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Opponent Preview: Duke

Meet the Blue Devils... A team having a year they didn’t expect

COLLEGE BASEBALL: APR 08 Duke at Miami Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Duke

Mascot: Personified Evil in Blue | School Location: Durham, NC | Conference: ACC

2022 Record: 20-27 (9-15, 7th Coastal) | 2022 RPI Rank: 104

2021 Record: 33-22 (16-17, 5th Coastal) | 2021 RPI Rank: 21

2020 Record: 12-4 (2-1, T-2nd Coastal) | 2020 RPI Rank: 77


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Jack Coombs Field (Durham, NC)

Game Time(s): Fri, May 13 @ 6:00pm 12:00pm | Sat, May 14 @ 1:00pm | Sun, May 15 @ 1:00pm

TV: Friday (ACCNX), Saturday (RSN/ACCNX), Sunday (RSN/ACCNX),

Radio: The Varsity Network (Friday | Saturday | Sunday)

Live Stats: Stat Broadcast


Tell me about this team

First off, I’m very disappointed that this series will be played on the horrendous artificial turf of Jack Coombs Field rather than on the sweet sweet luxuriously maintained natural turf of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Anyways, Duke is not having the year that they or many other expected them to have. This was a team that many in the national media expected to be a regional team and possibly even a regional host. That obviously hasn’t a happened, but don’t be fooled by the record or RPI; this is still a very good and dangerous team with lots of talent.

I have waxed poetic many times before about how good a coach Chris Pollard is and how he would clean up at a bigger program, so I won’t go back down that route (at least not completely). I would like to point out that if the season were to end today, this would be the worst team by winning percentage and RPI that Pollard has fielded in his decade in Durham. To put that in perspective, though, it would still be better than nine of the 14 Duke teams immediately preceding his arrival. Dude can coach.

So back to this year’s iteration of the Blue Devils.

The offense isn’t terrible. They get on base at a very good rate, almost equal to last year’s team - thanks to a higher walk rate and lower strikeout rate - but they hit for significantly less power (.433 SLG% in 2022 vs .472 in 2021). This year’s Blue Devils team actually hits home runs at a better rate, but they haven’t at all kept pace at other extra-base hits, and that’s what’s cost them the most. Duke also just hasn’t been nearly as lucky in 2022 as they were last year (.305 BABIP in 2022 vs .353 in 2021). That’s a huge factor. A brave soul could contend this is actually a better hitting team than last year’s squad.

Okay, so if the offense isn’t really the problem, then it has to be the pitching, right? If you were expecting me to answer that with “no” then you’re wrong. It’s absolutely the pitching. At least it is from an overall perspective. Duke’s team ERA is up from 4.46 in 2021 to 5.90 in 2022. WHIP is also up from 1.35 to 1.53 while K/BB is down from 2.72 to 2.28 and the team is allowing over a run more per nine innings pitched. That’s not good.

In ACC play, Duke is certainly a bottom third pitching staff, but really not that far off from being an average group. Heck, State’s and Duke’s pitching staffs have some pretty similar overall numbers in conference play:

  • NC State: 6.16 ERA, 213.1 IP, 239 H, 170 R, 146 ER, 109 BB, 235 K, 4.60 BB/9, 9.91 K/9
  • Duke: 6.34 ERA, 211.2 IP, 223 H, 162 R, 149 ER, 116 BB, 245 K, 4.93 BB/9, 10.42 K/9

Well, that’s depressing...

All told, this is pretty much spot on for a team sporting a 9-14 ACC record at this point of the season. With seven regular season games remaining against NC State (RPI #32), Davidson (RPI #66), and Virginia Tech (RPI #7... still can’t believe that), the finishing kick is not going to be easy.

The upside to that finishing kick? Remember earlier when I said that this was Pollard’s worst team by RPI (his only one over 100)? Well, he certainly has every opportunity to move his squad up into the double-digit rankings.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Friday: RHP Marcus Johnson (JR)

Saturday: LHP Jonathan Santucci (JR)

Sunday: TBD


Key Players:

Offense

LF R.J. Schreck (SR) - .323/.422/.548, 9 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 19 R, 31 RBI, 21 BB, 20 K, 8 HBP, 7-7 SB. Had a huge 2021 season (.337/.435/.635) after finally getting consistent playing time. The power hasn’t been to the same level this year, but everything else has been the same and he’s dramatically cut down on strikeouts. The left-handed hitter will be moving up draft boards, especially if he can produce a late-season power surge.

SS Alex Mooney (FR) - .289/.399/.394, 8 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 39 R, 28 RBI, 26 BB, 36 K, 7 HBP, 12-13 SB. Mooney might have the hottest bat on the team right now, posting a .400/.524/.492 line over the last 16 games and currently riding a 10-game hitting streak. The Blue Devils leadoff hitter was a super highly ranked player coming out of high school but a combination of a firm college commitment and high bonus demand left him undrafted. Thankfully, draft-eligible again in 2023.

1B Luke Storm (rFR) - .252/.411/.519, 12 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 25 R, 23 RBI, 22 BB, 48 K, 16 HBP, 0-0 SB. The second year switch-hitter is in his first year of action and has been a completely different beast in conference play: .303/.450/.605. With his blend of size (6’5, 235) and hitting ability, he’ll be moving up 2023 draft boards quickly, especially if he can prove some ability to play 3B next year assuming the position is vacated by...

3B Graham Pauley (rSO) - .301/.406/.522, 14 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 39 R, 32 RBI, 27 BB, 27 K, 6 HBP, 4-4 SB. Another lefty hitter, Pauley was a highly-regarded prep prospect who went undrafted due to his firm college commitment. He didn’t play in 2020 and showed promise last year in limited opportunities. He’s making the most of it now and showing an offensive approach that makes you wonder why he didn’t get more playing time earlier.

Pitching

RHP Marcus Johnson (JR) - 1-6, 0 SV, 4.58 ERA, 59.0 IP, 62 H, 22 BB, 69 K. 6’6, 200 lbs junior righty from California has put together a really nice three-year career in Durham. He’s definitely high on a lot of draft boards with his mid-to-high 90’s fastball and ability to pound the zone, but he’s given up 12 homers this year and that’s going to hurt his stock.

LHP Jonathan Santucci (FR) - 2-2, 0 SV, 4.59 ERA, 33.1 IP, 26 H, 15 BB, 51 K. A two-way player, he just recently moved into the starting rotation. Still not completely stretched out as he’s yet to go over 4.0 innings in any appearance although he has worked into the 70s in his pitch count. Has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball with nice complementary off-speed offerings. Has held opponents to just a .211 batting average.

LHP Luke Fox (SO) - 3-5, 2 SV, 6.89 ERA, 49.2 IP, 53 H, 30 BB, 63 K. Has had an up-and-down year splitting time between roles as a starter and a reliever, pitching some gems and some duds. Came into the season with some buzz in draft circles about him after a Freshman All-American season in 2021. He tossed 3.0 scoreless innings with 5 K against State in a fall scrimmage, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see the pitching staff run him out as the Sunday starter this weekend.

RHP Jimmy Loper (SR) - 3-3, 4 SV, 4.69 ERA, 40.1 IP, 36 H, 14 BB, 53 K. I feel like this kid’s been here for eight years now, but no, only three. Outside of back-to-back horrendous outings in late March/early April, he’s been fantastic this year. Remove those two outings and his ERA drops to 2.56. Low 90s guy with a slew of pitches to choose from.

LHP Josh Allen (SO) - 1-2, 1 SV, 5.67 ERA, 33.1 IP, 34 H, 15 BB, 44 K. Not an overpowering guy, but someone with a lot of movement on every pitch he throws. Had a run of seven consecutive scoreless appearances earlier this year.


Quick! Fun Facts!

Not related to Duke, but there are 12 ACC teams that are still in contention for an NCAA postseason bid. Okay, maybe it is Duke-related: the Blue Devils are one of only two teams (Boston College is the other) that don’t have a shot (well, unless Duke can sneak in the ACC Tournament and win it again oh God why?!).

Duke had 23 players drafted from 2000-2013, the year before Pollard arrived. They’ve had 32 drafted in the eight seasons since.

The Blue Devils have had just one former player appear at the MLB level this season: RHP Marcus Stroman (Cubs).

We all know that Duke in general is not really a North Carolina based school even though they’re located in the heart of the state, but only eight of their 43 rostered baseball players come from here.


Prediction

If State’s bats come to play, this should be an easy series win. If they struggle, this could be another should-have-could-have series loss to a neighbor.

Outcome: State squeaks out a series victory.