Thursday, May 30, 2013

charlottesville regional preview

I just watched this again.  You should too.  Pretty sure it's required by law when entering the NCAA baseball tournament.

It's that time of year again.  This is this blog's fifth season and in only one of those years has UVA failed to host a regional (and that happened to be the program's first-ever trip to Omaha) so we are growing accustomed to success around here.  Also fourth straight year hosting.  And UVA will be heavily favored this weekend to advance, possibly in the minimum three games, and host a super-regional against whichever team finds their way out of the Starkville regional.

None of that actually helps win games, though.  So it's time to find out what UVA is up against this year.

UNC-Wilmington Seahawks
Conference: CAA
Record: 37-21 (18-8)
RPI: #29


C: Drew Farber (.246-3-38) (R)
1B: Matt Keeler (.297-2-15) (L)
2B: Michael Bass (.387-4-34) (R)
SS: Terence Connelly (.286-1-24) (L)
3B: Ryan LaGrange (.372-5-37) (R)
LF: Luke Dunlap (.338-6-44) (R)
CF: Andy Austin (.200-0-6) (L)
RF: Tyler Molinaro (.249-11-33) (L)
DH: Corey Dick (.277-8-37) (L)

Lineup notes:

-- Keeler is a midseason replacement for UNCW's all-time hits leader, Hunter Ridge, who must have done something pretty bad because he was suspended for the duration of the season in April. 

-- The Seahawks typically inserted Josh Abshire (.235-0-4) at catcher for one game each weekend; whether that happens during the tourney is anyone's guess.  Both Abshire and Farber bat right-handed so it's clearly a rest thing, not a platoon.

-- There's been no continuity at center field.  Austin has started most of the recent games; the equally light-hitting Christian Wolfe (.210-2-11) has been another option.  In the final regular season game, the Seahawks tried Luis Renvill (.272-1-13) out there to try and get his bat into the lineup.  P.S. no, I didn't forget an E at the end of his name.

Starting rotation:

LHP Mat Batts (9-3, 3.07, 110 Ks)
RHP Jordan Ramsey (6-6, 2.36, 82 Ks)
LHP Christian MacDonald (4-1, 4.02, 26 Ks)
RHP Blaze Tart (3-4, 4.40, 30 Ks)


LHP Kelly Secrest (3-1, 3.73, 52 Ks)
RHP Ricky Holden (5-1, 4.62, 29 Ks)
RHP Justin Livengood (1-2, 1.93, 47 Ks)
RHP Jack Lane (2-2, 5.91, 16 Ks)
RHP Evan Phillips (2-0, 4.26, 13 Ks)

Wilmington is the region's #2 seed, and all due respect to the CAA's best team (until tournament time rolled around) but just about any UVA fan would take that over, say, Oklahoma, or some other team from a major conference.  Scuttlebutt has it that UNCW will start ace lefty and CAA pitcher of the year Mat Batts against Elon in the first game, so if this is UVA's Saturday opponent, UVA will likely face righty Jordan Ramsey.  Ramsey is a harder thrower but with less polish than Batts, rather less durable (Batts tossed six complete games this year), and has been battling a blister.

Later games against UNCW would involve some much more hittable pitchers.  Christian MacDonald pitches to a lot of contact with a very low strikeout total.  Weekday starter Blaze Tart is a guy with an injury history - this is his first season back from elbow trouble that cost him half of 2011 and all of 2012.  Opposing hitters are hitting .325 off of him; this has partly to do with the fact that UNCW's midweek opponent is often an NC State or a UNC, and Tart has been getting beaten up by ACC opponents.

The bullpen is largely bereft of left-handers, except for closer Kelly Secrest.  It's probably not a worrisome one.  Justin Livengood's ERA looks shiny, but he's prone to wildness (24 walks in 32.2 innings as well as five hit batsmen.)  In fact, most of the regular relievers have just as many hit batsmen as the starters do, in one-third the innings.  Freshman Evan Phillips actually has a K/BB ratio below one.  (13 Ks, 20 walks.)  I'm not concerned about the pen.

The Seahawks generally have made their living with their bats.  They have some power up and down the lineup, led by Tyler Molinaro's 11 home runs.  Their slugging percentage leader is also their stolen base leader - that would be 2nd baseman Michael Bass, who legs a lot of singles into doubles, and is dangerous even if he stays at first, as he's been successful on 24 of 25 steal attempts.  Other than Bass, the Seahawks don't steal much, but they do like the sac bunt.  Luis Renvill has the most with 13, and Terence Connelly and Ryan LaGrange each have eight. 

LaGrange and Bass are the top hitters for average; those two plus Luke Dunlap comprise the .300 club on this team, and none are just slap hitters.  All have some pop.  UNC-Wilmington expects production from every spot in the lineup, although it gets a little light at the very tail end of it.

Overall, UVA should have a healthy respect for the bats here, but there's a significant dropoff in pitching quality after the first two games.  UNC-W could be dangerous on Saturday, but we won't have to face Mat Batts (most likely) and sooner or later our bats will get a shot at the Seahawk bullpen and the back of their rotation, a matchup which could produce fireworks.

Elon Phoenix
Conference: Southern
Record: 32-28 (18-11)
RPI: #71


C: Alex Swim (.267-1-44) (L)
1B: Ryan Kinsella (.321-20-75) (L)
2B: Wil Leathers (.249-2-20) (R)
SS: Antonio Alvarez (.296-4-39) (S)
3B: Danny Lynch (.250-2-15) (L)
LF: Casey Jones (.268-0-16) (L)
CF: Sebastian Gomez (.332-1-3) (R)
RF: Quinn Bower (.263-1-22) (R)
DH: Chris King (.314-3-22) (L)

Lineup notes:

-- Elon's lineup is one of the more fluid ones you're likely to see.  Things are subject to change, a lot, and so much so that it's not worth going into every possible lineup combo.  This one is a basic, nominal lineup that'll probably have at least one change in it somewhere.

-- Most notably, third base is a place for getting a lot of guys some at-bats.  Joey Tomko (.280-1-16) and Chris Bresnahan (.270-0-11) are other possibilities to fill that slot.  Both are right-handed hitters, so if we play Elon and toss a lefty, they're more likely to play than the left-handed Lynch.

-- Bresnahan, in fact, is a jack-of-all-trades infielder who's started everywhere but 1B and seen time at all four spots.

-- Outfield is also prone to shuffling.  Blaine Bower (Quinn's twin brother, hitting .262-1-12) may also start.  Gomez is rarely pulled from the lineup but at times plays elsewhere than center.  Chris Schaedel (.302-0-3) has only nine starts but lots of pinch-hit appearances.

-- And yes, there are lot of different guys who DH, as well.  Not even going to go into the whole list.

Starting rotation:

RHP Kyle Webb (7-3, 3.66, 92 Ks)
LHP Dylan Clark (6-4, 3.86, 54 Ks)
LHP Spencer Medick (7-6, 5.09, 71 Ks)


LHP Andrew MacDonald (4-1, 2.33, 32 Ks)
RHP Jacob Baker (0-2, 7.68, 40 Ks)
RHP Nate Young (2-1, 5.03, 33 Ks)
LHP Tyler Manez (1-3, 6.90, 27 Ks)
LHP Ryan Pennell (2-2, 5.33, 21 Ks)
RHP John Antonelli (1-0, 7.66, 17 Ks)

Yeah, Elon's pitching staff is as unpredictable as their lineup.  The more or less undisputed fact is that Kyle Webb is the ace, and it looks like he'll go on Friday against UNC-Wilmington.  He's probably the only pitcher Elon has that's capable of shutting down the Seahawk lineup enough to get past them and into the winner's bracket game on Saturday.

After that, I throw up my hands.  Who Elon might start against us on Saturday, if we do play them, I don't feel like venturing a guess.  Dylan Clark is a possibility, except that he didn't start at all in the many-gamed SoCon tournament.  Elon instead used a few guys (MacDonald, Young) that had barely started a game all season, if at all.  And it's not like they were saving anyone.  The SoCon is a one-bid league this year and it was win or go home.

This all said, Elon is one of the very lowest-ranked regional 3 seeds in the whole tourney.  There's a pretty big gap between the Fighting Christians and the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, and our chances of not playing them at all look pretty good.  Most of the lineup pieces are pretty interchangeable.  Not too many scary pieces.  I'd be remiss, of course, in not mentioning 1B Ryan Kinsella (who unfortunately is not from Iowa.)  Kinsella donked 20 homers this year, and with only one multi-homer game as well.  Very, very tough hitter no matter how you slice it, and the pride of the Elon lineup.  Beyond that, there are some steal threats - Quinn Bower was 20-for-21, and Alex Swim, 15-for-18, and Elon likes to move baserunners that way.  You can expect at least a couple steal attempts.  And Sebastian Gomez hit .332 this season.

Otherwise, it's a team on the light-hitting side for a tourney participant.  And Webb is a solid pitcher, but unless Elon subscribes to my save-your-ace-for-game-2 theory (and they probably won't get past Wilmington's lineup if they do) we'll never have to worry about him.  If we do play Elon, it's probably in the loser's bracket; if all goes as planned in the regional, we won't see them.

Army Black Knights
Conference: Patriot League
Record: 29-21 (11-9)
RPI: #204


C: Andrew Johnson (.266-0-13)
1B: Patrick Mescher (.345-2-40)
2B: Grant Van Orden (.235-0-12)
SS: Alex Jensen (.297-3-38)
3B: Harold Earls (.253-0-20)
LF: Michael Sands (.221-1-13)
CF: Jacob Page (.314-3-35)
RF: Jon Crucitti (.271-0-6)
DH: Mark McCants (.315-0-23)

Lineup notes:

-- The one real platoon is at second base, where Grant Van Orden splits time with Justin Reece (.236-0-10).  Army doesn't provide batting/throwing arm information, so there's no obvious answer as to whether it's a lefty-righty thing, but just based on an image search to see if I could find pictures of them at bat, they're both righties.  Probably.  Don't do the image search yourself, though, at least not on Yahoo, it's a bad idea.

-- The lineup is otherwise pretty stable, with the only other exception being that Sands and Crucitti have, for whatever reason, occasionally switched places.

Starting rotation:

RHP Chris Rowley (9-3, 2.68, 72 Ks)
RHP Alex Robinett (7-3, 2.96, 61 Ks)
LHP Brook Davidson (2-3, 4.75, 25 Ks)


RHP Gunnar Carroll (3-4, 5.66, 22 Ks)
RHP Erik Washburn (1-0, 3.38, 13 Ks)
RHP Julian Larimer (2-2, 3.91, 10 Ks)
LHP Patrick Gardner (2-1, 6.85, 11 Ks)

Might be interesting to see what Army does if they survive long enough to play more than three games.  The Patriot League plays four weekend games, not three, and Army's top three was pretty clearly set, but the fourth was rotated among a whole host of different players.

The odds of that are pretty slim, though.  It's clear who their top two pitchers are, and UVA will face Chris Rowley, a familiar foe, as Rowley was also the starting pitcher in last year's opening contest as well.  If we don't face Rowley, it'll be Alex Robinett, but it'll be Rowley so whatever.  Rowley can be a tough cookie and no doubt has learned a lot from his last outing at Davenport, in which he walked five and plunked four in six innings.

Rowley's a righthander, and in fact UVA's pretty unlikely to face any lefties during this game; good news since a lot of our top hitters are left-handed.  In fact, Army pitching will be mostly a parade of righties, which bodes ill for their chances in the regional, particularly if they have to face Elon and the left-handed Kinsella.

As for the Army lineup, it's pretty meh.  There are some guys who can hit for average decently, led by Patrick Mescher, Jacob Page, and Mark McCants, but there's very, very little power here.  Army only popped nine home runs all season; every lineup in the regional features at least one player who hit that many or more on his own.  They'll try to manufacture runs, and you can bet that when they're playing us they'll be extremely aggressive in doing so.  They're not shy about stealing or bunting regardless of who's trying to execute the play.

So Army plays in one of the junkiest baseball conferences in the country, didn't beat anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line except Navy (and Navy took 3 of 4 in their weekend series), and has a lineup even less scary than Elon's.  But they make me a little nervous all the same, because of Rowley.  They might make Elon a little nervous, too, if those teams meet on Saturday; Army doesn't have Ryan Kinsella, but they might have a better starting pitcher than what Elon throws.  So if they fall into the loser's bracket, they could play spoiler.  After that, though, it's tee time.  Their staff is too highly dependent on Rowley and Robinett.


If a team other than UVA wants to advance out of this regional, they'll have to strike early.  The disaster scenario would be Rowley outpitching Brandon Waddell on Friday, and then Elon upsetting UNC-Wilmington in the later game; after that, UNC-W's solid lineup and Jordan Ramsey surprise the Hoos in the loser's bracket.  That's the off-ramp for UVA.  The deeper this goes, though, the more UVA likes it.  We have, with no exaggeration implied here, three times the pitching depth of any of the challengers.  They all go about two starters deep and none have more than one or two really good, dependable bullpen arms.  We have four starters that we like and how many quality arms in the pen?  Four, five?  Depends on your definition, but it's more than twice what anyone else gots.  If UVA is still alive after Saturday - and dammit we better be because that would be a colossal collapse if not - then you can book the trip to the supers.


Anonymous said...

OT: Nice knowing ya, Phillip Sims. It wasn't your fault, but your presence was a key factor in dooming UVA's season last year. I wonder if the staff knew something, and hence why he was dropped to 3 for spring.

pezhoo said...

That's a little harsh. I blame the OL mostly. If we could have run the ball and picked up 3rd and short, 4th and short we'd have won more games. By the time we were what...2-6 the staff kind of had to do something. Sims didn't pan out, but I don't lay the whole crap season at his feet.

Anonymous said...

I don't lay it all at his feet, but his presence destroyed whatever confidence that Rocco had built up at the end of last year. It's easy to forget - Rocco finished strong 2 years ago.

Then ... the Penn State game. IIRC, Lazor wasn't informed of the switch, and Sims was thrown in there on London's call. This isn't to say giving Rocco the full year would've been better, although I certainly feel that way, but the way London yo-yo'd the QB situation certainly wasn't a positive for the team.

Again, if I wanted to point at a team flaw from last year, Sims isn't first. The lack of a running game, plus undisciplined receivers that didn't get to their spots consistently, would hamper any QB. But ... 2 straight years of QB controversies certainly won't help any squad build up any confidence.

In some respect, I'm sort of hoping for Lambert to take the reins and run with it for 4 years. That said, Watford, because of the RS, could run with it for 3 years if he won it. Either way, I hope they just give it to someone and back off, letting whichever kid work through their mistakes. Short of it is, after these two years, I think it's fair to take a wait and see on London and the QB situation. I hope he gives O'Brien and Fairchild the freedom to make their decisions.

pezhoo said...

It's nice to see a Virginia team take care of business and live up to expectations. Is there a plan to expand this model to the major revenue sports?