Wednesday, May 19, 2010

series preview: Miami

One more win. That's all it takes for UVA to secure the #1 seed in the ACC tournament. That would also, by the way, set a new program record for wins in an ACC season, so there's some neat stuff to be accomplished here. The catch: Miami is the best team we'll have seen in over a month - since the GT series in April, to be precise. The Hurricanes are pretty much a consensus #13-14 team to the pollsters, except for Collegiate Baseball, which has them 9th. Pseudo-RPI tells a different story, though: Miami comes in 7th, though a pretty sizable gap separates them from 6th.

Why is Miami so good? Pitching. They claim to have the best ERA in the ACC, but that's kind of a lie. They've gotten outstanding starting pitching all year from Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez and they have some dynamite relievers, particularly big freshman righty E.J. Encinosa and current closer Daniel Miranda. Encinosa has some eye-popping numbers: he's limited opposing batters to a .184 BA and boasts nearly a 3-to-1 K/BB ratio.

Now, the catch for Miami? Ace starter Erickson is out for the series. Erickson had Tommy John surgery last year and his elbow is tightening up again, and Miami is making sure he'll be available in the tournament. Instead of Erickson, UVA will face Jason Santana tomorrow; Georgia Tech needed fewer than three innings last week to blast him off the mound, and Santana was also the pitcher responsible for Miami's early-season debacle against Manhattan. Hernandez - a quality pitcher but no better than Robert Morey - will face Morey on Friday.

Our own pitching is changed up a bit this week as well. For the first time in 10 ACC series, O'Connor has shuffled the rotation; this as a result of the shorter rest between last week and this. Cody Winiarski, who only just pitched on Sunday, will be held out and be the likely starter next Wednesday when the ACC tournament kicks off. In his place, Branden Kline will get the nod on Thursday, followed by Morey Friday and Hultzen Saturday.

As for the hitters they'll face - well, that's what's keeping Miami from being a top-5 team. The middle of the order, the 4-5-6 hitters, are devastating. Yasmani Grandal is an obvious front-runner for the Johnny Bench award as the top catcher in college baseball. His .432-13-54 line is astounding (plus he's slugging .784), and if you pitch around him he'll happily draw the walk and let Harold Martinez (17 HR) drive him in. Chris Pelaez, hitting .323-9-45, rounds out the trio and provides more than enough protection for Martinez.

Other than that, though, Miami's pretty average. They fall into the lower-middle range of the ACC in most hitting stats, except for power numbers which are largely driven by the above trio. They're tied with Georgia Tech in the standings, but they're definitely no Georgia Tech at the plate.

All this, plus the luck of missing out on Erickson, should give the series to UVA. The pitching matchup on Thursday is highly favorable: Santana is a way hittable pitcher and I expect to see good run support for Kline in his first ACC start. It'll be up to Kline to make good use of it. Hultzen automatically tilts any matchup in his favor, so the real drama might end up being on Friday when Morey and Hernandez face off. UVA is on a 14-game winning streak, tops in the country by a long shot. Miami's good enough that they should be very disappointed if they can't take at least one game - it's in their house, after all - but neither should you be bowled over if the streak is intact come Sunday.


Let's talk ACC tournament for a bit. A little bracketology (as it were - the tournament isn't a bracket) is in order. Here's how I think the weekend's series will go down:

FSU 2-1 over Clemson
GT 3-0 over BC
NC St. 2-1 over Duke
UVA 2-1 over Miami
VT 2-1 over UNC

Whatever happens in the Wake-Maryland slapfight, happens. I don't know how to project a series where two terrible pitching staffs duke it out against two even worse batting lineups, and it doesn't affect the tourney, anyway. Here's the seeding if the above comes to fruition:

1. UVA
2. FSU
3. GT
4. Miami
5. VT
6. Clemson
7. NC State
8. BC

Yeah, ouch for UNC. If that seeding holds - and I think it's pretty likely even if I'm off by a game in those predictions - and assuming the schedule is the same as last year, then UVA draws Boston College on Wednesday, Virginia Tech on Thursday, and Miami on Saturday. Winiarski will get the ball on Wednesday, and after that, it's anybody's guess, but Morey on Thursday and Hultzen on Saturday sounds like the logical bet. That leaves Kline and whatever committee of relievers is available on Sunday if we get to the championship game.

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