Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ACC tournament preview

The Hoos go into the ACC baseball tournament as the #1 seed; sources say this is a good thing. The #1 seed has a couple benefits. Most obvious is the tiebreaker scenarios: if three teams finish 2-1, the highest seed gets the nod for the championship game. This is not entirely unlikely when you place three potential NCAA hosts in a pool with a bubble team with horrible pitching. Not as evident is the game rotation. UVA plays last, so UVA is the only team in the pool with a real chance of finding out beforehand that the final game doesn't matter and they've already earned their spot in the championship game. That requires winning both games beforehand, though, so there's still business to take care of.

Here's who the Hoos will see in Greensboro this week:

Boston College - Wednesday, 12 PM

The 1 and 8 seeds kick off the tournament. UVA will put Cody Winiarski on the hill, and Boston College will counter with "ace" Pat Dean. Dean's the best starter BC has, but at UVA - and most other ACC tournament teams - he'd be pitching on Tuesdays. Opponents are batting .290 against Dean this year, and that's without having faced the murderer's row that UVA's lineup can be. He missed his start in our series against the Eagles. Dean has good control - he walked just 11 batters this year - but he's very hittable.

Winiarski, on the other hand, was outstanding in his start against Boston College. That start was the beginning of his road to redemption, because after getting shelled by Florida State the previous week, Winiarski appeared to be thisclose to losing his spot in the weekend rotation. His only blemish against a tough BC lineup, though, was a solo home run by Mickey Wiswall, who homers against a lot of people (18 this season.)

A somewhat higher-scoring game should be in the cards here. BC's lineup is light on the back end, but nothing to sneeze at overall. If they had any pitching they could have challenged for the division. UVA, on the other hand, should tee off on Dean.

Florida State - Thursday, 4 PM

We may know our fate as early as the end of this game. Miami will have played two games already. If we've already beaten BC, and in the unlikely event Miami is 0-2 by this time, then a win here will clinch the pool and the championship game.

UVA will send Robert Morey to the mound against Brian Busch. Busch appeared as a reliever in UVA's 9-8 Saturday victory against FSU, going three innings and giving up a run. He has a few starts under his belt, but his usage this year has primarily been out of the bullpen. Morey's outing was rocky, giving up five runs (three earned) in five innings.

FSU's lack of hitting compared to FSU's standards has been responsible for their tough season. The pitching hasn't been great, but they've patched together a rotation out of baling wire and duct tape. But the hitting just hasn't been there. Stephen Cardullo, after putting together a .376-10-51 line last year, is batting an abysmal .267.

Expect a much lower-scoring game here than in the opener. Morey should be much more settled down than he was the first time around, and Busch is one of FSU's better options on the mound.

Miami - Saturday, 12 PM

Friday is the Hoos' day off, but BC and FSU will be tilting on that day. If UVA is 2-0 and Miami has lost a game, then your Friday rooting interest is whatever team beat Miami. Because of the three-way tiebreaker, that's the way to render this Saturday game meaningless.

If both teams enter 2-0 or UVA has already lost, Miami will have to get past ACC Pitcher of the Year Danny Hultzen. They'll counter with David Gutierrez, who you might remember from last Saturday who handed UVA a 5-2 lead after five innings. This is the same matchup as the rubber match from last week. Advantage: Hoos.

If we're fortunate and our Sunday ticket is already punched, expect to see Hultzen saved for what'll likely end up being a Georgia Tech matchup; in that case, Neal Davis probably gets the start so that Branden Kline is also fresh. That's if Kline hasn't been used already, but if we've beaten BC and FSU, he probably hasn't.


Interestingly, both Miami and FSU are 8-10 against ACC tournament teams, and Miami is 4-5 against those in this pool while FSU is 5-4. Compare that to UVA's 13-5 record against tournament teams and 7-2 result against pool teams. We didn't get to fatten up on Wake Forest like everyone else did. In every matchup, we have the better pitcher. Top to bottom, our lineup is better. Clearly, UVA is the team to beat.

The problem is that the ACC tournament is crazy. The team to beat gets beat a lot. Since going to this format in 2007, the championship game has never seen a 1 vs. 2 matchup - or a 1 vs. 3, or a 2 vs. 4, or a 2 vs. 5, or anything that involves a couple of high seeds locked in an epic struggle. 2007's game was the #2 vs. #8, and that was followed by two #1 vs. #6 games - which as you might remember was won last year by the 6th seed. The double-elimination format before then didn't often turn out well for the favorites either. Every matchup screams UVA, but assume a cakewalk at your peril.

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