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Duke baseball 2021 season preview

Catcher Mike Rothenberg posted a .349 batting average and .605 slugging percentage in the shortened 2020 season.
Catcher Mike Rothenberg posted a .349 batting average and .605 slugging percentage in the shortened 2020 season.


A strong 12-4 start to the 2020 season was enough for the Blue Devils' ace to go pro while the team held on to the talents of several experienced leaders. The upcoming campaign poses some interesting questions regarding starting pitching and bench depth, but Duke looks ready to plunge into a heavy dose of ACC competition. The small sample size from last season showed that these Blue Devils are steady on defense and efficient on the basepaths, but it is yet to be seen whether the unpredictable landscape of the 2021 season will throw a back-door curve or a fastball down the middle as No. 16 Duke sorts out its path toward extending its conference and national success yet another year.  -Micah Hurewitz

New player to watch: Luke Fox

Freshman Luke Fox is somebody that head coach Chris Pollard spoke highly of during preseason media day, and that’s something of particular notoriety considering that the makeup of this team’s pitching rotation is very up in the air. With the departure of ace Bryce Jarvis and closer Thomas Girard, the Blue Devils do not have their successors set in stone. 

That’s not to say Fox will be Duke’s Friday starter—or even a starter—this year, but more so that the left-hander appears to be a freshman who can contribute immediately on the mound. Video on Fox from his high school days is scarce, but there are reports of him sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, meaning he's developed enough to compete in the ACC. -Jake Piazza

Returning player(s) to watch: Michael Rothenberg, Joey Loperfido

Neither of these players would still be playing college baseball if last year was normal. In the COVID-shortened 2020 MLB Draft, both Rothenberg and Loperfido got the short end of the stick and didn’t find themselves on any MLB big boards in the first five rounds. As unfair as that may be, Duke will reap the colossal benefits of having two seasoned players leading this roster of largely unproven talent. 

Rothenberg was on pace for a season for the ages in 2020, and although we never got to see it play out, his .349 batting average and .605 slugging percentage tell you the story. As for Loperfido, the speedy centerfielder got off to a slow start last season but showed enough to hint at being fully recovered from injury and ready to produce a season similar to his freshman year, when he totaled 69 hits with an on-base percentage of .408. -Piazza

Most anticipated matchup: at Louisville, May 7-9

If everything proceeds as scheduled, the Blue Devils will face off against ACC foe Louisville on the weekend of May 7-9. While Duke enters this season as the No. 16 team in the nation, the Cardinals come in as the consensus No. 5 program. The college baseball season is a long road with many ups and downs, so it's hard to say how each team will be performing by the time this matchup arrives, but the talent on each roster is undeniable.

Louisville was 13-4 and sat at No. 2 in the polls when last season was cut short. And although they lost three very talented players to the draft, including No. 10 overall pick Reid Detmers and No. 29 overall pick Bobby Miller, the program is still loaded with guys that can produce on a daily basis. RHP Luke Smith moves into the Cardinals’ ace spot after failing to get drafted as a junior last year. He collected a 3-0 record with a 3.42 ERA in four starts last season. The entire roster is stacked up with guys who have draft potential in their future, so this matchup should be electric across all three games. -Alex Jackson

Best-case scenario

"Guys, you're still trying to replace Bryce Jarvis. I told you we can't do it, and we can't do it. Now, what we might be able to do is re-create him. Re-create him in the aggregate."

While I may have slightly altered that quote from Moneyball, the idea is true nonetheless. Please do not get caught up in asking who will be the Friday night starter, the perfect game-thrower of 2021. Ask instead how a pen of Jimmy Loper, Matt Dockman, Josh Nifong, Richard Brereton and Oliver McCarthy won’t lock down Shabbos—or Friday night. Trust the process, all the way to the College World Series. I’ll be watching with Marcus Stroman while you feel silly about ever having doubted a star-laden, depth-replete squad. -Em Adler

Worst-case scenario 

A strong performance this season will require similar numbers to last year in terms of starting pitching—without the likes of Bryce Jarvis on the mound every Friday night—and more consistency from infielders Ethan Murray and Chris Crabtree at the plate. If seniors Loperfido and Rothenberg cannot effectively shoulder the load of lead-off hitting and driving in runs, the dogged ACC opposition could batter the relatively young Blue Devils into just missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. -Hurewitz


Hurewitz: 30-20 (18-18 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA Regionals

Adler: 36-14 (23-13 in the ACC), loss in ACC tournament finals, loss in College World Series First Round

Jackson: 33-17 (20-16 in the ACC), loss in ACC tournament finals, loss in NCAA Regionals

Piazza: 34-16 (23-13 In the ACC), loss in the ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA Super Regionals

Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's spring sports, the rest of which can be found here.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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