Birdball vs. Miami Series Preview

Birdball vs. Miami Series Preview

By Anthony Iati

Chances are the first thing you thought of when you realized Boston College Baseball hosts the Miami Hurricanes this weekend was the 2016 NCAA Super Regional. The Eagles and Hurricanes clashed in more ways than one last June, with Miami edging out BC and advancing to the College World Series for the second consecutive year. You likely need no reminder, but the brawl in Game 3 after Edgar Michelangeli’s grand-slam off Jesse Adams tells us these teams do not like each other. Many key faces from the 2016 postseason are not around for the BC-Miami rematch. But neither the players, coaches, or fans have forgotten that these programs’ differing styles could lead to another intense series.

The 2017 Hurricanes (20-21, 10-10 ACC) have an extremely different feel than last season’s team. Gone are catcher Zack Collins, shortstop Brandon Lopez, and right fielder Willie Abreu. While the 2016 Canes finished the regular season with the best record in the ACC (21-7 in conference), this year’s team has needed improved play of late just to get to ACC .500.

The problems run on both sides of the ball. Miami’s team batting average is down roughly 75 points from where it sat most of 2016. No starter is batting above .263. The Canes have played sloppy defense, making 53 errors in 41 games. Longtime coach Jim Morris was forced to make a recent change in the Friday night starter role. Very little has gone right for Miami, but they enter the Birdcage this weekend eyeing at least a series win that could improve their ACC Tournament seeding with two conference series to go (at Virginia, vs. Virginia Tech).

The Eagles (16-22, 6-15 ACC), meanwhile, missed out on the chance to keep their momentum from last weekend’s vital sweep of NC State due to rainouts of their midweek games vs. UMass-Lowell and at Bryant. As a result, BC takes a 4-game winning streak into the Miami series. The sweep of the Wolfpack, including Saturday’s 8-3 win on ALS Awareness Day at Fenway Park, brought the Birds back into contention for the conference tournament. Just two of the ACC’s 14 teams will miss the cut. BC enters the weekend tied for the cellar with Georgia Tech but are just two games in back of Notre Dame, NC State, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh. BC has three head-to-head matchups looming with Notre Dame on Commencement Weekend but will not play the other schools it needs to surpass. 

The magnitude of this series for both teams, therefore, is obvious. Here’s what you need to know about each game:

Friday, 2:30 PM, listen here

Pitching Matchup: RHP Jacob Stevens (4-4, 4.70 ERA) vs. LHP Jeb Bargfeldt (4-3, 2.32 ERA).

Stevens, a sophomore, is the clear ace of the Eagles’ staff and the only one on the roster who started against the Canes in 2016. Bear has been up and down in ACC play this year, but is capable of a gem each time he takes the hill and is on an upward trajectory. He was absolutely dominant at Duke and pretty darn good at Fenway vs. NC State. Against a feeble Miami lineup, expect Stevens to do his job and hold the Canes down. 

Jeb Bargfeldt is a 6’0, 175 lb. junior southpaw from Oklahoma. A smaller guy, Bargfeldt has bounced around a surprising amount in his collegiate career. He started at Wichita State, making 12 starts to the tune of a 3-4 record and 4.45 ERA. Bargfeldt then pitched for the Cisco College Wranglers (a juco program) in 2016 and led the team to the Junior College World Series by going 12-1. Even within this season at Miami, he has been moved from the Saturday slot to Friday nights. Batters are hitting just .211 against Bargfeldt. BC’s lineup is righty-heavy, though, which could bode well. 

Storyline: Will the Birds retaliate? Fans will move to the edge of their seats when Michelangeli digs in for his first at-bat. Bear Stevens was the starter of the infamous Game 3 and the Eagles clearly take baseball’s unwritten rules seriously. Miami was in the wrong in June (if you ask me or anyone partial to BC) but BC needs these games too much to mess around. Here’s betting Coach Gambino will tell Stevens not to spark a brawl that could lead to ejections, suspensions, or injuries. 

Saturday, 1:30 PM, listen here

Pitching Matchup: LHP Dan Metzdorf (2-5, 4.58 ERA) vs. LHP Michael Mediavilla (4-4, 4.21 ERA).

Metzdorf made a cameo against Miami in Game 1 last year, allowing the Canes an insurance run. He has been brilliant at times for the Birds this year, answering a preseason burning question about the Eagles’ starting pitching after Stevens. Metzdorf has had a few rocky starts, but dominated tougher or comparable lineups to Miami’s against Clemson and NC State. He doesn’t have the strikeout stuff of an ace, but has been solid enough. 

Mediavilla was drafted out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds and earned All-ACC recognition in 2016. Mediavilla, another lefty, stifled the Eagles over 7.2 of 2 ER, 4-hit ball in Game 1 of the Super Regional. The Canes would go on to win, 12-7. This year, Mediavilla has been as mediocre as the Miami team. His record is an even 4-4, his ERA is fairly average, and he’s allowed exactly a hit per inning. We’ll see if familiarity carries over from June to Saturday.

Storyline: Fifth Annual Wounded Warrior Project Game. Per a team release, “BC will honor current and former military members; local veterans will throw out a first pitch and the BC field hockey and women’s ice hockey teams will unfurl the flag; there will be a live national anthem and ‘God Bless America’ performance.” This is an annual tradition at the Heights. The WWP Game, along with the ALS game, are Birdball staples that represent the class and dignity of Gambino’s program. The Birds will be wearing special camouflage uniforms for the occasion. 

Sunday, 1:00 PM, listen here

Pitching Matchup: RHP Brian Rapp (1-2, 4.02 ERA) vs. RHP Greg Veliz (3-2, 2.41 ERA). 

A trusted reliever in 2016, Rapp has taken the Sunday starter job and pitched effectively. His is the lowest ERA of BC’s three weekend starters. Like everyone else on the hill for BC, Rapp got shelled against North Carolina, but the junior rebounded two weeks later, throwing a complete game, 3-hit shutout to smother NC State. He was similarly excellent vs. Clemson in late March. 

Greg Veliz’s last start was cut short due to a rainout during Miami’s series finale against Florida State. Veliz is 3-2 in 7 starts, but the scary thing about him is that opponents are hitting a measly .152 against the right-hander. He is a freshman from Key West, FL, who compiled plenty of accolades in high school and has continued his success thus far at the U. He has K’d more than a batter per inning and will be a tall order for Boston College.

StorylineHow worn down are the bullpens? As stated earlier, this series means a ton- Gambino and Morris are going to have to be aggressive in going to the ‘pen if their starters run into trouble. Neither team has the offensive firepower to feel good about coming from far behind in a game, so expect the managers to mix and match to keep games close. The last time the teams met, BC’s most trusted reliever was Bobby Skogsbergh. He has mostly been a non-factor this year, so the guys to watch for are Zach Stromberg (leading the Birds in appearances with 15), John Witkowski, and Donovan Casey. Casey in particular has pitched very well late in games (2-1 with a 1.93 ERA).

On Miami’s side, old nemesis Andrew Cabezas leads the Hurricanes in appearances with 24 out of the ‘pen. After pitching well against BC as the closer in the Super Regional, he has taken on more of a setup role in 2017, going 2-2 with a 2.45 and .217 BAA. Frankie Bartow is the Canes’ primary closer. Bartow has nine saves to Cabezas’s one, but his peripheral numbers are not quite as strong. The Birds’ lineup is also likely to face Albert Maury Jr. and Keven Pimentel. The bullpens will be pivotal, especially if Sunday is the rubber game.

PREDICTION: We’ve established that this is not a CWS-caliber Miami team. They are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1972 thanks largely to an offense that cannot generate consistent baserunners. But the Canes have slightly picked up their pace lately, just like the Birds have. Coming to Boston to face a team they got testy with last season will fire up Miami’s bats just enough to dig into the Eagles bullpen and win the series. Miami wins 2 of 3.

WZBC Sports will have the call of each game. Anthony Iati, Michael Graziano, Quinn Kelly, and Ben Neuwirth make up the broadcast team.