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ChronSports' 2020 what-if series: Duke baseball

<p>Bryce Jarvis led a talented Duke pitching staff this year.</p>

Bryce Jarvis led a talented Duke pitching staff this year.

With the suspension and later cancellation of all Duke athletic competition due to the spread of coronavirus, many Blue Devil seasons were abruptly cut short. The Chronicle is going to take a look back at those seasons affected as well as what we missed out on with their cancellations. We've already looked at men's basketball and women's basketball. Next up: baseball.

Season summary

This Duke season will be remembered most for one game: Bryce Jarvis’ perfect outing against Cornell. Jarvis was nothing short of dominant, striking out a career-high 15 Big Red batters and inducing 10 groundouts. For those scoring at home, that means he allowed the ball to leave the infield twice, a pair of fly outs. Jarvis headlined a strong stable of pitchers for the Blue Devils who put together a string of four consecutive shutouts in the second week of the season and combined for a 2.39 team ERA.

Jarvis’ gem was the fourth in a string of nine straight wins for Duke after dropping its season opener to Army. During this stretch, the Blue Devils hit the road for the first and only time with a trip to Minneapolis, taking two of three games in the ACC/Big Ten challenge hosted at U.S. Bank Stadium. They returned to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a midweek win against Campbell before playing host to No. 11 Florida State in their first ACC series of the year. Jarvis was the difference again in the series opener, delivering seven shutout innings in a win. Another strong performance on the mound the following day from Cooper Stinson gave Duke the series win, although the Blue Devils were unable to complete the sweep the following day. 

Duke's season ended abruptly with a disappointing loss to Davidson just days before a scheduled home matchup against North Carolina. -Riley Pfaff

Team MVPs

In light of his perfect game, it’s hard not to give the pitching MVP to Jarvis, though Stinson was fantastic in his four starts as well. In 21 2/3 innings pitched, Stinson allowed just one earned run, surrendering 16 hits and walking four batters. Jarvis allowed three earned runs in 27 innings, scattering 11 hits and walking only two. Jarvis held a significant edge in strikeouts—40 versus 24 for Stinson—but ultimately, both pitchers were phenomenal in the shortened season. Jarvis was also featured on the popular Twitter account Pitching Ninja, a noteworthy accomplishment in its own right.


On the offensive side, Michael Rothenberg and Matt Mervis provided a similar kind of one-two punch in the Blue Devils’ lineup. Rothenberg hit .349/.551/.605 while Mervis slashed .304/.458/.589, numbers that speak volumes to just how dangerous the middle of Duke’s lineup was. The duo combined for 16 extra-base hits in the Blue Devils’ 16 games, and both walked more times than they struck out. -Pfaff

What we missed out on

More than anything else, we missed out on a chance to see the four MVPs take the Blue Devils to the College World Series. Duke has been knocking on the door for two years now, going the distance twice in consecutive Super Regionals before falling in heartbreaking fashion in the final contest of each three-game series. Were it not for a gusty no-hitter last year from Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker, the Blue Devils may well have found themselves in Omaha.

Many felt that this year’s team had the talent to push the program over the edge, but with Rothenberg and Jarvis likely to be drafted in the first few rounds of the MLB draft and Mervis graduating, we’re left to wonder what might have been. -Pfaff

Best-case scenario

This was arguably the best Duke baseball team to ever grace the program. In their first time starting a season as a serious contender, the Blue Devils delivered day in and day out, winning every series and posting a 12-4 record. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Duke’s season would not only have ended in its first appearance to Omaha since 1961, but also a dogpile on the pitcher’s mound to claim its first College World Series championship. Although there were still lingering concerns about the bullpen and a Sunday starter, the No. 10 Blue Devils were clearly not just smoke and mirrors. - Jake Piazza 

Worst-case scenario

Duke fans likely haven’t forgotten the story of last year’s Super Regional team: a 9-2 start, then a dismal March that dropped the Blue Devils below .500 before the team's tear to the Super Regionals. When the season was cancelled this year, Duke’s record sat at 12-4 with the vast majority of its ranked opponents looming on the schedule in ACC play. 

This year’s Duke squad was undeniably one of the most talented and well-rounded teams the program has fielded in years, however, there were still flaws, and injuries to key players could have threatened to derail the season. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take that much as last year’s team went 1-7 in one-run games in March. A similar stretch of tough luck in close games also could have upended this year’s team well before Omaha. - Pfaff

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