Israel: Irish baseball passes midterm exam
Ryan Israel | Wednesday, March 31, 2021
The now 12th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team started the 2021 season red hot, winning 11 of their first 13 games and securing a spot in the college baseball rankings. But until last weekend’s series against ACC standouts and sixth-ranked Louisville, the Irish had yet to prove themselves as a true contender. The Cardinals served as a test for the Irish, a midterm exam that would determine whether or not Notre Dame baseball was worth the hype in 2021.
The Irish passed their midterm, picking up a statement win over the Cardinals on Saturday thanks to a dominant, seven-inning outing from John Michael Michals (John Michael Bertrand) and a walk-off home run from Cole World (Ryan Cole). The win snapped a 20-game losing streak against the Cardinals, proving that this year’s team is something different.
The third game in the series was postponed due to weather, but a one-one split against a top-ranked opponent solidifies the Irish as both a force to be reckoned with in the ACC — and the NCAA at large — and a team worthy of the attention of all Notre Dame fans.
There are still 26 games left in the season, so maybe the series against the Cardinals wasn’t exactly a midterm, but it certainly was a gut check which put the strengths and weaknesses of the Irish on display, strengths and weaknesses which will play out over the rest of the season.
Hitting is where the Irish excel the most. Four batters are hitting above .300, and those same four batters boast an on-base percentage over .400. Big Hit Nik (Niko Kavadas) is a bona fide slugger, leading the ACC in four categories — home runs (14), home runs per game (0.67), RBI per game (1.67) and slugging percentage (.923) — and evoking fear from every pitcher he faces. Cole World (Ryan Cole) has made an impact despite a limited number of starts, making the walk-off his signature move, and Playboi Carter (Carter Putz) and Miller High Life (Jared Miller) have contributed as consistent hitters.
The Irish have scored three or more runs in all but one game this season, a near-no-hitter against Duke. The loss against the Blue Devils highlighted a potential over-reliance on the big hitters in the Irish lineup; without consistent hits from players at the bottom part of the order, especially those batting below .200, the job of scoring runs falls heavily on players who cannot afford to have an off game or a bad matchup.
On the mound, two pitchers bear the lion’s share of the workload. John Michael Michaels (John Michael Bertrand) has 33.2 innings pitched and Hotel Sheridan (Joe Sheridan) has 19.1 innings under his belt. Michael Michaels stands out as the ace in the Irish rotation, with his performance against the Cardinals solidifying his title, although the rest of the bullpen is a mixed bag. Simon Says (Liam Simon) and Rao Rao Rao (Alex Rao) have shown promise as trustworthy relievers when called on, and nothing is more fun than watching Jack Of All Trades (Jack Brannigan) run from third base to the pitcher’s mound to take over.
Still, the starting rotation could use an additional someone, besides Michael Michaels, who can command for five-plus innings without giving up more than three runs. Hans Christian Scafidi (Christian Scafidi) seems poised to capitalize on his next few starts and become a go-to for the Irish. The principal task for the bullpen over the rest of the season will be holding strong when the bats are cold, not necessarily carrying the entire team.
In the field, the Irish are solid. They have reliable players at every position and avoid mistakes for the most part. Defense only stands out when there’s a particularly spectacular play or costly error, and thus far, the Irish fielders have tended more towards the former than the latter.
The only remaining question regards stamina. With only a third of the season complete, there’s a lot of baseball left to play. As April and May come, it’s paramount that the Irish remain consistent and dynamic to avoid getting swept by a standout ACC opponent like Georgia Tech, Florida State or Miami or losing a trap game against an easier one. When late May and June come, the Irish have a strong chance of making a run in the ACC tournament and potentially the NCAA tournament — if they keep up the good work.