Friday, June 10, 2011

series preview: UC-Irvine


Saturday, 6/11, 1 PM
Sunday, 6/12, 1 PM
Monday, TBA (if necessary)

TV: Saturday/Sunday, ESPNUVA; Monday ESPN2

History vs. the Anteaters: 2-0

Last matchup: UVA 4, UC-Irvine 1; Irvine, CA; 5/31/09 (NCAA Tournament, Irvine Regional)

Last game: UVA 13, ECU 1 (6/5); UC-Irvine 4, UCLA 3 (6/5)

Last weekend: UVA won Charlottesville Regional, 3-0 record; UC-Irvine won Los Angeles Regional, 3-0 record

National rankings: are either old, don't matter any more, or both

Irvine lineup:

C: Ronnie Shaeffer (.271-1-30)
1B: Jordan Fox (.335-0-25)
2B: Tommy Reyes (.282-0-28)
SS: D.J. Crumlich (.293-1-27)
3B: Brian Hernandez (.351-0-31)
LF: Drew Hillman (.336-5-50)
CF: Christian Ramirez (.294-0-32)
RF: Sean Madigan (.288-1-35)
DH: Jordan Leyland (.294-4-42)

Pitching probables:

Saturday: LHP Danny Hultzen (11-3, 1.57, 148 Ks) vs. RHP Matt Summers (11-2, 1.72, 96 Ks)
Sunday: RHP Tyler Wilson (8-0, 2.34, 111 Ks) vs. LHP Matt Whitehouse (4-0, 2.14, 59 Ks)
Monday: RHP Will Roberts (11-1, 1.61, 90 Ks) vs. RHP Crosby Slaught (7-2, 3.97, 47 Ks)


LHP Jimmy Litchfield (2-1, 2.97, 33 Ks)
RHP Philip Ferragamo (2-0, 2.05, 24 Ks)
RHP Nick Hoover (2-4, 3.48, 23 Ks)
LHP Andy Lines (5-2, 2.60, 26 Ks)
RHP Brian Hernandez (3-2, 3.29, 23 Ks, 12 Sv)

We meet again.  UVA has only ever played UC-Irvine twice in the baseball history of the two schools, but they might've been the most important games in the baseball history of the former.  Prior to those games, UVA had never advanced past the regional stage of the baseball tournament, and national sixth-seed Irvine stood in the way.  Twice.  UVA had played in and even hosted regionals up til then under the guidance of Brian O'Connor, but playing Irvine twice and beating them twice announced to the world that UVA was finally ready to play with the big boys.  (And then showed it wasn't a fluke by beating Ole Miss in the ensuing super-regional.)

Along the way, UVA even made fans of the ESPN announcers, who'd prattled incessantly about "Irvine Baseball" as a style of play - nay, a calling, a way of life - and then when UVA beat them at that game, the announcers conceded that UVA could also play Irvine Baseball.

Admittedly, the two teams have a similar focus in mind when they take the field.  (What irritated UVA fans - besides the incessant talking about only the opposition - was the notion that Irvine had some kind of patent on contact hitting and good defense.)  Irvine has hit even fewer home runs this season than UVA has, so the outfield fans at Davenport won't be taking home many souvenirs this weekend.

Despite the lack of Gerrit Cole in the visitor's dugout, the Saturday pitching matchup is still intriguing, as the Eaters will throw Matt Summers, a fourth-round pick in this week's draft and the highest-chosen Irvine Anteater.  Summers has got the numbers, the Big West pitcher of the year award, and a no-hitter to boot, thrown against Long Beach State the final regular season weekend.  What he's missing is a breaking pitch.  OK, not exactly, but Summers loves his fastball.  A lot.  He's always been a hard thrower, but he's a converted outfielder and just recently figured out how to change velocities and learned a breaking pitch, and his ERA went from the 8s to the 1s in one season.

The Irvine lineup is exactly what you'd expect from a team that plays - ummmm - Irvine Baseball.  Only two home run threats: Drew Hillman and Jordan Leyland (no, not related to Tigers manager Jim) who've hit nine of Irvine's 13 homers.  The lineup hardly even has a top or bottom.  Most of these guys don't go slugging the ball all over the field (a .388 slugging average as a team) and none of the numbers anywhere jump off the page at you, but they're all solid contact hitters who know how to get on base.  Can't relax anywhere in the lineup.  Oh, and there's a deep bullpen.  No more hoping for the opposition to burn up their pitching staff; not gonna happen this weekend.  Strength against strength.

Style of play isn't the only thing that these two teams have in common: there's also the John Olerud Award, handed out to the best two-way player in the country.  Specifically, the semifinalists for said award; both teams have one.  Ours is Guess Who; they have perhaps an even more deserving candidate in Brian Hernandez, who bats .351 as the Irvine starting third baseman and has 12 saves as their closer.

So, two similar teams.  Irvine came out of a tough regional, and two of the five polls even placed them a few notches ahead of UCLA in their final regular season ballots.  There isn't an exploitable weak point on this team like there was on, say, St. John's.  They're no interloper.  That said, Irvine is essentially UVA-lite.  They have a lineup of good contact hitters, yes, but we have a better one.  More slugging and more .300 hitters.  They have some pretty good starting pitching, but, uh, Danny Hultzen.  They have a no-hitter this season.  UVA has a perfect game.  I'd give Irvine the edge in the pen based on depth, but on the other hand, we won't have to substitute our third baseman if we're up 3-2 in the ninth.  And in the ever-popular intangibles department, the Eaters were just 15-11 on the road in the regular season, only played four games outside the state of California (and none east of Spokane or Las Vegas, whichever's further east), and lost all four of them - a sweep at the hands of Gonzaga and a loss to UNLV.  This travel thing is definitely new.  UVA should win this series; if not, we can add another UVA baseball history superlative: biggest disappointment ever.

1 comment:

Va Car said...

Good luck U of Va! Actually, I'm a Kent State fan and Texas knocked us out earlier in the week!