," and sophomore Anthony Melchionda is an outstanding defender at the hot corner who is stronger on bunts and slow rollers. Wiswall was a second-team preseason All-American because of his bat, but he pressed early in the year when the Eagles were struggling to score runs, and Aoki said he tried to jerk the ball to the pull side too much.
"Naturally he's a little more of a pull hitter, but when he's going really well, you also see a lot of balls well-hit into the left-center-field gap, and I think we were missing that for a while," Aoki said. "But I think he's made some adjustments. From an average standpoint, it's a little bit tough, but he's the one kid in our lineup that people gameplan around. He's still extremely productive."
But the biggest key to BC's recent surge—which includes 12 wins in its last 14 games—has been the pitching staff. Ace lefthander Pat Dean (5-0, 3.50) missed two of the first five ACC series because elbow inflammation, but Aoki said he's had a couple of MRIs and x-rays, and everything has come back clean. The Eagles are slowly working him back; he threw about 60 pitches two weeks ago against Wake Forest and about 85 pitches last week against N.C. State.
Saturday starter Mike Dennhardt (3-5, 6.57) does not have pretty numbers, but Aoki said his stuff is better than the man he replaced in the BC rotation, departed senior J.B. MacDonald. Dennhardt worked in the low 90s and touched 94 against the Wolfpack, and Aoki indicated he is close to putting it all together with his command.
And junior righty john Leonard (2-0, 2.45) is back in the Sunday spot after missing most of the first half with weakness in his shoulder (MRIs revealed no structural damage). Leonard's return has stabilized the staff. Flame-throwing righty Kevin Moran can run his fastball up to 95 mph, but he was ill-suited for a weekend rotation spot, where he was pressed into duty early in the year. Now he's back in the bullpen, helping set up closer Matt Brazis (4.58 ERA, six saves).
"I think part of the reason we have started to play better and get better results are our starting pitching getting a little healthier and everybody getting back into the roles they should be in," Aoki said.
If Dean, Dennhardt, Leonard and Moran can continue to improve down the stretch, Boston College will be dangerous, because those are very good arms. But due to injuries and command woes, that group has been inconsistent thus far. The key to BC's postseason aspirations is how those pitchers handle the difficult stretch ahead.
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