With a little over two weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s high time we look at how our BIG EAST ballclubs have fared since the last update.
Here’s how the standings look thru 5/7/2017 (all RPI rankings retrieved from Warren Nolan):
- Creighton - 21-18 (10-3) - #149
- Xavier - 25-20 (7-3) - #105
- St. John’s - 33-8 (7-3) - #38
- Seton Hall - 24-20 (7-8) - #84
- Butler - 27-16 (4-7) - #146
- Georgetown - 25-21 (3-8) - #197
- Villanova - 12-27 (3-8) - #249
Speaking of Warren Nolan rankings, I managed to check in on the conference RPI’s just to giggle while nervously shaking my head, spiraling into a gentle weep while I look longingly at a piece of broken pottery I made in the 5th grade. Typically, our fair conference doesn’t do particularly well in this national gauge of prowess, sitting in the 15-20 range by the Ivy League and Ohio Valleys of the world.
The Thrilling and Unkillable Birds in Blue
It isn’t just one player for the Creighton Bluejays that have propelled them to the top of the conference. Instead, it’s a collective effort of keeping games close into the later innings of ballgames, relying on a revolving door of clutch hitting mixed with a bombastic lockdown back end of the bullpen.
Since Creighton’s game one loss to St. John’s on April 7th, the Jays have gone 13-2 - seven of those wins coming with rallies in the 9th inning or later. This includes walk-offs against South Dakota State, Villanova (x2), and Wichita State.
Their two losses in that span came to Xavier (2-1 in the only game played in the series) and Seton Hall (1-0 in game two of a Saturday double-header).
The starting pitching has also been phenomenal as of late. With the quadruple-headed monster that has become Lacy-Albrecht-Rogalla-Stroschein, the starters have built a formiadable 2.00 ERA since April 17th (credit to Rob Anderson). Pair this with an offense that’s built to bully their opponents in the later innings, the Bluejays have solidified themselves as the primary front runner in the BIG EAST.
“You'll Find the Left Hand Most Confusing.”
Rylan Bannon, the third baseman for the Musketeers, has become the frontrunner for BIG EAST Player of the Year. There’s no questioning his offensive prowess, as he’s mounted a slashline of .325/.651/.451 thus far. His greatness became even more evident in the lone game in Omaha, launching a game-winning homerun off of dynamite closer David Gerber.
He’s been an offensive powerplant for the Musketeers, but it’s their Friday starter in Zac Lowther that’s been pitching Xavier into the top echelon of the conference.
In 11 games started this year, the junior southpaw from Brooklyn Heights, Ohio, has an ERA at 3.05 in 65 innings pitched while keeping his opponent’s batting average well south of the Mendoza line at .164.
He was perfect through 8 against Villanova, threw 6 innings of 2-hit ball against Seton Hall and Creighton, then shoved against a top-25 RPI Indiana team to the tune of 11 strikeouts and 4 hits.
When the Musketeers eventually make their way to Omaha, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lowther pull a Bumgarner and pitch as many innings as his arm can withstand.
The Xavier/Creighton Debacle That Isn’t
Last week in the Omaha World-Herald, columnist and world renowned driver hat wearer Tom Shatel mentioned that Creighton and Xavier could potentially be shut out out of the 4-team conference tournament because two of their games were rained out:
Nebraska weather has caused an interesting situation for Creighton baseball. The two rainouts last weekend mean the Jays can play a maximum 16 Big East games. CU (8-2) has two league series left, at Seton Hall and Butler.
Glen Sisk, Creighton’s associate sports information director, spoke to the league office and was told that Big East teams must play a minimum of 18 games to be eligible for the league tournament. That will be played at TD Ameritrade Park in late May.
According to Sisk, a Big East committee would discuss the team’s situation — rainouts, etc. — and make a ruling on if it could play in the league tournament.
What Shatel fails to mention in this piece is that this same situation has come up before, in 2015, where a game between St. John’s and Creighton was rained out leaving both teams under the 18-game threshold that’s required for the tournament. This left the choice of the two qualifying slots up to the BIG EAST committee and lo and behold the conference chose the Jays (2nd place) and the Johnnies (1st place).
In a tie-breaker scenario, this rule makes a lot of sense. If there are disputes when tourney time comes, like if two teams have the same winning percentage and are vying for the fourth place slot, but one team had a game or two rained out then sure, yeah, committee would decide. That’s fair.
Fortunately, Creighton and Xavier are sitting pretty good at the top of the conference. The BIG EAST knows what they’re doing, and they’re probably not going to leave the top two teams in conference at home while inviting Butler and Georgetown/Villanova to attend the Memorial Day weekend’s festivities.
The Johnnies Lost Their Brooms
Coming into the conference slate it was clear that St. John’s was the frontrunner to run roughshod over the conference. They’d only lost a couple games, were hanging out with the bluebloods in the top 10, heck they were the darling of the college baseball world.
The conference was thriving off of their success, enjoying that nice overall RPI bump, so to thank the boys from Queens they decided to beat them, just once, as an appreciative nod to send their RPI plummeting.
After dropping two-of-three to Creighton and sweeping Butler, the Johnnies have dropped conference games to Seton Hall and Georgetown. In those two losses, both on Saturdays, St. John’s has lost by a combined total of 20-5, getting pounded by the Hoyas to the tune of 13 runs.
They’ve got Xavier coming to town this weekend and finish up the year against Villanova the following weekend. If they can find a way to win both of those series they’re a shoe-in for the tournament, and luckily the championship game falls on a Sunday.
Pirates Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay, Wasting Time
Seton Hall is certainly in a precarious position. They’re currently sitting in fourth place with one lone series against Villanova looming this weekend. If they come out with a sweep, which is likely since their starting pitching will likely keep the Wildcats at bay, they’ve got themselves locked into the conference tournament.
Anything else, and they’re flirting with trouble.
Recently they’ve shied away from using Shane McCarthy - yes, the same guy who pitched a perfect game last year - and have tapped Chris Morris to start on Fridays instead. Morris has been excellent in his new role, posting a 3.56 ERA in his 7 starts this season, most recently keeping Creighton to 2 hits on 6 innings pitched.
If anything, this gives new life to the Seton Hall rotation, as well as giving McCarthy an opportunity to shine in the bullpen or in midweek games. With Cullen Dana and Zach “Prendy” Prendergast rounding out the remainder of the rotation, the Pirates look to be pretty stocked come tournament time.
Another note, Saturday’s game two win against Creighton was longtime BIG EAST personality John Fanta’s last call for the Pirate Sports Network. He’s truly a beloved fellow in South Orange, and his winding tales of his past four years made for must-see television. He’ll be missed, and his impact on campus and throughout the conference has been pretty staggering.
Luckily for you, he’ll likely be a dugout reporter for the tournament. At least I hope he is.
Bulldogs and a Wildcat
In the bottom tier of the BIG EAST, we’ve got Butler, Georgetown, and Villanova.
Though Butler sits in the top 150 in RPI, they act as a strange cautionary tale of winning big in non-conference but slipping when it matters. It’s clear, however, that Dave Schrage has taken control of a program that was in a depressing tailspin and made them into a formidable team. While rising star Michael Hartnagel is mashing (.348/.457/.430) he’s also made quite a few mistakes, accumulating 11 errors at the all-too-important defensive position at short stop.
Another bright spot with the Bulldogs is freshman righty Ryan Pepiot, who has tossed 56 innings for a 3.65 ERA in his inaugural season. Schrage certainly has made his mark with this ballclub, making them a contender for the future. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s enough time for them to make a run to the post season since they only have 6 games remaining in conference; against last place Georgetown and first place Creighton.
Speaking of Georgetown, the Hoyas have firmly cemented themselves in the basement but enjoyed playing spoiler in their last three game set against St. John’s, where they piled on 13 runs in a 9 inning affair. These sorts of outbursts of offense, led by Kuzbel, DeRenzi, and Racusin, show promising signs, but their bullpen still remains a sore spot when the game is on the line.
With a couple series left against Butler and Xavier, Georgetown has an opportunity to end the season on a high note. Will they? Probably not, but weirder things have happened.
Last but not least, we need to talk about the tire fire that is the Villanova bullpen. In order to get to said bullpen a team typically needs to foul off as many pitches as possible against Hunter Schryver and Ryan Doty to work their pitch count. Schryver (1.90 ERA) and Doty (3.88 ERA) are responsible for half of the Wildcats’ wins, while accruing 10 of the 27 losses on the year.
The remainder of the pitching staff, sans Jonathan Rosero (4.43 ERA, 61IP - Friday starter), Brian Trabulsi (27ERA 1IP), and Trevino Rodriguez (40.50 ERA, 0.2IP), equates to a 6.97 ERA on the season. That’s not good!
If Villanova had decided to pitch Schryver and Doty every single game until their arms fell off, they’d probably have a better shot at making the conference tournament than they would deploying their bullpen.