No traveling for the Hoos this year, at least not for a couple weeks. The reward for being one of the top 8 teams in the NCAA baseball tournament is to host a four-team regional, and a super-regional if they make it out of the weekend. The only puzzling decision is making UVA the #5 seed instead of the top-3 seed they deserved, but it's been pretty much confirmed that everyone who knows anything about baseball thinks that's retarded. (Ratcliffe at the CDP says we got "the fuzzy end of the lollipop" which sounds like the weirdest G-rated euphemism ever for something very X-rated. Use your imagination.)
That being said, it's not a bad draw. Here's a preview of the three teams coming to Charlottesville this weekend:
You recognize the name. You won't really recognize the team. Last year's Rebel squad was good enough to be in Omaha had they been maybe a little more fortunate on the draw. That team could hit and had plenty of quality options behind Drew Pomeranz on the mound. This team still has Pomeranz, but the hitting and the pitching isn't nearly up to snuff with last year's team. They ended up with a middling finish in the SEC, the result of a really maddening season in which they would do things like sweep powerhouse LSU but drop a series to doormat Tennessee. You're always in for a fight when you take on an SEC team in the NCAAs, but as #2 seeds go, we could have had a worse draw.
CF Tim Ferguson (.301-8-33)
3B Zach Miller (.279-2-46)
RF Matt Smith (.344-12-51)
DH Matt Snyder (.343-10-33)
LF Taylor Hashman (.307-9-40)
2B Alex Yarbrough (.285-3-37)
1B Miles Hamblin (.225-6-39)
SS Kevin Mort (.279-2-22)
C Taylor Hightower (.285-0-17)
RHP Drew Pomeranz (8-2, 2.21)
RHP Aaron Barrett (7-4, 4.16)
RHP David Goforth (1-5, 8.41)
RHP Rory McKean (4-2, 5.65)
LHP Matt Crouse (5-1, 3.12)
RHP Trent Rothlin (3-4, 4.43)
RHP Eric Callender (4-1, 5.83)
LHP Matt Tracy (4-3, 5.98)
RHP Brett Huber (2-0, 2.54, 12 SV)
Ole Miss against the ACC: no games
The lineup is largely conjecture; as you can see, Ole Miss has struggled to find any consistency from the bottom half. In some cases they have two players to choose from at a certain position: one that can't hit for contact and one that has no power. And of the seven players with .300 or greater batting averages from last year, four are gone and one was Miller, for whom the bottom dropped out this year.
Since Davenport qualifies as a pitcher's park - smaller than Ole Miss's Swayze Field in the alleys and out to center - I think we'll see Ole Miss lean toward contact hitters, so you might also see backup outfielder Tanner Mathis in the lineup against right-handers.
As for the pitchers, there's conflicting information as to who'll get the call on Friday for Ole Miss. Might as well go with the direct quote from Rebels' coach Mike Bianco, who says top-ten-pick-in-waiting Drew Pomeranz will get the start against St. John's. That means the Hoos, if UVA and Ole Miss win, will face Aaron Barrett. And it means Barrett will have to go against Danny Hultzen, as O'Connor has tabbed Cody Winiarski to start on Friday. (The right choice: if we can't beat the #147 team in the country with any of our weekend starters, we'll never get to Omaha anyway.)
After Pomeranz and Barrett, though, the rotation is almost totally worthless. The Rebels missed out on a lot of sweeps - including one against SEC punching bag Georgia - because they have no third starter at all. If the series holds true to seeding form and UVA faces Ole Miss in a championship game on Sunday, the hitters will be absolutely salivating at the prospect of a few at-bats each against a used-up Ole Miss pen. With Pomeranz going on Friday, a UVA-Ole Miss matchup should be in the cards for Saturday, and the Rebels don't have the bats to chase Hultzen nor the arms to win any games after Saturday.
Dangerous matchup for Ole Miss here, as the Johnnies can hit and have one quality pitcher. They caught a break on the schedule by not having to play regular-season champ UConn, but nevertheless had to get past the Huskies for the Big East championship, which they did. Ace Kyle Hansen pitched into the 7th inning against UConn after having gone eight full frames just four days earlier.
A lot of the Storm's best players are freshman, including Hansen and masher extraordinaire Jeremy Baltz. Not good for future Big East opponents, but here's hoping experience and guile plus a loud Davenport win out in any potential UVA-SJU matchup.
CF Scott Ferrara (.282-1-29)
RF Jimmy Parque (.352-4-44)
SS Joe Panik (.383-8-48)
LF Jeremy Baltz (.393-20-74)
3B Greg Hopkins (.367-6-55)
2B Matt Wessinger (.284-4-43)
1B Paul Karmas (.329-8-52)
DH Sean O'Hare (.352-1-29)
C Joe Witkowski (.217-0-8)
RHP Kyle Hansen (8-1, 3.09)
RHP Bruce Kern (6-5, 5.91)
RHP Nick Cenatiempo (1-1, 6.34)
RHP Matt Carasiti (7-4, 5.88)
LHP Kevin Kilpatrick (1-1, 3.57)
RHP Stephen Rivera (4-2, 3.65)
RHP Ryan Cole (3-1, 3.96)
LHP Sean Hagan (4-1, 4.74)
RHP Daniel Burawa (1-0, 2.78, 11 SV)
St. John's against the ACC: lost to UNC 8-2, beat Boston College 17-9
Extrapolate Jeremy Baltz's numbers out to a 162-game MLB season and you get 56 HRs and 207 RBIs. Jeesh. 20 and 74 are damn good for major leaguers, never mind someone who's only played 58 games in his entire college career. Do not make a mistake pitching to Baltz.
St. John's plays in a bandbox, however: about 320 down the lines and just 380 to straightaway center. They're going to have an extremely tough road in this regional: first Drew Pomeranz, then likely Danny Hultzen if they get past Pomeranz, all in an unfamiliar pitcher's park.
And after Hansen in the rotation - nothing. They have a good bullpen; important because starting pitchers like Cenatiempo have a nasty habit of giving up a lot of hits and not pitching deep into games. Rivera and Kilpatrick are the long-relief types and they figure to get a lot of work this weekend.
If St. John's is the Saturday opponent, Kern will likely oppose the Hoos. He's a better pitcher than that ERA would indicate; decent strikeout pitcher, but in the end nothing worse than UVA's seen in ACC competition, and no match for Hultzen. This is a rotation even thinner than Ole Miss's, but the bullpen is better. Even so, if St. John's is going to win games this weekend, they'll need to be by scores of 12-8. And if they're going to win the whole regional, they'll have to do as they did in the Big East tournament and pitch Hansen on short rest. If SJU manages to make it to Monday for a winner-take-all game, don't be surprised to see them trot him out there.
The baseball committee thinks all #4 seeds are equal, and assigns them to regionals by pure geography. Thus, VCU. The Rams have the only .400 hitter in the regional other than Keith Werman, but might also go the entire weekend without hitting a home run. You want a light-hitting team? VCU is it: 33 home runs all year, and 20 of them hit by two players.
CF Matt Leskiw (.270-0-14)
2B Richard Gonzalez (.391-0-37)
3B Joe Van Meter (.433-10-72)
1B Brent Mikionis (.332-10-50)
RF John Lenherr (.293-2-35)
SS Nick Kime (.250-0-10)
LF Paul Nice (.278-2-29)
C Taylor Perkins (.306-2-30)
DH Doug Otto (.281-4-33)
RHP Seth Cutler-Voltz (8-3, 3.20)
RHP Kyle Haynes (3-3, 5.40)
LHP Ryan Farrar (4-5, 8.14)
LHP Michael Graham (4-4, 7.36)
RHP Jonathan Watson (4-2, 2.78)
RHP Kyle Pelchy (2-0, 4.12)
LHP Brennan Huelse (1-1, 3.54)
RHP Robbie Andrews (1-2, 3.18, 9 SV)
VCU against the ACC: lost to Maryland 7-2, lost to UVA 10-5
One month to the day of the regional opener against VCU, UVA was playing a weekday game against these same Rams. The Hoos won 10-5, scoring runs off of every pitcher VCU sent to the mound, and Branden Kline gave up four runs in six innings for the win. VCU actually hit two home runs in that game. I haven't bothered to check if that was their only multi-homer game all year, but it's possible. Get through VCU's 3 and 4 hitters and the ball is not at all likely to leave the yard.
VCU will throw Seth Cutler-Voltz against us, and he's got more than just a cool name going for him. SCV is coming off two complete-game wins in a row, and any hope of an upset lies with his right arm. The thing is, though, Cutler-Voltz has yet to throw against anyone worth talking about, and no, JMU doesn't count. Fellow tournament 4-seed Bethune-Cookman is the only opponent resembling a difficult team on Cutler-Voltz's resume, and they shelled him.
Right-hander Winiarski should match up well against VCU's lineup, which figures to trot out just two lefties and no switch-hitters. VCU's non-home-run-hitting lineup is also a better matchup for Cody than the other lineups in the regional, as he's a soft-tosser and has a much greater tendency than our other pitchers to give up home runs. But the bottom line is this: Cody is a weekend starter, and if we can't beat a four-seed, #147-RPI team with a weekend starter, then Omaha was never going to happen anyway.
Outlook for UVA
Keith Werman and Franco Valdes may not have been everyday starters this year, but chances are we'll never see a southpaw this weekend, so look for both to get plenty of at-bats this weekend. Along with Dan Grovatt and Jarrett Parker, that's a solid number of lefties to send to the plate against all these right-handers we'll see; first Cutler-Voltz, then Kern or Barrett, and then whatever poor schlub and his 6+ ERA has to face this lineup after that.
The biggest game is the second one. It's good to be the king; the 1 seed has the luxury of being able to hold back their ace for Saturday, expecting that it won't take your top pitcher to beat Friday's opponent. A win on Saturday either gives us a one-win (vice three-in-a-row) path to victory, or it (heaven forbid we end up in this situation) staves off elimination, so having Hultzen available for that game is huge. Especially if it's against St. John's and their murderer's row.
This is set up very, very nicely for UVA to win. The difference in pitching staffs is a mile wide. No, I'm not spoiled by looking at our own; there are plenty of teams that didn't make this tournament that have deeper and better pitching staffs than the three that got sent to Charlottesville. Even if we have to play Sunday morning in an elimination game, by that time our opponent will have burned through just about every worthwhile pitcher and we'll have Robert Morey. And if we go 2-0 on Friday and Saturday, it's over; some poor used-up staff is going to have to try and win two in a row against Morey and then (probably) Kline. Ain't happening. If we go 2-0, the third game will be a slaughter.
But to get to 2-0, the bats need to perk up. The Miami game was a great reassurance, because the rest of the ACC tournament and a few of the weekends prior were starting to see things go cold at the plate. Still - this weekend could be just the tonic, especially if we never see Drew Pomeranz.