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2024 Baseball Preview: The Schedule

I did it, Andrew! I typed a thing! (runs into door frame)

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 28 SEC Baseball Tournament - Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt
True story: The first image search result for “Vanderbilt baseball” was Hulk Hogan’s daughter at the 2019 CMA Awards. Yeah, I dunno either.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I pointed out to Andrew that no doofus had stepped up to preview the baseball schedule. And since I’m Duke of the Doofuses* ‘round here, I suppose that puts the onus on me.

(* - Doofuses? Doofi? Just “doofus,” like deer? Debate in the comments.)

Out Of Conference Weekend Series**

(** – The plural of “series” is “series,” and we will not debate “series-es.”)

February 16-18: Florida Atlantic Owls

Last Season: 34-25, 16-14 C-USA

2024 Preseason Poll: Fourth place in the American

Rambling: The FAU Fowls (pronounced “fow-fowls,” thanks) are one of those teams that are never as good as it seems like they should be. The Owls have never made it out of an NCAA regional, even their magical 1999 season where they started 51-3. They’re consistently good – they’ve won between 32 and 43 games a year for the last decade – they just never reach the next tier.

Batting: FAU won last season with offense, but it’s gone. Nolan Schnauel and his 1.483 OPS are gone (and playing in the MLB), and so are Jackson Ross (14 HR) and Dylan Goldstein (13 HR). That leaves…not much. Spencer Rich hit .327, but was a part-time player. No one else averaged .300. John Schroeder (.297, 7 HR) is the top returning regular.

Pitching: Is bad. CJ Williams and Nicholas Del Prado are presumably two of the starters, as both were part-time starters last season. Williams was fine (2-1, 3.47 ERA, .231 BAA) and Del Prado had control issues (.217 BAA but 28 walks in 43 innings, leading to a 6.07 ERA). Brandon Ostrander pitched 20 innings with a 3.92 ERA, and then everyone else returning had an ERA over 5. The staff as a whole allowed a .269 batting average. This is fine.

Prediction: Vandy absolutely should win 2 of 3, and a sweep would be greatly preferable. They’re not a bad team, but we would’ve been annoyed about not sweeping Georgia or The Ole Miss Ramblin’ Tire Fires at home last year, and this is about the same difference.

February 23-25: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Last season: 18-34, 14-13 West Coast Conference

2024 Preseason Poll: Sixth place in the WCC (...of 9 teams)

Rambling: This probably seemed more interesting before last season. The Zags had a couple of seasons with a Top 30 RPI in 2021 and 2022, and got kicked around a bit as a West Coast regional host before collapsing both seasons. Last season was a disaster all around, and the WCC coaches don’t much care for their chances at a 2024 revival.

Batting: The team put up a .268 batting average, .394 slugging, and .350 on-base percentage. Brian Kalmer was the team’s star, but was drafted by the Cubs. Keep an eye on Cade McGee; he was the 2021 WCC Freshman of the Year. He only played in 20 games last season, but put up a 1.107 OPS with 6 HRs. Nobody else on the team had more than 4 HRs, and nobody stole more than 6 bases either. Hot take: That’s a bad combination.

Pitching: A horror show, crapping out a cumulative 7.03 ERA and .303 BAA in 2023. Two of their weekend starters seem to be gone, leaving Nathan DeSchryver (5.90 ERA, 1.79 WHIP) as the apparent ace. He’s also got the best ERA of anyone returning. They might just throw some freshmen out there to see what they have, because why not with this bullpen.

Prediction: You never really like to predict a sweep in baseball, because the sport is so variable, but this really ought to be a sweep.

March 1-3: Weekend Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston

March 1: UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

Last Season: 41-24, 18-12 Sun Belt

2024 Prediction: 4th place in Sun Belt (but got 2 first-place votes)

March 2: Houston Cougars

Last Season: 36-23, 17-6 American Athletic Conference

2024 Preseason Poll: 9th place in Big 12

March 3: Texas Longhorns

Last Season: 42-22, 15-9 Big 12

2024 Preseason Poll: 2nd place in Big 12

I won’t waste a bunch of time on these, since Vandy only plays each team once. The conference coaches expect UL-Lafayette and especially Houston to be down a bit, and Vandy beat Texas in one of these “neutral site” classics in Arlington last year.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really a fan of these classics. Vanderbilt will probably barf up one game they shouldn’t (remember losing to Cal Poly SLO? or getting romped by TCU?), but should win 2 of 3. If they only win one, be annoyed. If they lose all three, it’s too early for mindless panic, but do that anyway. No one does mindless panic like Anchor of Gold.

March 8-10: Illinois State Redbirds

Last Season: 20-30, 9-18 Missouri Valley Conference

2024 Preseason Poll: 7th in the MVC

Rambling: I suppose we’ll see if Kevin Stallings’ basketball curse extends to his Redbird friends. Illinois St. has never been much for baseball. They’ve only had one winning season in the last decade (36-26 in 2019), and are coming off three straight 30-loss seasons.

Batting: Unlike FAU and Gonzaga, Illinois State appears to have a good nucleus of hitters returning. Daniel Pacella was a freshman last season with a .307/.362/.585 slash line and 16 HRs. Senior Aggie Rasmussen started all 50 games, hit .315 with 10 HR, and stole 25 bases on 29 attempts. Luke Lawrence, another sophomore, led the team with a .319 average.

(Lawrence also appeared to be a hilarious liability in the infield, farting out a .911 fielding percentage. Then again, Luke Cheng started 25 games and was .892 in the infield. Maybe they played in them old-timey 19th Century deals that were basically oversized driving gloves.)

Pitching: Stop me if you’ve heard this already – they had three pitchers with an ERA under 6, and all three are gone. Their best returning pitcher is Cameron “Cummings” Mabee, with a 6.02 ERA and a .301 BAA. He started 8 games and went 2-5. The staff had a 7.11 ERA in 2023. This is fine. Everything is always fine.

Prediction: See Gonzaga. Illinois State has some workable pieces in the batting order (probably more than the Zags, actually), but if Vanderbilt can’t score on this bullpen, we have bigger things to worry about. If Vanderbilt is making a run, this should be a sweep.

Mid-Week Games

We’ll just run down the litany of games here:

  • February 20, Dayton Flyers (26-34, 15-9 Atlantic 10)
  • February 21, Eastern Kentucky Colonels (29-30, 15-15 Atlantic Sun)
  • February 27, Indiana State Sycamores (45-17, 24-3 Missouri Valley)
  • February 28, Evansville Purple Aces (37-24, 15-12 Missouri Valley)
  • March 5, Eastern Michigan Eagles, and I don’t get it either (27-26, 12-18 MAC)
  • March 12, Indiana Hoosiers (43-20, 16-8 Big Ten)
  • March 19, vs. Belmont Bruins at First Tennessee Park (27-33, 10-17 Missouri Valley)
  • March 26, Valparaiso Crusaders Beacons (20-27, 10-17 Missouri Valley)
  • April 2, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (w/beautiful mascot) (33-26, 16-14 Conference USA)
  • April 9, MTSU Blue Raiders (27-29, 14-16 Conference USA)
  • April 16, at Lipscomb (true road game, not First Tennessee) (36-26, 23-7 Atlantic Sun)
  • April 23, UT-Martin Skyhawks (22-34, 14-10 OVC)
  • April 30, Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (21-34, 10-14 OVC)
  • May 7, Louisville Cardinals (in Nashville) (31-24, 10-20 ACC)

I think that leaves Austin Peay as about the only local team not on the schedule. (Tennessee St. doesn’t sponsor baseball, and neither does UT-Chattanooga.) Not really sure how or why friggin’ Eastern Michigan is coming all the way down from Yspilanti for a random midweek game instead of just playing the Governors, but here we are.

Three to Watch (besides Louisville)

  1. Indiana State / Evansville: WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS. Indiana State was a super regional team who beat Vanderbilt 10-2 last season, and Evansville took Vanderbilt to 17 innings in a game that left the entire comments section wailing for the sweet release of death. If you want to watch the entirety of Anchor of Gold degenerate into frothing insanity, look no further than these two back-to-back weekday games. (No really, click that link. 190 comments for a mid-week baseball game against Evansville.)
  2. Indiana: The Hoosiers were runners-up in the Big 10 last season, and this would be a fine weekend series. In fact, it’s a shame Indiana and Illinois State can’t trade schedule spots. Indiana was only picked 6th in the Big 10 preseason poll, but this is still worth your time.
  3. at Lipscomb: The Bisonses were the Atlantic Sun champions last season, and won 36 games after an 11-game losing streak early on. Vanderbilt beat them 11-1 last year, but it’ll be interesting to see how Lipscomb does in their own home park.

For those wondering about Louisville, they were picked 5th in the ACC Atlantic Division in their 2024 coaches’ preseason poll.

Southeastern Conference Games

Six SEC teams are predictably in the preseason Top 10, which sucks, but anyway. Wouldn’t it be fun if the Sun Belt or the A-10 miracled up three Top 15 teams for once?

You know, I hadn’t thought about how the Pac-12’s collapse means D1Baseball won’t be able to pretend it’s totally, definitely, possibly the top conference every year anymore, so that’s a positive.

Anyway, here’s a list of the Top 6 SEC teams’ schedules against each other:

  • Arkansas (3 series): Florida, LSU, at Texas A&M
  • Florida (5): at Arkansas, at LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M, at Vanderbilt
  • LSU (5): at Arkansas, Florida, at Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
  • Tennessee (3): at Florida, LSU, at Vanderbilt
  • Texas A&M (4): Arkansas, at Florida, at LSU, Vanderbilt
  • Vanderbilt (4): Florida, at LSU, Tennessee, at Texas A&M

And here are the three SEC teams each of the 6 doesn’t play (according to the SEC, as opposed to right-thinking people who’d look for Georgia Tech, Tulane, and Sewanee). The 2024 SEC preseason poll ranking is listed for each.

  • Arkansas: Tennessee (2E), Vandy (3E), and Georgia (6E)
  • Florida: Alabama (4W), Auburn (5W), and Ole Miss (6W)
  • LSU: South Carolina (4E), Kentucky (5E), and Georgia (6E)
  • Tennessee: Arkansas (1W), Texas A&M (3W), and Mississippi St. (7W)
  • Texas A&M: Tennessee (2E), Kentucky (5E), and Missouri (7E)
  • Vanderbilt: Arkansas (1W), Alabama (4W), and Ole Miss (6W)

I do think South Carolina and Alabama will be better teams than Texas A&M, so Vanderbilt getting A&M as a 4th “Top 6” series doesn’t bother me much. I feel like getting A&M instead of Alabama is a wash, if not an outright positive.

Arkansas almost certainly comes out better than anyone – the only Top 6 road series is Texas A&M (see above).

Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s draws are pretty similar, and depend on your opinions of A&M vs. Alabama, and the two Mississippi teams. I think Vandy comes out slightly better, since the two play in Nashville and Vanderbilt baseball is capable of selling more than 15% of its tickets to VU fans, but wouldn’t argue either way.

Florida and LSU obviously draw the short end of the SEC scheduling straws.

And there you go, some lepton typed 1,800 words about Vanderbilt’s 2024 baseball schedule. Hail Pinman.