Thursday, June 6, 2013

series preview: Mississippi State

Date/Time: Sat-Mon, 6/8-6/10/13; 1:00, 7:00, 4:00 (last game if necessary)


Record against the Bulldogs: 0-0

Last meeting: Never

Last game: UVA 11, Elon 3 (6/2); MSU 6, UCA 1 (6/3)

Last weekend: UVA 3-0 over Army and Elon; MSU 3-1 over UCA and USA

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #6, MSU #14
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #6, MSU #12
Perfect Game: UVA #4, MSU #12
Coaches: UVA #6, MSU #11

Composite: UVA #6, MSU #11

Mississippi State lineup:

C: Nick Ammirati (.264-1-23)
1B: Wes Rea (.276-6-35)
2B: Brett Pirtle (.310-2-31)
SS: Adam Frazier (.344-0-33)
3B: Sam Frost (.295-0-9)
LF: Demarcus Henderson (.265-0-20)
CF: C.T. Bradford (.288-1-24)
RF: Hunter Renfroe (.352-15-58)
DH: Alex Detz (.330-1-31)

Lineup notes: Very few to speak of.  MSU has basically settled on this for their tournament lineup, and used it for the entire regional weekend.  Jacob Robson played left field during the SEC tournament and has 20-some starts under his belt, but is hitting .208 on the season so it seems most of the cream has risen to the top here.

Pitching probables:

Haven't come out yet, and I'm not going to try and guess.  It'll be Waddell and Silverstein in some order the first two days and then Howard or Mayberry.  As for the Bulldogs, they've taken to not using a starting rotation per se.  They have a very, very deep bullpen and lately have been bypassing two of their starters and just starting the relievers for a couple innings.


It's hard for me to get used to "MSU" in this context because I'm a Big Ten guy from way back, and MSU usually means Sparty.  But this is the SEC version.... and you can tell when you take a peek at how many of their fans view this series.  Which is to say, like most southern types: "we're better because SEC."  The fifth-best team in the SEC is always better than the best or second-best anywhere else.

You can give MSU some credit in this regard because they don't play in the SEC's truly bad Eastern Division, where the third-best team out of seven had a losing record and flopped badly in the regionals with a loss to Valparaiso.  That said, rationality and SEC fans aren't especially well-acquainted.  Some of the logic being employed:

-- "Dawgs win because UVA never won convincingly in their regional."  11-3 is apparently less convincing than both 5-3 and a loss to the 4 seed.  That's adorable.

-- "Take away our LSU losses but not our LSU win and we're 4-1 [against remaining teams.]"  I wasn't aware you could do that.

That stuff comes from here, which I link not because I endorse it necessarily (I would say the ratio of retards to sanity is about 1-1) but so you have proof that people actually say these things and believe them.  Anyways, one thing MSU does have going for it is the nation's biggest college baseball stadium.  Lucky for us, the game is in Charlottesville; it'd probably tough sailing in Starkville and with a lot more cowbell.

-- UVA at bat

The overwhelming strength of the MSU roster is their bullpen.  If you had to name a three-man starting rotation, it would be righty Kendall Graveman and lefties Jacob Lindgren and Luis Pollorena.  Graveman, however, is the only one who I'd put money on being given a start this weekend. Graveman's a solid pitcher who throws a sinking fastball; he's been a little inconsistent at times this year but more good than bad, as he sports a 2.94 ERA, and his average start goes into the 7th inning.  I'd expect MSU to use him Saturday; if he goes deep they'll be in great shape for the weekend with a ton of bullets in the chamber for the next couple of days.

That bullpen is the barrier to be climbed.  Righty Jonathan Holder is one of the nation's elite closers; six earned runs in 43 innings gives him a 1.17 ERA, and he's allowing opposing hitters to bat .149 against him.  There are no fewer than four relievers on the roster with ERAs under 2, with maybe the most notable being lefty Ross Mitchell, who averages almost three innings an appearance.  MSU leans very heavily on him out of the pen; he's got a gawky delivery that's not quite sidearm and not quite three-quarters, and MSU has a similar guy in Chad Girodo, who sports a beautiful 1.10 ERA.

Power right-hander Ben Bracewell is the fourth member of the sub-2 club, and he's a guy the Bulldogs have put on the hill to start a couple games lately as well.  They'll use him for two or three innings or so and then bring in the rest of the pen.  Trevor Fitts and Will Cox, both righties, are two others who might be used in this role; both tall righties with ERAs in the 2-something range.  That's six outstanding relief pitchers we've just gone over, without mentioning Myles Gentry, whose been a little unlucky as his ERA is up over 3 (horrors) but his OpBA is only .200.

It's likely mostly righties we'll see on the mound, especially if the Bulldogs skip lefty starters Lindgren and Pollorena, which they very well might do.  The pen is tilted a little toward righties, with only the two southpaws.  That could be a small plus for our lineup, which leans more on the lefties for production.  However, a bullpen that good often cares little for lefty-righty matchups; the Hoos will just have to find a way to hit one of the better pitching staffs they've seen.

-- MSU at bat

The reason MSU isn't hosting a super of their own is probably their lineup, which is good but not great.  It's very low on power hitting, with only two players hitting more than two homers this season.  One is 1B Wes Rea with six; the other is MSU's version of a superman hitter in outfielder Hunter Renfroe.  Renfroe's 15 homers and 58 RBI help him to an OPS over 1.000 and mark him as the guy that Bulldog fans get excited for every turn at the plate.  (Edit: Renfroe was just taken 13th in Thursday night's opening round of the MLB draft, so yeah, he's decent.)

However, if you can make Renfroe keep the ball in front of your outfielders, you should do well.  Outside of Renfroe, the Bulldogs only slug .359, which would be good for about 173rd in the country.  In other words, Renfroe by himself is worth about 90 slots in the team rankings.  Rea has most of the rest of the pop on this team, but I'd say outside of Renfroe the most dangerous hitter is DH Alex Detz, whose very patient approach has yielded 50 walks this season.  That gives him the team's top OBP at .461.

Speaking of guys with special talents, 2B Brett Pirtle doesn't walk a lot, but he's got a knack for putting himself in front of pitches; he's been hit by 19 of them.  Pirtle is one of four .300 hitters on the team - besides Detz and Renfroe, there's SS Adam Frazier in this regard.  Frazier often bats leadoff, as he's the Bulldogs' second-biggest base-stealing threat.  (The biggest?  Renfroe again, with nine.)  Detz is the #2 guy, with Renfroe batting third.

That said, this isn't a huge base-stealing team.  They'll try sometimes, but it's not a major part of the game plan.  They'll sacrifice some, especially with the bottom third of the lineup, knowing how much the single is part of their game.  In general, it's a good lineup without any holes in it - but other than Renfroe, no mashers, either.

-- Outlook

This ought to be one of the more interesting matchups of the supers.  The best bullpen in the country against one of its best-hitting teams (UVA is 7th in both SLG and OBP right now.)  And UVA has a pretty darn deep pen, too, but not like this one.  Both teams will try to win the matchup when UVA is at the plate and do enough to support that matchup in the other half of the inning.  If UVA hits, the Hoos will win, but it wouldn't surprise if our bats fell silent, either.  A Game 3 would probably favor the Bulldogs slightly.  Hopefully the home stadium tilts us the other way and gets the Hoos to Omaha.

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