Thursday, March 31, 2011

series preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: April 1-3; 5:30/2:30/1:30

TV: none

History against the Hokies: 84-75

Last matchup: UVA 2-1 series win (4-2, 8-2, 5-8); 4/16-4/18/10; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 2, GWU 0 (3/29); Radford 7, VT 5 (3/29)

Last weekend: UVA 3-0 over Md.; BC 2-1 over VT

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #2; VT unranked
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #1; VT unranked
NCBWA: UVA #2; VT unranked
Perfect Game: UVA #2; VT unranked
Coaches: UVA #1; VT unranked
Composite: UVA #2; VT unranked

Opposing blogs: Gobbler Country

File in the "back to normal" department. After being lauded as a "national power" last season by their mouthpiece in Roanoke, Tech is back to strugglesville in baseball and the Roanoke Times, like Hokie fans the world over, once again disregards college baseball as a sport. (Hey, at least the infamous GWU writeup acknowledged Will Roberts's perfect game. No such luck from the Hokie Times.)

The reason is the massive wave of graduation Tech suffered this year. But some talent remains, and truth be told the Hokies are more dangerous than their 1-8 ACC record and split four-game series with Bryant might indicate. As with most teams, the big advantage we'll have over Tech is in the rotation. Tech will probably go with Joe Mantiply on Friday; he's never been a good pitcher but he's been their Friday starter all season, probably as a sacrificial lamb to the other team's ace. Tech will hope for a bad outing from Danny Hultzen (good luck with that) but otherwise punt to Saturday and Sunday. Marc Zecchino and Joe Parsons will pitch those two against Tyler Wilson and Cody Winiarski, and UVA should hold the advantage in both. Zecchino is probably Tech's best, striking out 42 this season. Parsons has a better ERA but worse peripherals, and Cody's decent-but-pedestrian 3.51 ERA masks a .212 opponents' BA and excellent K/BB ratio.

The Hokie lineup is interesting. The first six hitters are worrisome. Mostly that's the holdovers from last year like Michael Seaborn and Tim Smalling. (Those two are good hitters but butchers in the field. That's the middle infield. They each average an error every four games or so, so expect at some point to see a fielding mishap. UVA hitters should be looking to drive the ball up the middle.) Part of the reason VT's dropoff in the standings isn't hella worse than it already is, is the emergence of Andrew Rash, who came on strong last year and clearly Tech's best hitter now. Eight home runs; a helluva number for this early in the season with these new bats. Tech has hit 29 all season, good enough for sixth nationally, so they can rake at times.

Still, that's two-thirds of the lineup. Tech is still trying to figure out what to do with the other three spots. Chad Morgan hits for average ok but never walks and strikes out too much for a guy with his lack of power. Everyone else hits worse than .220. The UVA lineup doesn't have anywhere near the slugging that Tech does, nor the top-end hitting overall, but it's more consistent 1 through 9. The other thing Tech doesn't have is lefties. Two regular left-handed hitters and no switch-hitters; and other than Mantiply the chances of ever seeing a lefty on the mound are slim. Whenever you do, start salivating 'cause none of 'em are any good.

So Tech has a decent lineup, but it's still a sweep-or-die series. Partly because it's Tech and you know you've missed hearing the VT battle cry: "nobody cares about that sport." But partly because, again, you don't want to run the risk that the other good teams will too. UNC already did, for example. It's a dangerous series because like with Maryland, you really do want the sweep, but unlike with Maryland, Tech actually has the capacity to take two of three. I look for a similar series as last week: a large margin of victory on Friday and then two close ones over the weekend.

Other series this weekend:

Miami @ Boston College - People were expecting a closer series between Miami and GT but Miami doesn't have the bats. This is more their speed, but BC could surprise with a series win. Good chance for BC to solidify their chances for a spot in the ACCT.
Clemson @ North Carolina - Series of the weekend. Clemson's been on shaky ground but this is a great chance for a statement series against a UNC team that I think is slightly overrated.
Georgia Tech @ Duke - Probably a GT sweep.
Florida State @ Maryland - Same for FSU.
Wake Forest @ NC State - Two bottom-feeders jockey for position. Loser has a very tough road to ACCT eligibility.

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