March 1, 2004

The Notre Dame baseball team (6-0) – off to its best start since the 1960 team opened 9-0 – has moved up five spots to 7th in the Collegiate Baseball magazine poll while jumping eight spots to 11th in the Baseball America poll, moving from 12th to 9th in the USA Today coaches poll and bumping up from 11th to 10th in the National College Baseball Writers Association poll.

The top six teams in the Collegiate Baseball poll include LSU, Stanford, Texas, Rice, South Carolina and Arizona State. Those six teams – plus Long Beach State and Miami – are ranked ahead of the Irish in the coaches poll (which lists Stanford first) while the teams ahead of Notre Dame in the Baseball America poll include the top eight teams from the coaches poll, plus Tulane and Auburn (Stanford also is first in the BA poll). The top nine in the NCBWA poll include each of the teams in the top-10 of the BA poll, with the exception of Auburn.

Notre Dame outscored the opposition 53-18 in four games last week, including big wins over nationally-ranked teams Winthrop (19-6) and Minnesota (19-7) plus a 3-2 win over 12th-ranked Florida Atlantic (3-2). The Irish next will be heading to the familiar destination of Texas for the annual spring break trip, playing host to the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic in San Antonio (March 6-9) before heading to the Round Rock College Classic. The second game in Round Rock will feature a rematch from the 2003 NCAA opener between Notre Dame and Arizona, currently ranked as high as 16th (in the BA poll, plus 21st in the coaches poll and 26th in the CB top-30 poll).

Florida Atlantic – which dropped a classic college baseball game versus Notre Dame at last week’s FAU Classic – moved up one spot in each of the polls, with the Owls now 11th in the CB poll, 15th in the coaches poll and 20th according to BA.

Notre Dame is the runaway leader in the early BIG EAST statistical rankings, currently checking in first with: a .352 team batting average (Rutgers is second at .311), a .439 on-base pct. (RU, .415), a .526 slugging pct. (Pittsburgh, at .472), 10.5 runs per game (Seton Hall, 9.5), 8 home runs (Georgetown also has 8, in 11 games), a 3.29 staff ERA (GU, 3.51), just 2.08 walks per 9 innings (Pittsburgh, 3.81) and a .987 fielding pct. (Pitt., .982).

The Irish also rank second among BIG EAST teams with a .249 opponent batting avg. (behind Boston College’s .228), third with 8 stolen bases (behind GU’s 13 and 9 for St. John’s) and 6 double plays turned (behind Villanova’s 10 and RU’s 8) and fourth with 8.5 strikeouts thrown per nine innings (behind BC’s 10.3, Pitt’s 9.00 and West Virginia’s 8.9).

Notre Dame’s 6-0 start includes a 63-20 scoring edge and steady plate discipline with only 10 more strikeouts (35) than walks (25), plus a combined hit and walk total (100) that is four times the ND offense’s K total.

The Irish already have faced four ranked opponents – USC, Winthrop, FAU and Minnesota – but have managed to remain unbeaten, in contrast to a 2-4 start in 2003 that included four games vs. top teams (two games at Arizona State, plus games vs. Nebraska and Minnesota at the Metrodome Classic).

The comparative six-game team statistics from Notre Dame’s 2003 and ’04 seasons match the team’s boost in early-season wins. The current Irish squad is hitting 43 points higher than the ’03 squad at the six-game mark, with a 59-point jump in slugging pct., a 77-point rise in on-base pct., 14 more walks and nine fewer Ks for the ND offense, three more stolen bases and two more home runs.

On the mound, the ’04 staff’s ERA is nearly one-third of the 2003 team’s six-game ERA (9.00) to go along with an opponent batting avg. that is nearly 100 points lower (.347 in ’03), seven fewer hits and 25 fewer walks allowed and 30 more strikeouts thrown. The team fielding pct. is 27 points higher than the ’03 team’s after six games (.960), with one-third the number of errors (9 in ’03).

Links to the four national polls

Sports Weekly/ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Poll
Baseball America’s College Top 25
Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s Top 25
NCBWA Baseball Writers