Lost in the magic of Villanova's run to the national title here at BECB was the fact that Major League Baseball began its marathon of a season last week. With the onset of professional baseball comes the onset of a long dormant feature. That's right, folks, its time for season two of #BigEastInTheBigLeagues.
For the uninitiated, BEITBL follows the weekly shenanigans of a small cast of characters. Its like "Game of Thrones" but without all the death, fantasy setting, political intrigue and gratuitous nudity. Its like "The Americans" except instead of Cold War espionage and Keri Russell, there's lots of talk about baseball.
Now that the terrible pop culture references are done (for now at least), let's break down how to earn a spot on the greatest reality show on the planet. First, you must have played at a current Big East school (sorry Cincinnati alum Josh Harrison) and B) be on a 40-man roster. Now let's stop stalling and introduce this year's cast.
Matt Szczur (Villanova)
You really have to commend Szczur for finding a way to focus and play baseball and not go on a week-long celebratory bender after Villanova's national title win. You also have to commend him because the utility outfielder played well for the Cubs last week. He went 2-for-4 with a home run in a 6-1 win over the Angels last Tuesday and also drove in three runs on a double during the Cubs' 9-0 win on opening day. He has played sparingly in the games since, coming in as a defensive replacement in four of five games played. However, with Kyle Schwarber out for the season, there may be a little more playing time in the outfield at Wrigley.
Joe Panik (St. John's)
The star of the first season of BEITBL, Panik had a great season cut short due to injury. Apparently that's all it took for everyone to forget all about the contact wizard from Yonkers, who was ranked right around No. 20 among second basemen in every fantasy baseball rankings list I saw this spring. His average isn't bumping up against the .300 mark after a week of games, but he is hitting a respectable .269 and already has six RBI and six runs scored. Its just a matter of time before I get the #VotePanik machine back up and running. It won't take long, as its been sitting in my closet covered by a Giants snuggie for the last eight months.
Pat Neshek (Butler)
Aside from the ascension of Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa, you could say that Houston's strong bullpen was the reason for the Astros' run to the playoffs last season. Unfortunately, that same group shouldered a great deal of the blame for the team's exit from the postseason. Neshek wasn't really at fault for any of that, as he pitched a total of one inning and gave up no runs against the Royals in the ALDS. However, his ERA ballooned quite a bit down the stretch, going from 2.70 on August 14 to 3.62 when October rolled around. Through three outings this season, Neshek has a 3.86 ERA across 2 1/3 innings. He did earn a hold in Houston's 6-4 win over Milwaukee on Friday, getting him a start on matching the 28 he had last season, which tied with three other players for the sixth most in the majors.
Jason Grilli (Seton Hall)
Atlanta is a terrible team. It is 0-5 with a run differential of -21, the worst mark in baseball. A team like that is not going to need a host of dominant relievers to hold leads. However, the Braves have to be hoping that Grilli, who pitched well last season before rupturing his Achilles heel, can do better than he's done. In 1 2/3 innings he has allowed three walks and two hits and, more importantly, two runs, including the a game-tying run that led to a 4-3 loss in extra innings against Washington on opening day.
Grilli is in the final season of a two-year contract and at 39 years old is right at the edge of his playing career. With closer in waiting Arodys Vizcaino (0.00 ERA in two games) in the pen as well, Grilli could be in danger of losing the closer's job, if he hasn't already.
Darin Ruf (Creighton)
Like Grilli, Ruf is stationed on a sinking ship, as the Phillies are in full on rebuild mode . A bat off the bench more or less, Ruf has just one hit in six at bats. He has played in five games, but only started in one.
Danny Burawa (St. John's)
Last season, Burawa saw his first MLB action, pitching for the Yankees and then the Braves, who snagged him off waivers in August. He had a 3.65 ERA in 12 1/3 innings at the end of the 2015 season for Atlanta and earned a spot on the 40-man roster for 2016. He is not an active member of the roster and started the season with the Gwinnett Braves, for whom he has a 3.00 ERA in three innings.
Amir Garrett (St. John's)
A tall lefthander with all the makings of a dazzling starter for the surprising Reds, Garrett really came into his own in 2015 with the Single-A Daytona Tortugas. He went 9-7 with a 2.44 ERA across 140 1/3 innings. He struck out 133 batters and had a WHIP of 1.23 as well. Garrett earned a promotion for 2016 and is now pitching for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. In his first start of the season, he allowed two runs on five hits while striking out four in six innings.
Pat Venditte (Creighton)
Injuries and inconsistent time at the big league level kept Venditte from fully enjoying his first stint in the majors. At 31, he is far from a prospect, but he could still carve out a few years as a reliable arm in the bullpen. He was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays in October and is pitching with the Triple-A Buffalo Bison to start the year. In two games, he has rattled off five kazoos and has yet to allow a base runner.
Ty Blach (Creighton)
You have to inject some new characters to keep a show interesting. The newest addition to the BEITBL cast is Blach, a left-hander pitcher from Denver. His first time on a 40-man roster has come in his fourth year of professional baseball. He is currently pitching with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He didn't have many answers in his first start last week, as he let up five runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.