Thursday, March 11, 2010

ACC baseball preview, part 3

I know, I know - we just won a big ol' basketball game and all Mr. Bloggerman wants to talk about is baseball. Well, I gotta finish this up, mmmk? Don't worry, there's plenty of basketball in the future. Here, I'll give you a bonus preview of the Duke game tomorrow: we're gonna get our asses kicked. Such is the tangible reward for winning a game such as today's. The intangibles are where it's really at when it comes to rewards here.

Anyway, on with the show. Part 3 begins now; part 1 and part 2 are right there.

North Carolina State

Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 25-31 (10-20, 10th in ACC)
Return: 65% of ACC starts; 48% of total innings pitched
Names to know: SS Dallas Poulk, IF Andrew Ciencin, C/IF Pratt Maynard

My initial take, when NC State opened their season with a 32-3 assassination of overmatched La Salle, enroute to a 65-run weekend, was that NC State needed all the wins they could get and might as well enjoy them now. That changed a bit the following weekend when the Wolfpack shocked then-#6 UC-Irvine, whom you might remember from last year, in Myrtle Beach. Irvine's been in a little bit of a freefall since then, but NC State was also plenty competitive later on in the weekend despite losing to hosts Coastal Carolina.

Since then they've continued proving the early-season bats were no fluke. It shouldn't be much surprise, as most of last year's usual suspects return in the field. Three weekends in and they have five hitters batting over .400. Dallas Poulk has always been a hitter, but his best season was three years ago as a freshman - he looks to be embarking on a campaign to fix that. He bats low in the lineup and seems to have plenty of people setting the table for him. Poulk was the only NC Stater to start all 30 ACC games, but right behind him were a pair of freshmen, Andrew Ciencin and the multi-useful Pratt Maynard, who catches, plays first, and in a pinch can be used on the mound, too. The bats look legit, which would be a huge improvement over last year's ACC-worst team BA of .265.

And any mention of the NC State baseball team would be remiss without Russell Wilson, who is used literally all over the field, off the bench as well as in the starting lineup. Yes, the Russell Wilson who quarterbacks the football team. He's not always the most consistent hitter, and is too shaky on the mound to be a regular there, but when he gets hold of the ball it goes a mile. So far this season he's got more extra-base hits than singles, and it was his moonshot to center field that won the Irvine game for the Pack.

Three weeks into the season and the NC State bats look legit, but the pitching? The front line is a little thin here. NC State lost terrific starter Jimmy Gillheeny to the Seattle Mariners, and the rest of the pitching was frankly garbage last year. Hence the 20 ACC losses. So far this year, a couple reliable starters have emerged from the wreckage of last season in Jake Buchanan and Cory Mazzoni. But can they find a third? The other regular starter has been Danny Healey, and he's failed to make it past the second inning in two of three starts. Nobody else has been any better, and we're talking competition like Quinnipiac here.

So it remains to be seen if NC State can keep the momentum going. Things are certainly looking a lot better than a year ago at this time, but the lack of anyone remotely qualified to be a third weekend starter will be a big handicap. They'll likely look to the bats to steal a few 15-12 games if they want to get to the ACC tournament this year.

Virginia Tech

Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 32-21 (12-17, 9th in ACC)
Return: 72% of ACC starts, 76% of total innings pitched
Names to know: IF/OF Austin Wates, SP Justin Wright, SP Jesse Hahn, OF Steve Domecus

Tech has yet to reach the ACC baseball tournament, but they're a popular choice to break that streak this year. Or were until ace Justin Wright got shelled by SEC also-ran Kentucky. Losing to Bryant didn't help matters either. (Again - what is it with ACC teams getting beat this season by crappy teams from the great snowy north?)

Still, VT's in decent shape. Between Wright and Jesse Hahn, Tech's got a pretty good 1-2 punch on the mound, and it looks like they've found another good one in freshman Joe Mantiply to round out the weekend rotation. And closer Ben Rowen has made eight appearances so far without letting a run cross the plate.

And the bats? Not bad either. Just like last season, Domecus and Wates are leading the way at the plate, and Wates is also a tremendously efficient basestealer. VT also plugs Arkansas transfer Tim Smalling into shortstop and moves Ronnie Shaban to third. Smalling is an instant upgrade with the glove; Shaban is something of a butcher in the field and his platoonmate at shortstop was worse. Smalling's also provided quality hitting, leading the team in RBI. So despite a few questionable early losses, Tech indeed looks like a smart bet to end their ACC tournament drought.

Fun fact: Not satisfied with having the worst colors in all of collegiate history, Tech holds their split-squad fall series between "Team Camo" and "Team Throwback." The camo is about what you'd expect. For throwback uniforms, Tech goes with the Houston Astros look. It's, uh, about par for the course, actually.

Wake Forest

Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 22-30 (6-24, 12th in ACC)
Return: 53% of ACC starts, 67% of total innings pitched
Names to know: OF Ryan Semeniuk, C Mike Murray, SP Tim Cooney

At least the Maryland series will be interesting. Wake Forest was absolutely brutal last season, and they'll fight with Maryland this year for ownership of the cellar. We'll start with the most horrifying stat of all: the 7.30 team ERA in 2009. That's earned runs, mind you; Wake was pushing nine runs allowed per game overall. Can't be easy to win games when you basically have to score 10 runs to win and your offense was six runs shy of a tie for last place in that category too.

There are a few hitters in the linup. Semeniuk steps into a starting role this year after getting only nine ACC starts last year, and is showing he deserves the job, leading in nearly every hitting category. And the ones he's not leading, Mike Murray probably is. Murray's a team captain, the starting catcher, an excellent hitter for both power and average, and has Pudge Rodriguez skills with the glove. The only downside for Wake here is that you can steal him blind - he threw out just 8 of 78 baserunners last year and only has one to his credit so far in 2010.

If Tim Cooney lives up to the hype - and so far he has - then the pitching will be better by default because the Deacons will finally have a single dependable weekend starter. Wake's coach declares him the pitcher with the best command on the team, and that was before the team played a single game. Probably not the best endorsement of last season's "ace", Austin Stadler. Stadler was the only pitcher not to be tossing beachballs to the opposition every time he pitched - just some of the time - but this season doesn't look like it'll be much better so far.


OK, crystal ball time. Here's how I think the ACC seedings will shake out when all's said and done:

#1: Florida State
#2: Georgia Tech
#3: Virginia
#4: Clemson
#5: Miami
#6: North Carolina
#7: Virginia Tech
#8: Boston College
#9: NC State
#10: Duke
#11: Wake Forest
#12: Maryland

Why third for UVA? For the simple and totally not fair reason that FSU and GT get to skip each other on the schedule, and we miss out on the feast that is Wake Forest pitching. But we can have a big say in that ranking with a good showing this weekend against Florida State. Matchup of the titans here - we're #1 or #2 in every publication, and FSU is top-5 in all of them too. So tomorrow, having given you every other team in the ACC, will be our own big season preview.

Some other quick stuff worth mentioning:

- Congrats are in order for Jerome Meyinsse, the ACC's top scholar-athlete in basketball this year. Meyinsse is an econ major with a minor in math. The guy goes all-out on the court and in the classroom; it's a shame his example won't be around next year for the huge freshman class to follow. Exactly the kind of quality individual that every Hoo should be proud to have representing our University.

- Further congratitutions for the mens' swim team, which qualified all five relays and seven swimmers in three individual events each - the max - for the NCAA championships. Special congrats to Scot Robison, the #1 national seed in the 200 free and #2 in the 100 free. We could have a national champion - possibly a dual champion - on our hands here, and both swim teams will be gunning for a top-ten finish.

No comments: