Thursday, April 29, 2010

series preview: Duke

It's the baseball team's turn to beat up on Duke. This time there aren't any streaks to end or monkeys to banish; just a low-level ACC team playing mediocre ball. Duke isn't the doormat that Maryland and Wake Forest are, but they aren't a real good team and they have the misfortune to be in the Coastal where most of the best baseball is played. They don't get to play Maryland this year; partially because of that, and partially because VT improved, Duke was the consensus preseason choice as the odd team out to make room in the ACC tournament for VT. That's on track to be a good prediction.

Not that it's not an important week. On the contrary, UVA can officially clinch a spot in the ACC tournament this week. I mean, that's kind of academic by now, but it's nice to have it mathematically. A sweep will do the trick, and a 2-1 series win would get it done too as long as GT beats NC State in their series.

Duke has a few guys who can swing a bat, but if it weren't for Maryland (which is unbelievably bad at scoring runs) they'd be rock bottom in the ACC in that department. SS Jake Lemmerman and 1B Will Currier each have nine homers and are legit slugging threats. Will Piwnica-Worms, he of the too many W's, is probably the best all-around bat they have, a legitimate threat to get on any base at any time. Leading hitter, as well as one of the best sluggers with five HRs and five triples, and to top it off, he draws walks too. But on the other end of the spectrum, catcher Ryan McCurdy is slugging .345, which isn't a product of a poor batting average: he has 40 hits this year - 35 singles and five doubles. That's got to be some kind of no-power record. Duke is full of statistical idiosyncracies. For example, they draw fewer walks than anyone in the conference. They also strike out less than anyone in the conference. My initial thought about that was: OK, they probably just ground out all the time. That was confirmed when I next found that they GIDP way more than anyone else. 41 on the season - almost one double play per game is turned on them. No wonder they have such trouble scoring. UVA is the conference's second-best fielding team, so you have to figure that'll play nicely into our hands. (Who's first right now? Duke. They seem to show up on one end or the other of nearly every statistical category - it's weird.)

They definitely show up at the wrong end of the pitching spectrum, though. They've been looking for a third starter all year and their latest try (pitching probables are here) will be freshman Marcus Stroman, whose sparkling effort last week in a win over Wake Forest was rewarded with another shot this weekend. That was Stroman's first start and it was a dandy: a complete game, with just three runs allowed, two earned, and shutout ball from the second through the eighth inning. That was also Duke's only win of the weekend; taking Stroman out of the bullpen thinned out that unit considerably and gave Wake Forest plenty of nice pitches to explode on, which they did, to the tune of 18 runs on Saturday. The pen is lousy and the rotation isn't much better. Overall, opponents are hitting .293 against Duke pitching; ACC opponents are hitting .339, and Duke's ERA in ACC games is 8.07. (!) The Hoos' bats should be almost as alive this weekend as they were against Maryland.

Could this be a second series sweep in a row? Absolutely. Stroman, if anyone, is probably the guy that stands in the way; he's the best pitcher Duke's got and it probably shouldn't have taken them this long to figure that out and get him in the weekend rotation. But as I mentioned, putting him there means the bullpen has nobody to come bail out a starter in trouble. Duke's starters have fared OKish against ACC hitting, but once the starter comes out, Duke gets lit up bad and crooked numbers start appearing consecutively on the line score. They're not awful-awful like Maryland where anything but a sweep is a disappointment. Duke has enough hitters to make a game interesting if you let it stay close, and they took a game from FSU and two from Clemson. But FSU is a top-ten team; UVA is top-three if you ignore the puzzling (to put it nicely) Collegiate Baseball poll and #1 for Baseball America this week, so I'd like to think we're a notch above. A sweep this weekend would be a good way to demonstrate it.

No comments: