Thursday, April 19, 2012

series preview: Duke

Date/Time: Fri-Sun, April 20-22; 6:00, 2:00, 1:00

TV: Nada

Record against the Blue Devils: 87-52

Last matchup: UVA 3-0 over Duke (10-0, 3-2, 18-4); 4/15-4/17/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 7, Richmond 5 (4/17); Davidson 8, Duke 4 (4/17)

Last weekend: UNC 3-0 over UVA (1-2, 2-6, 3-5); Md. 2-1 over Duke (2-4, 2-21, 5-3)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA unranked, Duke unranked
Collegiate Baseball: UVA unranked, Duke unranked
NCBWA: UVA #27, Duke unranked
Perfect Game: UVA #34, Duke unranked
Coaches: UVA #25, Duke unranked
Composite: UVA unranked, Duke unranked

Duke lineup:

C: Mike Rosenfeld (.308-0-17)
1B: Andy Perez (.310-0-10)**
2B: Mark "Oompa" Lumpa (.300-1-7)
3B: Jordan Betts (.234-2-12)
SS: Angelo La Bruna (.191-0-16)
LF: David Perkins (.200-0-8)
CF: Anthony D'Alessandro (.229-0-5)**
RF: Grant McCabe (.301-0-19)
DH: Jeff Kremer (.302-2-9)

**Some notes on the lineup.  Will Piwnica-Worms, owner of the best name in ACC baseball and by far the best hitter in the Duke lineup, is normally the centerfielder.  He's been limited to PH duty the last two weeks, however.  If he's not in the lineup again this week, very bad new for Duke.  Also: Perez is the more-or-less usual first baseman for the Blue Devils, but - despite being tied for the team BA lead - he was lifted for a pinch hitter last Friday against Maryland and hasn't played since.  That screams injury as well, but I haven't been able to find anything.  If he can't go, I don't know who'll play first on Friday but Marcus Stroman will probably start on the other two days.  He hasn't been used much at the plate this year and is hitting .133.

Pitching probables:

Friday: RHP Branden Kline (5-2, 3.02, 63 Ks) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (3-3, 2.05, 93 Ks)
Saturday: LHP Scott Silverstein (2-4, 2.79, 38 Ks) vs. LHP Trent Swart (3-5, 4.05, 47 Ks)
Sunday: RHP Artie Lewicki (1-2, 4.85, 29 Ks) vs. RHP Robert Huber (4-3, 3.35, 31 Ks)

So the ACC lacrosse tournament starts tomorrow, but there won't be any preview because I've told you all I know about UNC.  Plus if we get past UNC then it's pretty much likely that Duke awaits, and my prediction for that hypothetical game is obviously Duke by a billion.

So instead, the Duke baseball team.  Revenge for last week?  Nah - Duke is usually bad and this series doesn't tend to draw a crowd in Durham.  They sit at the bottom of the Coastal standings, and have lost a bunch of games to teams like Campbell, Davidson, and Western Carolina.  Still, they're a little odd, in that when I opened up their stats I expected things to look a lot worse.  14-24 teams don't usually have three decent starting pitchers and five guys batting over .300.  Still, there isn't much to look at.

-- UVA at the plate

One reason Duke loses so many games is because they fail to give their starters any run support, and then the bullpen comes in and blows the game open.  Getting to the pen will be the main goal in each of the three games, because it's garbage; the only pitcher really worth a damn is closer David Putman, and maybe - maybe - other-closer Andrew Istler.  (Istler's ERA is pushing 5.00, though.  So.)

That'll be especially important on Friday, with our hitters having to face Marcus Stroman.  Duke may suck, but Stroman is the real deal.  He's got a fastball that sits 95+ and can reach 98, impressive especially for a guy who's only 5'9".  Stroman's numbers across the board are outstanding and he'll almost certainly be a first-round pick this June.  The most impressive, I think, is the eye-popping 93 strikeouts - 12.7 per nine innings.  Stroman is the complete package, and if Branden Kline is on his game, Friday is set up to be a pretty classic pitching duel.  Our hitters need to work some counts and give themselves a couple innings hitting against Duke's pen.

There's nothing too remarkable about Duke's other starters, except maybe for Robert Huber's 5 BB/9 ratio.  They're hittable, not terrible, just kinda there.  They're better than anyone Duke has in the pen, so the goal for Duke will be for those guys to toss a complete game (Huber did it last week against Maryland) and the goal for us at worst will be to work our way to the bullpen.

Reed Gragnani continues to be out, and the length of time he's been out and the fact that he missed time earlier leads me to believe we shouldn't count on him for the rest of the year.  Too bad - we lose a lot of versatility and a very good top-of-the-lineup bat.  So I don't expect any changes from what we've been seeing so far.

-- UVA in the field

The first thing that jumped out at me when I looked at Duke's stats was "hey, they got a lot of .300 hitters."  At least for a team 10 games below .500.  The second thing was "oh, but like none of their hits are bigger than singles."  Indeed, Duke is a very light-hitting team.  Their team average of .265 isn't completely terrible (last in the conference, but not by much), but their team slugging average of .354 is by far the ACC's worst.

In fact, you'll find Duke at the bottom of almost every category.  Somehow, shortstop Angelo La Bruna is third on the team in RBIs despite having a .191 BA and only two extra-base hits (for a SLG of .209.)  The most dangerous hitter they have is Will Piwnica-Worms and he doesn't look very available.  Piwnica-Worms is tied for the team batting lead at .310, and Andy Perez is the other guy and he might not be available either.

Probably the only other guy on the team with dangerous power is third baseman Jordan Betts, who is a little bit of a strikeout machine.  Other than that - well, basically you've got some guys that'll hit some singles and leg out a triple once in a while.  When they get on base, almost all of them might try to steal, so our pitchers need to keep a weather eye on any baserunner.  (Something they've occasionally forgotten.)  But baserunners will be rarer than we're used to in ACC play, too.

-- Outlook

No sugarcoating: This series is a must-sweep.  Duke has a chance in any game with Stroman on the mound, and so Friday will be crucial.  Kline must be able to match him inning for inning - a task well within his reach given Duke's anemic lineup.  After that, it's basically a question of hitting like we know we can hit.  Duke has averaged three runs a game in ACC play, two when not playing Virginia Tech, so getting to about the five-run mark probably wins us the game.  Winning the series 2-1 would still make the season's goal (18 wins) doable, but much more difficult.  Sweep or die.

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