Thursday, March 22, 2012

series preview: Clemson

Date/Time: Fri-Sun, March 23-25, 6:00, 1:00, 1:00

TV: None

History against the Tigers: 45-101

Last matchup: UVA series sweep (5-0, 8-7, 7-6); 3/11-3/13/11; Clemson

Last game: UVA 12, VMI 3 (3/21); Clemson 4, Elon 2 (3/21)

Last weekend: FSU 3-0 over UVA; Clemson 3-0 over BC

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA unranked; Clemson unranked
Collegiate Baseball: UVA unranked; Clemson unranked
NCBWA: UVA #30; Clemson #23
Perfect Game: UVA unranked; Clemson #37
Coaches: UVA unranked; Clemson unranked
Composite: UVA unranked; Clemson unranked

Opposing blogs: Shakin' the Southland

Clemson lineup:

C: Spencer Kieboom (.232-1-9)
1B: Jon McGibbon (.208-1-8)
2B: Steve Wilkerson (.394-0-11)
3B: Richie Shaffer (.358-4-16)
SS: Jason Stolz (.299-1-6)
LF: Dominic Attanasio (.179-0-6)
CF: Thomas Brittle (.259-0-5)
RF: Brad Felder (.208-3-9)
DH: Phil Pohl (.324-3-21)

Pitching probables:

Friday: Scott Silverstein (1-2, 2.22, 28 Ks) vs. Kevin Brady (1-1, 2.89, 31 Ks)
Saturday: Branden Kline (3-2, 3.69, 29 Ks) vs. Dominic Leone (3-1, 5.09, 16 Ks)
Sunday: Artie Lewicki (0-1, 4.95, 17 Ks) vs. Kevin Pohle (3-0, 1.09, 19 Ks)

Before we begin, lemme just get this off my chest: this series always screws with my head because "Tigers baseball" is something I've been a fan of since I was four.  Just not the Clemson version.  Anyway.

I don't like to use the word "reeling," specifically because sportswriters do like it, and it's thus heavily overused.  It'd probably be fair to use it, though, if the Hoos fail to take two of three this weekend.  After blowing two leads in Tallahassee (three, really, but Saturday was so ugly you can't really count it) and going from a chance to take two of three from FSU to getting swept, it'd put a major crimp in this season's plans if we can't get a series win here.  Remember that only the top 8 make the ACC tournament.

-- UVA at the plate

Believe it or not, the Hoos actually lead the conference in batting average.  Hitting was not really the problem last weekend, although despite the ACC-leading numbers, the bats aren't quite what we're used to.  Production has been solid, but not spectacular.

Clemson has an extreme dearth of left-handed pitching; there are just two southpaws on the roster, one of whom hasn't pitched at all and the other having thrown just 1.1 innings.  The full diet of right-handed throwers means we may not see much of Mitchell Shifflett; the outfield is where the lineup has the most flexibility, and you should expect mostly to see the switch-hitting Reed Gragnani and lefty Mike Papi.  (Shifflett is batting .400, so will he sit the whole weekend?  Uh, no.  But still.)

Friday's starter Kevin Brady is a real flamethrower; his fastball sits in the mid 90s, easy, and reaches 96.  A tough assignment for college hitters.  On Saturday, the Hoos will face Dominic Leone, whose ERA for the season sat at 6.61 before he was able to work that down a bit against Boston College's anemic lineup.  (Why why why can't we play BC this year?  On second thought - we lost to them once, so forget it.  Ugh.)  Leone's K/BB ratio is a fingernail's width above 1, not a good sign for his future.  Sunday, there's Kevin Pohle, whose 1.09 ERA looks gaudy, but is bound to rise; he's allowing a .263 opponent's BA and by himself has given up one-fourth of the extra-base hits allowed by Clemson pitching.

Overall, the UVA bats should be able to find success, particularly on Saturday and Sunday.  Fireballers like Brady can be unpredictable, but Brady is probably the best pitcher on either squad.  If UVA can get past him and get a Friday win, we can start feeling very good about the weekend at large.

-- UVA in the field

Surprisingly, Whit Mayberry will not get a start this weekend; I can only guess that's the result of the arm trouble that shut him down early last Monday.  Ugh ugh ugh.  After a sparkling outing last Sunday, Branden Kline gets the same spot in the rotation this week, and Artie Lewicki will take Mayberry's place in the rotation.

Clemson's lineup is alternately frightening and laughable.  You've got to be extra careful pitching to Richie Shaffer, who has four homers already and is hitting .358, and has 21 walks too.  In other words he's like Clemson's version of St. James Ramsey, only without the ability to cure cancer.  (Probably.)  Leadoff hitter Steve Wilkerson is hitting .394, and if he walked a little more he'd approach a .500 OBP.  Phil Pohl is also a worthy hitter.

However, it drops off pretty quick, and pretty steeply.  Clemson hasn't been able to settle on a left fielder, because neither Dominic Attanasio nor Tyler Slaton can get themselves to the Mendoza Line.  At first base, which ought to be a position of production, Jon McGibbon is hitting .208.  So is RF Brad Felder, but at least he's like a miniature Rob Deer with a little pop to go with his terrible batting average.

At least there's lefty-righty balance; the whole outfield bats left-handed, as does McGibbon, and Wilkerson is a switch-hitter.  Still, the key is getting past the top four hitters.  There might not be a more disparate lineup in the conference.  The top of it is why anyone thinks Clemson is any good.  Five through nine is why they might not make the NCAA tourney.

-- Outlook

Must get the series win here.  Taking only one game would drop us to 3-6 and give us a tremendous uphill climb, and the tourney committee will not look kindly upon the Wright State/Seton Hall debacle.  We have to make up for our OOC screwups with a strong showing in the conference, and we're not gonna have a strong showing in-conference if we can't beat flawed teams like Clemson.  The Tigers, too, are fighting for their tournament lives, and probably saying the same thing.  It's only March and we already face must-win scenarios?  Sadly, yes.

No comments: