As I mentioned yesterday, big weekend coming up. In the hopper for the baseball team is the Clemson Tigers, one of the toughest matchups we'll see this ACC season.
Clemson is a tough team to pinpoint right now. They're a very good team, no doubt about it. One of the best in the ACC. But are they a true contender, a top-5 team? Or simply a dangerous team that has tournament aspirations, but whose Omaha dreams just aren't legit?
Here, for example, are the pitching probables for the weekend, and notice the Tiger ERA's:
Danny Hultzen (4-1, 1.06)
Casey Harman (4-0, 1.86)
Robert Morey (3-1, 3.07)
Will Lamb (2-0, 2.08)
Cody Winiarski (2-0, 5.70)
Scott Weismann (3-0, 2.96)
The pitching is legit, but is it as legit as Hultzen and his resume that includes six innings of pure dominance against Florida State? This'll be the weekend to find that out, because Clemson's competition to date has been respectable (Wright State and South Carolina) but not at all overwhelming. And they're coming off two straight losses to less-than-mediocre Elon - weekday series, so different pitching than we'll see, but the same bats. Which couldn't scrape together more than three runs in game 2.
Your best bet is to ignore that that happened and consider both the rotation and the bats of Clemson very dangerous. I don't care what the competition is; to have 10 home runs at this point of the season is pretty outstanding, and that's what Kyle Parker's done. Oh - he's also hitting .405. He and Jeff Schaus (.321-6-31 so far) make a potent 3-4 combination in the lineup that can easily rival - maybe even blasphemously surpass - ours.
By all appearances there's a big gap in the quality of third starters, and Scott Weismann's success this season hasn't been a product of lesser competition - he was excellent out of the pen lasts season. How to make up the difference? Put the ball into play. Clemson is the worst-fielding team in the league, dubiously led by shortstop Brad Miller, who has 13 errors in 104 chances for an .875 fielding percentage. In other words, hit the ball at the shortstop and there's a better than 1-in-10 chance he'll boot it or throw it away. Our heavily-right-handed batting lineup ought to like that. Catcher John Nester can be stolen upon, too: 16 successful steals out of 19 attempts. Brian O'Connor ought to like that.
The telling stat is that Clemson has a team ERA of 3.69, but allows 5.24 actual runs per game. That is a huge gap. 110 runs allowed, only 78 of which are earned. In contrast, UVA is the best-fielding team in the conference and has only allowed five unearned runs all year. Clemson's pitching and hitting are outstanding and they're one of the few teams in the conference that can match us in that regard. But the gloves are another story entirely.
At stake here for us is a deathgrip on the conference. It won't look like it, because if we can take 2 out of 3, we'd be 7-2 - as would Clemson, and most likely GT and Miami too. But we'd have FSU and Clemson as skins on our wall, while those other teams have been fattening up on BC, Duke, and Wake (Miami - and they didn't sweep BC); Wake and Maryland (GT); and VT and NC State (Clemson). To be 7-2 with FSU and Clemson out of the way? Now that'd be nice. It sucks for seeding purposes that Clemson and Miami skip each other, and FSU and GT skip each other, and we have to play all of the above, but when all's said and done it'll be a nice little boost for the ol' RPI.
Oh, one more thing. There's a little lesson that the Michigan fan in me just can't resist making sure you learn: You really shouldn't schedule Division II teams; you definitely shouldn't bother with Division III teams; and under absolutely no circumstances whatsoever should you ever consider scheduling an NAIA team such as, oh, sayyyyy, Webber International (total enrollment: 616.) Because this is what can happen.