Thursday, May 10, 2012

series preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Fri-Sun, 5/11-5/13; 6:00, 1:00, 1:00

TV: Friday and Sunday on UVA's live stream only; Saturday on ACC regional networks and ESPN3

Record against the Jackets: 42-64-2

Last matchup: UVA 2-1 over GT; 4/8-4/10/11; Atlanta

Last game: UVA 12, High Point 3 (5/9); GT 8, UGA 6 (5/9)

Last weekend: UVA bye; GT 3-0 over Charlotte (9-0, 6-3, 6-5)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #21; GT unranked
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #23; GT unranked
NCBWA: UVA #21; GT unranked
Perfect Game: UVA #22; GT #38
Coaches: UVA #22; GT unranked
Composite: UVA #22; GT unranked

Georgia Tech lineup:

C: Zane Evans (.292-1-35)
1B: Jake Davies (.335-8-54)
2B: Thomas Smith (.338-0-9)
3B: Sam Dove (.349-2-23)
SS: Mott Hyde (.272-5-25)
LF: Brandon Thomas (.366-3-36)
CF: Kyle Wren (.276-2-20)
RF: Daniel Palka (.315-11-42)
DH: Paul Kronenfeld (.293-3-20)

Lineup notes: I don't know if Thomas is available.  I looked for injury news and couldn't find any, but he missed the last two games of GT's last series as well as the UGA game.  If he doesn't play, GT will platoon Daniel Spingola (.389-0-2) and Evan Martin (.233-0-2) in left.  Davies is also the new Saturday starter, and he bats for himself; Palka takes over first and Kronenfeld plays right with Davies on the hill.

Pitching probables:

Friday: RHP Branden Kline (6-3, 3.52, 76 Ks) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (7-3, 3.20, 90 Ks)
Saturday: LHP Scott Silverstein (2-4, 3.81, 40 Ks) vs. LHP Jake Davies (0-1, 3.45, 11 Ks)
Sunday: RHP Artie Lewicki (3-2, 4.30, 35 Ks) vs. RHP Cole Pitts (4-4, 4.60, 51 Ks)

In hindsight, I really should've expected the Hoos to sweep Miami two weeks ago; the final exam break always comes when they're playing their best ball.  But if yesterday's game is any indication, maybe this is the year they stay sharp during the break.

UVA currently sits two games behind UNC in the division standings, which is really three games because they won the series.  And don't be expecting a miracle catch-up; UNC finishes the season with Duke and VT.  No, the Hoos are likely to have to settle for second.  Still, at 14-10 all they have to do is simply win two series against two losing teams (in conference play) and they'll reach the 18-game level after all.  An outside shot at hosting a regional remains in play here.

In years past this was one of the top series on the whole ACC docket.  This isn't the GT we remember though.  There's no Deck McGuire to face off against Danny Hultzen, with both teams featuring monster lineups.  The clankbats sapped GT of the awesome home run prowess they displayed in 2010.  They still have a dangerous lineup, but the pitching is suspect and the Jackets have lost games this year that in the past they'd have won by ten.

-- UVA at the plate

The Hoos continue to lead the ACC in batting average, still a hair over .300, which I didn't expect to be able to say after facing Miami's pitching roster.  Stephen Bruno's been on a tear in the last month and a half, and Nate Irving has boosted his average almost 50 points in that same time.  The ability to string together opportunistic hits against Miami was highly encouraging; the Hoos had been showing a propensity to crush lousy pitching and wilt against good stuff.

GT has a little of both - but leans more toward the lousy side.  They had an excellent staff last year, and the only holdover in the rotation is Friday starter Buck Farmer.  Farmer's a big righty who could be a top-five-rounds pick in the draft this summer and has decent command of four pitches.  It's no Hultzen vs. McGuire, but he and Branden Kline should have a good duel tomorrow night.

GT's best arm comes out of the bullpen, though, to close out games: Luke Bard and his 0.99 ERA made Keith Law's top-100 list of MLB draft prospects.  However, this is where it starts to get thin.  After GT's series against UNC, righty Dusty Isaacs was removed from the rotation; understandable as UNC shellacked him and boosted his ERA to 7.66.  Isaacs had also walked 35 hitters and struck out only 36.  GT had to resort to Jake Davies to replace him; Davies is mostly a position player, but can be a decent pitcher.  It's not likely Davies will go long enough to earn a decision, however, as he's only pitched 15 innings this year.  Isaacs, by the way, was only in because the guy they wanted to pitch on Saturdays, Matt Grimes, is out for the season.

On Sunday, GT will deploy the very hittable Cole Pitts; Pitts is allowing a .301 opponents' BA this year.  Not at all good.  That combines, by the way, with Davies's .310 number in that regard, though with much less of a sample size.

Bard has a great arm, but the rest of the GT bullpen is rather thin.  There's one outstanding middle reliever: righty Alex Cruz.  Cruz is a long reliever with a 1.74 ERA and a .156 opponents' BA; last weekend he finished the game started by Davies and pitched 4.1 innings.  He may do the same again; GT's ideal pitching plan probably goes something like: Farmer with a long outing on Friday and Bard with the save, Davies surviving until Cruz can take over on Saturday, and a monsoon on Sunday.  After Cruz and Bard, the next-best guy in the pen was Davies, and now it's another guy who only moonlights as a pitcher: catcher Zane Evans.  Josh Heddinger is relied on for a lot of innings, and relied on by opponents for a lot of runs.  Unless it's Cruz or Bard, you're going to like the ERAs posted on the screen when a Tech pitcher comes in from the pen, and there's real potential here for some batting averages to get a lift.

-- UVA in the field

The reason GT wins any games with a shaky and beaten-up pitching staff is because they hit.  They don't crank home runs at the ludicrous pace they used to - and nobody ever will again - but they still hit.  There won't be any weak spots in the lineup.

Brandon Thomas is fourth in the ACC in hitting at .366, although as noted above, I'm not sure if he's available.  This wouldn't be like Miami missing Peter O'Brien, though.  The lineup's "weakest" hitter is shortstop Mott Hyde, who bats .272, but with five homers.  CF Kyle Wren bats .276 and has very little power, but does have the speed to turn doubles into triples; he has six of the latter.  Other than those two, no regular hits below .292.

The lineup's power hitters are Daniel Palka with 11 home runs, and Jake Davies with eight.  Davies doesn't come out of the lineup when he pitches.  Also to watch out for: 3B Sam Dove, batting .349 with 13 doubles.  GT has four players with 12 or more doubles; UVA has just one (Stephen Bruno.)

If the lineup is still missing Thomas, they'll miss him greatly; he's got good enough power to be second on the team in slugging average as well as leading in batting average, and his replacements are unproven.  Daniel Spingola is batting .389, sure, but that's in just 18 at-bats.  Evan Martin is hitting just .233.  The two will probably form a lefty-righty platoon in Thomas's absence, meaning the lefty-batting Spingola would start Friday and Sunday and Martin on Saturday.

Still, even without Thomas the GT lineup would be worrisome.  Scott Silverstein really needs to get his control issues under, uh, control.  He had a solid warm-up outing yesterday against High Point, tossing two innings and allowing two hits and more importantly, no walks.  A good start, and it was only meant to be a short one since he's needed on Saturday.  It's got to be repeated or the drumbeat will only grow louder for he and Shane Halley to switch roles.

-- Outlook

Only Duke and Boston College have worse team ERAs than Georgia Tech's 4.40.  In a related development, those are also the two conference teams with losing season records.  So it's easy to pinpoint why GT is 10-14 and at some risk of not making the ACC tournament - they're tied for 8th with the other Tech and only one game ahead of Wake Forest.

The Jackets can be dangerous because of their bats, and our pitching is not what you'd call consistent.  However, you have to think our own bats are salivating at the chance to hit this patchwork pitching corps.  And with the series at Davenport, it ought to be home sweet home.  I fully expect the Hoos to win this series and give themselves the chance to head into the ACC tournament in two weeks with a ton of momentum.

1 comment:

BHarsha said...

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