April 15, 2003
The Notre Dame baseball team (26-6, 7-1 BIG EAST) will look to tie the school record for single-season winning streak today vs. Eastern Michigan, with the Irish riding a 17-game winning streak (also winners of 20 of the last 21 and 24 of the last 26) … sophomore RHP Tyler Jones will get the start, with the rest of the week’s rotation including sophomore RHP Chris Niesel and freshman LHP Tom Thornton vs. Pittsburgh (April 17) while sophomore RHP John Axford and senior RHP Ryan Kalita are slated to start on April 19 vs. Seton Hall … the Irish also have won their last 19 games at Eck Stadium and have 21 straight at The Eck vs. non-conference opponents.
IRISH ON VERGE OF MORE HISTORY – Recent Notre Dame baseball teams have established a pattern of groundbreaking accomplishments – the 1999 team was an NCAA Regional host, the 2000 squad staged an epic battle at the NCAA Starkville Regional, the ’01 team claimed the No. 1 national ranking and the ’02 team advanced to the College World Series – and the current edition of Irish baseball players is poised for similar accomplishments … Notre Dame has posted a winning streak of 16-plus games for the third consecutive season, with the current 17-game run matching the second-longest single-season winning streak in the program’s 111-year history … the 1991 team, which included current Major Leaguers Craig Counsell (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Chris Michalak (Colorado Rockies), won 18 consecutive games from April 7-28 of that season (before dropping a 3-1 game to Saint Louis in the finale of a four-game series) … the 1907 team shares the second-longest winning streak, opening that season with a 17-game run from April 20-May 21 (that streak ended with a rare 1-0 loss, to Illinois) … the longest overall winning streak in ND baseball history is 21 games, spanning the final four games of the 1906 season and the first 17 in 1907 (5/31/06 to 5/21/07).
WEEK OF RARITIES – Today marks Notre Dame’s fourth straight day of competition (at three different stadiums), which stands as somewhat of a rarity in the program’s recent history … the last time that the Irish played on four consecutive days – outside of Spring Break and postseason play – came in 1998, when ND played on six straight days from March 24-29 (including two doubleheaders) … adding to the unique week is the fact that the Irish – for the second consecutive season – will face Pittsburgh on a rare Thursday doubleheader (April 17).
SERIES NOTES – Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan surprisingly have met just twice previously on the baseball diamond, with the Irish winning a 1992 meeting at old Jake Kline Field (6-1) while the 2001 ND squad posted a 4-3 win over EMU in a game played at the University of the Pacific … that win (and a 5-2 win over UOP earlier that day) launched the Irish to a 7-0-1 Spring Break trip in Northern California, with ND winning the prestigious Fresno State Classic and going on to claim the nation’s No. 1 ranking five weeks later … Matt Buchmeier (6 IP, 2 R, 5 H, BB, 4 Ks )picked up the 2001 win over EMU, with the game tied in the 6th (2-2) … the Eagles were hurt by five errors in that game … Brandon Viloria picked up the save (3 IP, 11 BF, R, 2 H) … Matt Strickroth’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly gave ND a 3-2 lead in the 7th and Joe Thaman his a solo home run in the 8th to cap the scoring.
WINNING STREAK NOTES – Despite winning a pair of one-run games over the weekend vs. Creighton (ND’s first one-run games since the first game of the winning streak), the Irish have won most of the games in the current streak by comfortable margins … the average margin of victory in the 17-game streak now stands at 5.9 runs, including 11 wins by five-plus runs, five by eight-plus and three double-digit victories … the three one-run games (also 3-2 at Villanova) are the only games in the streak decided by fewer than three runs … the Irish own a .337 team batting average, 2.58 staff ERA and .968 fielding pct. (20 errors) in the streak … top hitters in the streak include Matt Edwards (.413, 26-for-63, 28 RBI, .788 slugging pct., 5 HR, 3B, 6 2B, 8 BB) and the freshman outfield/DH trip of Craig Cooper (.400, 18-for-45, 6 RBI, 15 R, 2 3B, 2 2B, 8 BB, 4 SB), Brennan Grogan (.389, 21-for-54, 10 RBI, 17 R, 4 3B, 2B, 5 BB, 5 SB) and Cody Rizzo (.373, 19-for-51, 17 RBI, 23 R, 2 HR, 3B, 6 2B) … after a slow start at the plate, Matt Macri is batting .352 (19-for-54) during the winning streak with 11 RBI and 13 runs scored (HR, 3 3B, 2 2B, 8 BB) … John Axford’s four starts in the win streak (4-0) have yielded a 1.80 ERA, a .182 opponent batting average, 31 Ks and 14 walks in 25 innings.
FEARSOME FRESHMAN FIVESOME – Five freshman position players – DH/LF Cody Rizzo, CF Brennan Grogan, 3B Greg Lopez, DH Steve Andres and LF/DH Craig Cooper – continue to make key contributions this season … those five players have combined to make 109 starts while batting a combined .319 (127-for-398) … their biggest statistical contributions include 63% of ND’s times hit-by-pitch (27 of 43), 50% of the team’s triples (10 of 20) and 41% of the runs scored (101 of 247) – plus 42% of the sac. bunts (11 of 26), 40% of the stolen bases (18 of 45) and 35% of the RBI (77 of 219) … the above five players also have combined for 36% of the team’s hits (127 of 356), 31% of the walks (32 of 103), 25% of the doubles (16 of 65) and five of the team’s 20 home runs (25%).
MAKING STRIDES – Here’s a comparative look at ND’s 32-game stats this season (26-6) compared to the 20-12 start in 2002 (see PDF for chart):
STRONG FIRST HALF – The current 26-6 record represents one of the program’s best records at this point in the season … in fact, the program’s all-time history includes just one 32-game start better than the current 26-6 record: 26-5-1 in 2001 … that ’01 team won its next 11 games (37-5-1) en route to claiming the nation’s No. 1 ranking (a first for the ND program) … the only other previous team on a par with the current squad’s 32-game record is the 1989 team, which also owned a 26-6 mark (before losing a 7-3 game at Dayton) … the quickest seasons to 30 wins have been in the landmark 2001 season (30-5-1) and ’89 (30-8) … by winning its next four, the current squad could match the 2001 team’s ND record by reaching 30 wins in the 36th game.
APRIL SHOWERS OF WINS – Notre Dame has dominated in April during the nine-year Paul Maineiri era (169-36, .824), including 49-4 (.925) in April during the past three seasons (20-2 in ’01, 19-2 in ’02, 10-0 in ’03) … ND’s only April losses in that stretch: vs. Ball State (3-4) and Valparaiso (3-7) in ’01 and vs. St. John’s (3-4) and Pittsburgh (5-7) in ’02.
ROAD WARRIORS – Notre Dame’s trip to Omaha last week represented the team’s seventh weekend on the road in the first eight weeks, followed by three straight home weekends and then the season-ending BIG EAST series at Rutgers and Virginia Tech … the Irish now are at the start of a 12-game homestand, followed by the annual ND-Michigan game in Grand Rapids and four more home games (before heading to Rutgers).
With 32 games in the books, here’s a look at how Notre Dame has answered 10 major preseason questions:
Who would emerge as the new leadoff hitter, at a spot held the previous four seasons mostly by Steve Stanley (and fellow 2002 grads Ken Meyer and Paul O’Toole)?
Sophomore SS Matt Macri and freshman OF Cody Rizzo were tried at the leadoff spot in the first seven games before ND moved junior 2B Steve Sollmann up from the 2-hole into the top spot … Sollmann has responded by batting .385 as the leadoff hitter (40-for-104, 33 R, 23 RBI, 3 HR, 2 3B, 7 2B, 12 BB, 16 SB) and reaching base in 54 percent of his leadoff plate appearances (any inning) since the lineup shift (he leads the team with a .580 overall leadoff OB pct.).
Who would fill the gap in center field, where Stanley started all 254 games from 1999-2002?
Freshmen Craig Cooper and Cody Rizzo were tried in center during the first two weeks of the season but their classmate Brennan Grogan has settled in at the position, starting 21 of the last 22 games at CF (another freshman, Alex Nettey, has started the last three games at CF).
Who would step into the No. 3 spot in the batting order, occupied in 2002 by LF Brian Stavisky (who signed as a junior 6th-round pick of the Oakland A’s)?
Junior corner IF Matt Edwards has made 24 starts in the 3-hole while ranking as one of the team’s most pivotal players in 2003 … Edwards – who missed most of the ’02 season with a broken leg – is batting .383 with 41 RBI and 6 home runs in 31 games played, with those numbers comparable to Stavisky’s 2002 production (.394, 57 RBI, 9 HR in 50 GP).
How would sophomores Matt Macri (SS) and Matt Edwards (3B/1B) return from their respective injuries that held them out for most of the 2002 season:
Edwards (see note above) has been arguably the key factor to ND’s first-half success (with Steve Sollmann’s production again meeting his usual high standard) while Macri – who missed most of ’02 with ACL elbow surgery – has overcome a slow start to hit .352 and make just three errors in the current 17-game win streak (he made four Es in the first four games and was batting just .211 in late March, now .284 overall) … Macri also has showcased his arm strength to throw out several batters
Who would meet the challenge as the staff’s No. 3 starter, after the preseason surgery to ace Grant Johnson?
Ryan Kalita has stepped up as the No. 3 starter in the past few weeks, helping overcome the loss of both Johnson and Kalita’s fellow senior RHP Peter Ogilvie … Kalita (11-0 in his ND career) is 4-0 with a 3.89 ERA and .240 opp. batting avg. this season (29 Ks, 20 BB, 35 H in 39.1 IP).
Would the Irish experience a dropoff in power, most notably due to the loss of O’Toole (11 HRs in ’02) and Stavisky (9)?
The 2003 team’s current home run total (20) actually is on a par with the 32-game HR total by the ’02 squad (21) but the Irish may not have a double-digit HR hitter on the ’03 squad, with Matt Edwards (6) the current long-ball leader … ND’s current 24-2 run is all the more noteworthy when considering that cleanup hitter Kris Billmaier has not homered in the last 30 games.
Would the Irish have speed and good basestealing ability, after the loss of Stanley and O’Toole?
The return of sophomore SS Matt Macri and the addition of freshmen such as Brennan Grogan, Cody Rizzo, Craig Cooper and Greg Lopez has added some quality baserunners to the 2003 lineup – with the current SB total (45) well ahead of the 2002 team’s SBs (30) at the 32-game point … the combination of junior 2B Steve Sollmann (21), Grogan (9) and Cooper (8) give the Irish three players who already have swiped 10-plus bases (Stanley’s 32 and O’Toole’s 11 were ND’s only double-digit SB players in ’02).
How would junior Javi Sanchez handle the position switch from the middle infield to catcher?
Sanchez – a prep 2B who filled in at SS in ’02 – has made an impressive transition behind the dish while doing a solid job batting in the 5-hole (.311, 22 R, 14 RBI, HR, 3B, 7 2B) … Sanchez will be looking to cut down his passed balls (11) and has made major strides in throwing out attempted basestealers, due to his strong arm and agility behind the plate.
How quickly and to what degree would the freshman position players make an impact?
Five freshman position players – DH/LF Cody Rizzo, CF Brennan Grogan, 3B Greg Lopez, DH Steve Andres and LF/DH Craig Cooper – played key roles in the first half of the 2003 season, combining to make 99 starts (after 29 games) while batting a combined .318 (114-for-358) … their biggest statistical contributions include 62% of ND’s times hit-by-pitch, 50% of the team’s triples, 43% of the stolen bases and 42% of the runs scored (94 of 224).
Would the offense do its share to complement the talented core of veteran pitchers?
The 2003 team (.315) – which has taken on a more righthanded slant (after the departure of five lefthanded-hitting position starters) – actually is batting six points higher than the 2002 team (.309) at the 32-game point … the most impressive number has been the team’s 10 “big innings” (5-plus runs) in the last 11 games … eight of the team’s nine starting position players currently are batting above .290.
WHAT A RELIEF – Here’s a look at some of Notre Dame’s top bullpen pitchers’ game-by-game stats (note that Doherty started vs. Toledo and Thornton’s numbers include starts vs. Navy/gm 2, Detroit and Bowling Green) … see PDF for bullpen charts
BIG-INNING BOPPERS – Notre Dame opened the season by posting three “big innings” (5-plus runs) in the first four games but then went 16 games without 5-plus runs in any inning … that drought ended with a vengeance in the last 12 games, as the Irish have erupted for 10 big innings (in all but one of those games, the finale of the Georgetown series) … the big innings have included three 9-run eruptions (vs. ASU, Georgetown and Detroit) and 6-run innings vs. Newman and St. John’s … the 2nd inning has produced four “big innings” (all in the last seven games), with three in the 6th, two in the 3rd and one each in the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th – with the Irish failing to post 5-plus runs in only the 1st and 9th innings this season (ND has totaled just 11 first-inning runs all season) … the big innings in last week’s three midweek games accounted for 18 of ND’s 23 total runs (78%) in those games … here’s a look at ND’s big innings in 2003 (see PDF for big-inning chart):
EXPECTING ECK’S-ELLENCE – The 11-0 loss to Rutgers on May 5, 2002, ended ND’s team-record scoring streak at 231 games … the Irish have gone unbeaten (19-0) at Eck Stadium since that loss, outscoring the opponents 218-88 in those games (average score of 12-5) … ND also is 31-1 in its last 32 home games, dating back to the 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh on April 11, 2002 … now celebrating its 10th year of play at Eck Stadium, the Irish own an all-time record of 230-49 in the facility (.824) … ND also has defeated the last 21 non-conference teams to visit The Eck (spanning all of the ’02 and ’03 seasons).
MAINIERI HITS WIN NO. 700 – Ninth-year ND head coach Paul Mainieri – now in his 21st overall season – picked up his 700th career coaching victory in the 6-2 series-opening win over Georgetown on Sat., March 29, just 135 games removed from his 600th win (ND’s 99 combined wins in ’01 and ’02 were third-most in nation, behind Florida State’s 107 and South Carolina’s 106) … Mainieri’s 712-427-1 career record (.625) includes 180-121 at St. Thomas (’83-’88), 152-158 at Air Force (’89-’94) and 380-148-1 (.719) at ND (’95-’03) … his ND career includes five BIG EAST titles and five NCAA trips with the Irish (’96, ’99-’02), the program’s first No. 1 ranking in 2001 and first CWS trip since ’57 (in ’02) … he was the nation’s only coach to repeat as ABCA regional coach of the year (Mideast), in 2002, and his squads have extended ND’s streak of seasons with 40-plus wins to 14 (nation’s 4th-longest active streak) … 31 of his ND players have moved on to pro ball, including 12 drafted in the first 10 rounds and pair of first-round pitchers (Brad Lidge in ’98, Aaron Heilman in ’01) … every ND player in the Mainieri era who has completed his eligibility with the Irish has graduated from Notre Dame (46 of 46) while the eight who were signed after their junior seasons have returned to complete or near completion of their graduation requirements (including two-time Academic All-American Brian Stavisky) … Mainieri owns the best BIG EAST winning pct. in the conference’s history (.753, 128-42) … in 67 BIG EAST series spanning eight seasons, the Irish have won 53 with seven splits and just seven series wins by the opponent (just two of them being 3-game sweeps) … the Irish have been swept just four times in 65 all-time BIG EAST doubleheaders (40 ND sweeps, 21 splits).
STRONG IN ALL AREAS – Notre Dame is the only team currently ranked among the BIG EAST’s top three in overall team batting avg. (3rd, .315), ERA (2nd, 3.53) and fielding pct. (1st, .970) … the only other team that entered the week ranked in the top five of all those categories is Virginia Tech (1st in ERA, 4th in fielding, 5th in batting).
(see PDF for other season notes and updated career stats)