Thursday, April 14, 2011

series preview: Duke

Date/Time: April 15-17; 6:00 Fri, 1:00 Sun, 4:00 Sun (doubleheader)**
History against the Devils: 84-52-1

Last matchup: UVA 3-0 sweep; 4/30-5/2; Durham

Last game: UVA 8, Coastal Carolina 7 (4/13); Duke 7, Davidson 5 (4/12)

Last weekend: UVA 2-1 series win over GT (6-2, 12-9, 8-10); Duke 2-1 series loss to BC (10-6, 3-5, 4-6)

National rankings:

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

Opposing blogs: baseball not included

**schedule change due to weather forecast

Part of the reason I'm so bullish on the fortunes of the baseball team is because they've flashed the ability to win games like last night's against Coastal Carolina - tight, and necessitating a ninth-inning comeback - without relying on it.  I'd've actually watched, but the Red Wings were on.  Playoff hockey, see.  Not much is ever allowed to get in the way of that.  Fortunately, this weekend the Wings are playing on Saturday, which is the one day the UVA video service isn't serving baseball.  And the lacrosse game is on actual TV, which means DVR to the rescue.

I was a little enthusiastic about the prospects for Duke's season when I wrote my conference season preview, and since then the Blue Devil bats have cooled off considerably and they still haven't figured out a pitching rotation.  Duke's pitching has been getting bombed in ACC play, allowing a 6.29 ERA and opposing batters to hit .329.  Anyone's guess is as good as mine as to who our hitters will face this weekend.  Dennis O'Grady is the only Duke pitcher to start a game every weekend but he's also been getting lit up the worst.  Marcus Stroman will probably start a game, and he tends to pitch well and then watch the bullpen piss away his hard work.  Freshman Dillon Haviland seems to be the lefty in the rotation for now, but he strikes out nobody.

There are still some bats to look out for in Duke's lineup, but the pitching ranges from sometimes-OK to horrendous.  UVA's lineup doesn't look all that gargantuan statistically, but this is a patient, patient bunch and they'll mash bad pitching.  As for Duke's hitting, well....the Duke game preview guy brags that of Danny Hultzen's two career losses, Duke was responsible for one.  That's cool, sure, and it was of course back in 2009 when Danny was a freshman.  Duke can hit for average fairly well, but they're not much on slugging.  They like to make up for that by stealing bases whenever possible and they're actually rather good at it.  John Hicks is doing a great job cutting down baserunners, and his arm will get a test this weekend.  Of course, you can't steal if you don't get on base, and the K/BB ratio of Duke's batters is as bad as we've seen all year outside of the Hammerin' Hokies.

It's another sweep-or-die weekend.  The margin of error admittedly is getting a little larger, but still.  I was maybe a year off when I said Duke looked like an ACC tournament team; the future is still bright, but not the immediate future.  The pitching in Durham is too poor.  There's hitting, and we could see some high-scoring action, but most of it should be in the bottom halves of innings.  I'm hoping to watch the Hoos light up the scoreboard, and to finally learn how to pronounce Piwnica-Worms.

Rest of the ACC:

Florida State at Virginia Tech
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech; see why the Duke series is sweep-or-die?  Because these two teams will.  The Wake-GT series especially looks like a complete slaughter in the making.
Clemson at Boston College; another big must-win for Clemson.  It's not out of the question BC could steal two of three here.
North Carolina at NC State; probably another sweep in the offing, but it's a rivalry series, especially for the Pack, so who knows?
Miami at Maryland; Miami still is playing above their necks with an anemic lineup.  This looks like it should be a sweep and a slaughter but don't be surprised to see the Terps grab one.

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