Friday, April 26, 2013

series preview: VT

Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 26-28; 5:30, 2:00, 1:00

TV: None

Record against the Hokies: 91-76

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over VT (8-10, 4-3, 6-5); 3/9-3/11/12, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 16, JMU 8 (4/24); VT 9, VMI 6 (4/23)

Last weekend: UVA 3-0 over FSU (9-2, 2-0, 5-2); VT 2-1 over Md. (9-10, 11-0, 3-2)

National rankings:

(Just for brevity's sake, UVA is #5 in every single poll, and VT is, obviously, unranked.)

Virginia Tech lineup:

C: Mark Zagunis (.323-6-40)
1B: Sean Keselica (.316-4-25)
2B: Brendon Hayden (.201-4-23)
3B: Chad Pinder (.339-4-23)
SS: Alex Perez (.197-1-14)
LF: Tyler Horan (.335-5-32)
CF: Gary Schneider (.336-2-11)
RF: Andrew Rash (.325-7-47)
DH: Chad Morgan (.223-1-12)

Lineup notes: Schneider starts most games, but at times he'll get bumped to right field, and Kyle Wernicki (.229-2-10) will start in center.  Morgan is behind the plate occasionally.  Matt Dauby (.269-0-6) is a top pinch-hitting option, often for the left-handed, light-hitting Perez as Dauby is a right-hander.

Pitching probables:

Friday: LHP Brandon Waddell (3-1, 3.42, 58 K) vs. RHP Brad Markey (3-3, 5.82, 46 K)
Saturday: LHP Scott Silverstein (7-0, 3.00, 48 K) vs. LHP Joe Mantiply (3-0, 3.60, 30 K)
Sunday: RHP Nick Howard (5-3, 2.15, 46 K) vs. RHP Devin Burke (6-3, 3.59, 28 K)

Note: Tech is listing Sunday starter as TBA.  Unless something happened to Devin Burke, that's who they've thrown the last two Sundays.

The Hokies seem to have two kinds of baseball seasons.  In the first kind, they suck.  In the second kind, they suck after carrying high expectations into the year.  This is the latter.  Excellent hitting stats belie a losing ACC record, as their pitching has been spotty and unsettled.  VT isn't actually horrible, but still, at risk of missing out on the ACC tournament, and if that ends up being the case, probably the NCAAs as well.  This was supposed to be a big year for the Hokies, though; whatever happens, they've fallen short of expectations.

-- UVA at bat

Tech has used a few different starting pitchers on weekends this year; one of the few constants is that they keep sending Brad Markey out to get shellacked.  Go to any weekend series, pick the game in which Tech gave up the most runs (there's always an obvious choice) and usually - not always, but usually - the starting pitcher was Markey.  The worst bombing he's taken this year was against UNC, in which he was mercifully pulled in the fourth inning after giving up 12 runs on 12 hits and facing almost eight batters per inning.

For Saturday, Joe Mantiply is a little bit more of a dependable option for the Hokies.  Mantiply is a senior who came in as a soft-tosser with a sub-85 fastball, and has gotten himself up to around 90.  He's generally a pitch-to-contact guy who doesn't overpower, and he's kind of playing with fire this year in allowing a .304 BA.  Devin Burke, if that's who we see on Sunday, is more of a time bomb that can go off on either us or them, depending.  Burke has solid stuff, but walks almost as many as he strikes out and has hit seven batters.  Both he and Markey have tossed complete games, but when Markey goes downhill he gets bombed, and when Burke goes downhill he gets wild.

As bullpen philosophies go, Pete Hughes - Tech's coach - is no Captain Hook.  He likes to let his pitchers go til they're in trouble rather than play chess games, and leans on righties Clark Labitan and Jake Joyce in particular, which means long relief outings for both.  Tech's pen is not thin, but it's not deep either - more or less average.

Worth noting as well: Tech's .959 FP is the worst in the ACC.  No one player is especially the culprit, it's just a slightly less adept glove squad all around.

-- VT at bat

Similar to how you don't get into the UVA lineup if you don't bunt, it seems as if you don't get into the Hokie lineup if you don't hit at least a few home runs.  The lineup has power top to bottom; even light-hitting shortstop Alex Perez, a few points shy of the Mendoza Line and with an OPS that can't find .600 with a map, has a home run to his name.  Andrew Rash has 7 yard shots and Mark Zagunis 6, but that's the upper limit for an individual.  VT is only two shy of GT and UNC for the ACC lead, but without that one particular masher to make you tremble.  It's a group effort.

Overall, though, VT gets their offensive contributions primarily from six players.  The rest are pretty bad.  And it's a free-swinging bunch; Perez leads the team with 29 walks, but the team total is only 142, almost 100 fewer than UVA.  If Perez drew walks at a rate more like his teammates, his OPS would be in the exceedingly lame .400 range.  Only Zagunis can also be said to be reasonably patient.

For this reason, Zagunis is probably the Hokies' top hitter.  That and he's their top basestealer at 15-for-18.  Which is odd for a catcher.  In all, six hitters are above .300, and then nobody else is above .230 except for the singles-hitting (and mostly pinch-hitting) Matt Dauby.  Perez and Brendon Hayden sit right around .200.

Obviously, then, as long as UVA can prevent the top six guys in the order from stringing anything together, they'll be fine.  Crummy 7-8-9 hitting and the aforementioned inconsistent pitching are the reasons VT has struggled to keep its head above water in the ACC this year.

One final thing for our fielders: since UVA's last visit, Tech installed one of those all-artificial surfaces that includes the infield, which is now just brown-painted fieldturf.  I would hate that for sliding, myself, but it'll also give the infielders something to think about.

-- Outlook

One nice thing these days about UVA-VT hoops matchups is you generally know UVA will be the better-coached, more-disciplined team.  The same applies here.  Tech's free-swinging, fielding-sometimes-optional nature is basically the antithesis of Brian O'Connor baseball.  UVA should win this series.  If Tech's bats get hot at the right time, they'll take a game, and if they get on fire all weekend and their pitching puts together more than one find-the-plate day, they could conceivably win two games.  Unlikely, though; UVA should expect a series win and aim for the sweep.

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