Thursday, April 7, 2011

series preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: April 8-10; 7:00, 6:00, 12:00

TV: none

History against the Jackets: 39-62-2

Last matchup: UVA 2-1 series win (7-4, 7-9, 9-1)

Last game: UVA 2, Radford 0 (4/5); Kennesaw St. 7, GT 6 (4/5)

Last weekend: UVA swept VT; GT 2-1 over Duke

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #2; GT #14
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #1; GT #8
NCBWA: UVA #2; GT #14
Perfect Game: UVA #2; GT #5
Coaches: UVA #2; GT #11
Composite: UVA #2; GT #10

Opposing blogs: From The Rumble Seat

It's a crime this isn't on TV. The biggest matchup of the week in college baseball. Let's get this out there right now: Statistically, Georgia Tech is the more imposing team. The difference is in the schedules, where the mightiest thing Tech has had to deal with is Miami and their anemic lineup, and then maybe St. John's, a middling Big East squad. That hasn't stopped them from achieving a #5 ranking in the RPI.

Tradition dictates that GT games are preceded by skull sessions with the fellows at From The Rumble Seat, so here is some stuff you need to know, straight from the Bird's mouth. The other half is here.

1. Last year GT had one of the most powerful offenses in the nation. Have the new bats dulled the approach at all, or had any effect on GT's success?

Matt Skole was probably every Tech baseball fan's preseason MVP but freshman Kyle Wren and junior Jake Davies have exploded onto the scene in 2011. Both are batting over 0.400. The team as a whole is batting 0.331 and has belted 18 homers against some fairly decent early season competition. I honestly think the average Tech fan thought this would be a rebuilding year but the team has proven it to be anything but.

Danny Hall's approach has always been: "average to good pitching but carry a big stick." GT has the ACC's #1 hitters in terms of doubles, triples, and home runs in ACC play.

2. How is the support from GT fans for their baseball team? Should we expect a big crowd this weekend?

Diehard Tech beesball fans wish more fans would attend games but unfortunately Tech baseball doesn't get the attendance that a top 10 program deserves. UVA will probably garner a good showing as long as the weather holds. Typically, Tech's best attendance is against the dogs of Athens, Clemson, FSU, and other assorted instate foes. ACC teams generally bring in a good crowd. Ranked ACC teams like UVA, Miami, and UNC usually generate some buzz and you'll see a somewhat larger crowd on Friday nights and Saturdays.

3. How long will Danny Hall be coaching? What's the outlook after he retires?

Jim Morris of Miami was Tech's previous head coach and he's 6 years older than Hall. So I'll take the easy answer. When Morris retires, Hall will retire 6 years later. I don't foresee Hall leaving Tech anytime soon. He's got ties to the Midwest and they haven't even started playing college baseball North of Tennessee yet. I don't see any hometown team pulling Hall away before he retires at Tech.

The oulook after Hall leaves is generally pleasant. Danny always says that he gets the big time bats because kids grow up watching the Braves in the Southeast...there aren't football/hoops teams on TV every day. Kids want to be Atlanta Braves around Atlanta. The success in the 90's alongside the TBS deal made the Braves a fixture in every Southern family's home from 1991-2008. Around Georgia, baseball is major business and the kids that are produced from Atlanta, Marietta, Valdosta, Macon, and Savannah form the backbone of a home run hitting machine that is Danny Hall's squad.

4. GT appears to lean heavily on just a couple of pitchers out of the bullpen. Is it because of a thin pen, or starters going deep into their games? Should UVA fans take it as a good sign when Tech goes to the bullpen considering they've been saddled with four of Tech's six losses? (edit: make that five of seven after the result this Tuesday.)

Mark Pope is the king of the pen. He goes pretty deep into games. He's already pitched three complete games and is throwing out an astounding 0.66 ERA this season. Pope earned his stripes in 2010 as the 4th starter dominating every weekday opponent with ease. Tech swept UGA in 2010 behind three stellar Pope performances.

And the bullpen depth is typical of a Danny Hall rotations. There aren't any particularly dominating relievers but the starters haven't really faced a good hitting team that can consistently reach base like UVA.

Concerning the losses, I think the bullpen getting the losses is also a function of Hall's approach to college baseball. He's the opposite of O'Conner. He wants a runner on base for the pitcher to worry about and the batter gets the greenlight. Hence, Tech's 18 homers.

5. Your turn for a prediction.

I'm worried Tech will lose the series 1-2. I think we'll get a good performance from Pope because he doesn't go for strikeouts, Pope wants outs. Pope's style keeps runners off base. Jed Bradley and Buck Farmer should give Tech solid performances but I'm concerned Tech's young bats won't be able to win a 3-2 or 2-1 type game.


So what to make of this Georgia Tech squad, a major contender for the ACC crown and possible super-regional host? It always starts with their bats. It especially starts with their left-handed bats. Tech's ballfield is average sized except to the right-center power alley, where it's a meager 345-350 feet. That's bandboxy. And four of Tech's regulars bat left-handed. Their four best, actually: sluggers Matt Skole, Jake Davies, and Daniel Palka account for 14 of Tech's 18 home runs, and CF Kyle Wren, another lefty, is batting .422. They'll be joined on Saturday and Sunday against our right-handed pitching by switch-hitting Brandon Thomas, giving Tech five of nine positions in the order that bat left-handed and aim for that short fence.

The good news here is that GT also uses two righty starters, and UVA is by no means short on left-handed hitting.

And speaking of those starters, yes. Ace righty Deck McGuire is in the pros now, but the duel between Danny the Destroyer (make that "National Midseason Player of the Year" Danny the Destroyer) and GT's Mark Pope should be just as entertaining. It might be better; last year's Hultzen-McGuire showdown was a dud as neither was on their game. Pope sports a sparkling 0.66 ERA and has pitched three complete games. After him, Tech will throw Jed Bradley and then Buck Farmer, both also pitching exceedingly well. If both teams didn't have such good hitting, the pitching would provide enough conversation as it is. But GT happens to be batting .331 as a team according to the NCAA, good for 7th in the country. UVA, on the other hand, has allowed opponents to bat just .200, so something's gotta give.

Where, then, is the weak point? GT hasn't blown past the competition like these stats say they should. They've struggled, particularly in weekday games, losing contests to the likes of Mercer, Kennesaw State, and Georgia Southern. The answer: bullpen. Statistically they seem fine, but it's a rather thin pen. Pope pitches deep into games (he averages 7 innings even in his non-complete games) so the pen doesn't get much use on Fridays; elsewise they lean mainly on two pitchers, Luke Bard and Dusty Isaacs, both rightys. Bard is allowing opponents a .260 batting average and has been saddled with two losses, including the Kennesaw State one this Tuesday. Isaacs also has a loss, and the pen has five overall. Brian O'Connor's preferred style of play is the perfect weapon here: he loves wearing down opposing starters with walks and parades of baserunners. The sooner we get to the bullpen, the better.

The other way to attack GT goes hand-in-hand with that one: put the ball into play. This is a shaky glove squad, giving up 37 unearned runs all year, an average of more than one a game. They're outside the top 100 in NCAA fielding percentage. What's more, one of the biggest culprits is third baseman Skole, who's big and not very mobile and has seven errors on the season already. (Last year he had 18 for a miserable .896 FP.) Will the bunt sign be on? Bet on it. UVA will be bunting for hits, bunting in hopes of an error, and bunting to move the runners.

Either team would be thrilled with a 2-1 series victory here. GT will want to launch baseballs over the right field fence, and UVA will look to turn the weekend into a question of who can do the little things better. Because of tiebreakers, the winner in a 2-1 series essentially gets a two-game lead on the loser, and this is for the division. Division winners get the top two slots in the ACC tournament, and since nobody in the Atlantic plays any damn baseball except for FSU, at stake here is FSU-avoidance. Winner is fast-tracked to a 1-seed, loser has to get some help to avoid a 3-seed. It's a big thing.

The rest of the ACC this weekend:

North Carolina at Florida State
NC State at Miami; these two series might just determine once and for all if the Atlantic Divison ought to be dumped into the eponymous ocean. This matches the two best teams in the Atlantic against the Coastal's two middle-runners that wouldn't be anywhere near the middle in the opposite division.
Boston College at Duke; might as well include this series in the above category too, except now you're talking about a Coastal bottom-feeder against an Atlantic "contender." But Duke's schedule so far hasn't been kind and they could surprise some people here.
Maryland at Clemson; if Clemson ever wants to get back on track to contention, this is their chance. If they can't win two of three here, then forget about them at all, and they really need a sweep.
Virginia Tech at Wake Forest; CRIPPLE FIGHT! TIMMAH!

1 comment:

Erik said...

the ramblin' wreck said pope was invincible...his .66 ERA is no more following friday night's win :)