Wednesday, May 23, 2012

acc baseball tourney preview

Here we are.  And if you're surprised at that, then you haven't been reading or you very unwisely disagreed with me.  Don't do that.  Where is here?  18 ACC wins (for a record of 18-12) and a four seed in the ACC tourney.  I guess I thought that would be good for a five seed, so technically, they overachieved.  The only difference in that, though, is the order in which we play the 8 and 1 seeds, so whatever.

For the uninitiated, the ACC tournament isn't a typical one.  In order to save pitching staffs and yet include as many teams as feasible, it goes like this: the top eight teams are divided into two round-robin pods, and the winner of each pod plays on Sunday for the title.  Seeds 1, 4, 5, 8 are Pool A and 2, 3, 6, 7 are Pool B.  Borrrriiiing - they missed an opportunity to call them Pool Snuffleupagus and Pool Jiminycricket, but I guess there's a reason I'm not in charge of this stuff. 

Anyway, the format lends itself to being a complete crapshoot; the only time since the advent of this format that the championship game has matched up the #1 seed with the #2 was last year, when your Hoos defeated FSU.  In 2010 it was the #5 FSU over #7 NC State; the year before, you might remember it was UVA winning as the 6th seed.  The 8 seed has made the championship game more than the three seed.

So, being the four seed is no obstacle - though the four seed has never made it to the title game either.  Here are the opponents UVA will face, in order of when we'll face them:

-- #5 Clemson
Thursday, 11 AM

The Hoos swept Clemson way back in March, but none of the games were blowouts (6-3, 5-1, 5-3).  That was way back when Scott Silverstein was pitching Fridays and Branden Kline on Saturdays.  The Tigers finished 16-14 in the regular season, helped along at the end by a series win over slumping Florida State, and otherwise beat who you'd think they should and lost to who you'd think they should.

Branden Kline gets the start for UVA - Brian O'Connor is looking to get off to a strong start.  He'll go against Daniel Gossett, whom the Hoos didn't face at all during the regular season series.  This isn't Clemson's ace, but he's an interesting matchup; Gossett leads his team in strikeouts, but is also the wildest pitcher they have.  He's probably good for a few walks, and will probably hit a batter or two, but is also tough to hit.

-- #8 Georgia Tech
Friday, 11 AM

GT, on the other hand, we have recent experience with.  The eight seed, they got in by one game (and had the tiebreaker) over the other Tech, and finished with a 12-18 record.  The usually fearsome Jackets only won three series all year, two against teams that didn't make the tourney.

The hope here is that they blew their wad today - they used their one good starting pitcher, Buck Farmer, against Florida State, and pulled off the 5-4 win.  (See what I mean about a crapshoot?)  And they used reliever Alex Cruz for three innings, meaning his availability on Friday is questionable.  Cruz held UVA to one run and three hits over 5.2 innings of relief on Sunday a couple weeks ago, and earned the win by pitching into the 10th where the game was lost.

So we don't know who'll start, as neither starter has been announced, but GT's choices aren't very palatable.  It'll probably be either Cole Pitts or Jake Davies, both of whom we knocked out of the box early during the regular season.  For UVA, I'd guess BOC will stick with the regular rotation and go with Silverstein.  If we beat Clemson on Thursday, there's a chance our spot in the title game could be clinched with another win here.  How?  It'd also require Clemson to beat FSU in the game following ours.

-- #1 Florida State
Saturday, 3:00 PM

That clinchy stuff isn't real likely, though.  Usually it comes down to the last game.  This one's a rematch of the most torturous series of the whole season; UVA held leads in all three games and blew all three games, and on national TV, too.  3-0 in the 4th, 3-1 in the 8th, 5-4 in the 8th, and boom; swept.  3-run 8th innings doomed the Hoos.  (We also debuted those ugly battleship-gray uniforms.  I wouldn't mind them if one of our school colors were battleship gray.)

Mike Compton, a 2.96 pitcher, gets the probable start for FSU, and my guess is we'll send Artie Lewicki to the hill.  Compton pitched on Sunday (the second game of the series) against us in the regular season, and we scratched out three runs against him, which was almost enough.

FSU is slumping a little bit - at one point they were 23-2 in conference play, but finished 3-4 and 4-5 overall.  And now, the loss to eight-seeded GT.  Still not to be taken lightly, obviously.  Remember, they have James Ramsey, who is so good that his home runs fix broken windshields, and every time he touches first base a starving Ethiopian child gets a meal.  At least if you believe the ESPN announcers.

Should we make it through the random-number generator that is the round robin, the championship game will be played against one of UNC, NC State, Wake Forest, or Miami, at noon on Sunday.

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