Sunday, June 22, 2014
series preview: Vanderbilt
Date/Time: Mon-Wed, June 23-25; all games 8:00
(Wednesday game if necessary)
TV: All games on ESPN
Record against the Dores: 0-2
Last meeting: Vandy 7, UVa 3; 6/6/04, Charlottesville (NCAA Regional)
Last game: UVa 4, Ole Miss 1 (6/21); Vandy 4, UT 3 (6/21)
LHP Nathan Kirby (9-2, 1.70, 108 Ks) vs. RHP Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.80, 112 Ks)
LHP Brandon Waddell (9-3, 2.57, 68 Ks) vs. RHP Walker Buehler (12-2, 2.27, 109 Ks)
(Again, these are guesses, at least for the Vandy side, based partly on a little by-the-book guesswork and partly on what Vandy fans think. No doubt whatsoever who'll go for UVa, really. As for Wednesday, I'm just not gonna try, especially on our side. I suspect Josh Sborz was pulled earlyish from the Saturday game at least partly with an eye on having him ready for Wednesday. Besides, if there's a game Wednesday it's literally the ultimate in do-or-die games, and Johnny Wholestaff will be at the ready.)
At this point in a season, there's nothing left to be said, but you know me, I'm gonna say it anyway. (It's not like anyone else shuts their flaps.) This is an interesting matchup, and one of my favorite kinds: someone is going home with their first-ever national title. (In this sport.) Neither team has ever even made the finals. Vanderbilt takes it even further: they don't quite have the full VT goose egg, but their lone national title is a women's bowling championship in 2007. This is really their chance to win a championship in front of an audience. If it had been Texas, UVa would no doubt be the national rooting interest.
On the other hand, UVa is carrying the flag for the ACC, which, as we'll be reminded dozens of times in the next couple days, hasn't won a baseball title since 1955, nor even does the conference regularly place someone in the finals. People wanting to see the SEC fall on their faces - and that's a long list of folks - will still be pulling for the Hoos.
Vandy's road here had just a couple bumps in it; Texas staved off elimination at the end of the double-elimination round of the CWS, and Stanford scraped a 5-4 win over the Commodores in the super-regionals. Vandy, however, has never faced a national seed along the way; none of them on that side of the bracket made it to Omaha, and Stanford had beaten 4-seeded Indiana to get to the supers. In fact, other than Louisville, whom Vanderbilt beat in their CWS opener, the Dores haven't even faced a regional 1 seed. UVa, on the other hand, was spared South Carolina but had to go through Ole Miss twice, plus national 7 seed TCU, to get here. It puts UVa's pitching dominance in solid perspective.
Ordinarily I talk about the stakes here, but, um, if you need to be told that then I can't help you. It's scouting report time.
-- First base: Zander Wiel (.270-5-43). Cleanup hitter even through mid-postseason lineup shuffle. Solid tools all around - decent power, speed, and glove. Team leader in homers and second in triples; also has 30 walks. Not a hugely fearsome hitter but a bat that must be respected.
-- Second base: Dansby Swanson (.337-3-34). Leadoff hitter and perhaps the team's best batsman; team OPS leader at .898 and OBP leader at .413. 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts, both tops on a very, very aggressive Vanderbilt team.
-- Third base: Tyler Campbell (.217-0-3). Likely to bat ninth; Campbell is a very late replacement for regular third baseman Xavier Turner (.284-2-38), who was declared ineligible (whether by Vandy or the NCAA isn't known) and sent home. Turner was a reliable bat and an outstanding fielder; Campbell is a sophomore who's been a reserve all his career, and his glove is at best unknown. He was hitting .132 coming into the Texas game where he was tossed into the fire, but went 2-for-3 on Friday and drove in the game-winning run in the 10th inning on Saturday.
-- Shortstop: Vince Conde (.294-4-48). #3 hitter; tough out with more walks (40) than K's (37). Tremendous fielder at .984 FP with only four errors all season. 9th-round pick of the Yankees this year.
-- Left field: Bryan Reynolds (.341-4-53). #2 hitter. Among the best hitters in the Vandy lineup along with Swanson and Conde. Team leader in BA, RBI, hits, and second in doubles. Switch hitter and one of the top freshmen in the SEC.
-- Center field: John Norwood (.288-2-29). Had been batting 6th or 7th; moved up to 5th with the loss of Turner from the lineup. Junior who just moved into the starting lineup this year and therefore went undrafted. Hits for some contact, but not a great deal of power, and strikes out often.
-- Right field: Rhett Wiseman (.283-0-29). Bats sixth. Has decent line-drive power and leads the team in triples, but is only one of two of the eight regular position players (including Turner, not Campbell) not to have hit a home run. Also lowest OBP (.352) of the eight.
-- Catcher: Jason Delay (.257-0-13). Will probably bat 7th or 8th. Relatively light-hitting freshman. Has nine doubles out of only 28 hits, but whiffs with great frequency. Occasionally gives way to fellow freshman Karl Ellison (.203-0-9), an even lighter-hitting player than Delay.
-- Designated hitter: Nolan Rogers (.204-0-14). The DH spot will be 7th or 8th unless Campbell is rewarded for his play against UT with a move up from ninth. Vandy doesn't have much in the way of options here. Rogers is a freshman who hasn't hit much all year. He's a lefty, so Vandy may opt for the switch-hitting Ro Coleman (.214-1-13) instead, against UVa's lefty starters. Vanderbilt's coach Tim Corbin likes to start a pitcher in the DH slot and then pinch-hit for him in the first at-bat; why he does this, I can't figure out. Perhaps to remove the temptation of using that pitcher in the game, as it's often the previous game's pitcher.
-- Pitching staff:
RHP Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.80, 112 Ks). Beede has great stuff and three plus pitches, which got him drafted 14th overall by the Giants this spring. However, control issues have dogged him throughout his career. Vandy fans speak of their hope that "Good Beede" shows up on the mound. His Irvine appearance might have been every one of his outings wrapped into one; he went 3.2 innings, struck out four, walked three, and threw two wild pitches. His talent is undeniable, as he's one of only 18 players in MLB Draft history to be taken in the first round of two different drafts. Vandy might be in trouble, though, if Beede doesn't bring any control to the mound.
RHP Walker Buehler (12-2, 2.27, 109 Ks). Buehler is a lanky right-hander with a fastball that's not quite "blazing", but close, and a really sharp slider. He turned down the Pittsburgh Pirates as a 14th-round pick out of high school to go to Vandy. Purely from a stats standpoint, Buehler is the best of the staff; he has 2 complete games, a 3.5/1 K/BB ratio, and a .218 OpBA. In his previous CWS appearance, he came on in relief of Tyler Beede after Beede got in trouble against UC-Irvine, and pitched 5.1 innings of no-hit ball against the Anteaters while the Vandy bats repaired the damage Irvine had caused. Buehler had needed rescuing himself in the supers, though, as a troublesome third inning against Stanford knocked him out of the game and nearly erased the 5-run lead he'd been staked to. He's not totally unhittable, but he does represent a challenge for the UVa hitters.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (8-4, 2.72, 63 Ks). If the series goes to Wednesday, and if things go according to plan for Vandy, Ferguson might be the starter for the Commodores. Circumstances always seem to get in the way, so that's no guarantee, but that's how things might go. Ferguson is another power pitcher and talented enough that Aaron Fitt called him a potential first-rounder next year, but his only CWS appearance was a mess. He plunked the Texas leadoff hitter with his first pitch of the game, and proceeded to walk and plunk the bases loaded. Texas ended up with two runs and Ferguson didn't survive the inning. Ferguson would be fresh and available out of the pen should that become necessary, and it's probably a good thing if so - it would likely mean UVa has had success against the Vandy starter.
RHP Carson Fulmer (7-1, 2.00, 90 Ks). Fulmer has been the closer most of the year, and a very effective one, but has been earning starts in the postseason. Likely unavailable out of the pen on Monday and Tuesday after going 4 1/3 on Saturday night, Fulmer would be another candidate for a Wednesday start. In this case he'd be going on awfully short rest and would likely be limited to four or so innings. Is a pitcher in a similar mold as the others; power fastball, good slider.
-- Bullpen: Two more pitchers who are likely burned up for Monday and Tuesday are righties Brian Miller (1-1, 1.93, 37 Ks) and Hayden Stone (3-0, 1.76, 76 Ks). Miller was the guy who relieved Ferguson against Texas, and threw the whole rest of the game - 7 1/3 innings, after averaging less than 1 1/3 per appearance on the season. He's not likely to be available except perhaps in a Wednesday desperation situation. Stone went 5 2/3 on Saturday night, and the same applies.
That leaves Vandy with limited options. RHP Adam Ravenelle (3-2, 1.46, 35 Ks) is easily the #1 choice. Ravenelle sports a .154 OpBA, and has good enough stuff that despite a limited history (largely due to some 2012 elbow trouble) he was a 4th-round pick of the bullpen-starved Tigers. Other options may be southpaw Jared Miller (6-2, 4.20, 45 Ks), an 11th-round pick of the Diamondbacks despite crashing to earth somewhat as the season wore on; or fellow lefty John Kilichowski (0-0, 1.35, 20 Ks). Neither has appeared in the CWS, though, and it's just as likely that if Vandy gets into trouble, they turn to a guy they'd hoped to start.
-- Synopsis: Vanderbilt's best chance is their starting pitching. Beede and Buehler, when on, could be just as tough a nut to crack as UVa's starting two of Kirby and Waddell. As well, the top of Vandy's lineup is no picnic. Swanson and Reynolds are excellent hitters.
That said, the Vandy lineup is really no better than what Ole Miss sent to the plate, either, and it's not as deep, especially without Xavier Turner. The bottom third is pretty weak and there's nothing off the bench. UVa might not have Artie Lewicki available on Monday (even that isn't a guaranteed statement), but Vandy has fewer bullets in the chamber than UVa does, having used up a few of them in order to get here.
And there's something to be said for lights-out pitching. Vandy has good arms - but they're trumped by the 0.55 ERA UVa's hurlers have produced in three CWS games. This is an absolutely dialed-in bunch right now. If they stay dialed-in, Vandy will lose two in a row. They might be a close two in a row, but still. Baseball is an anything-can-happen sport, but UVa should be seen as the favorite.
While I have the chance, a few bullets on yesterday's Ole Miss action:
-- Robbie Coman was deservedly named the player of the game by the announcers, which was really even more impressive given his awful early innings. One passed ball - which, yes, basically led to Ole Miss's run - and one terrible at-bat had me muttering swear words to myself about how Coman needed to get his head in the game. Once his brain was properly screwed in - really nice work.
-- I complain about crappy announcing, so I have to give credit when it's due - I thought the discussion they had about Joe McCarthy's bunt was as good an exchange as you get in baseball announcing, up there with the nuggets Bobby Knight dispenses about basketball. On the one hand, yes, you want to improve your chances of scoring a run; on the other hand, maybe one of your best hitters can move the runner up just by letting him take his hacks.
For the record, I agree with the bunt in that situation. Followers of sabermetrics hate sac bunts in almost any situation, but sabermetrics is nearly a context-free system. When you're in a park that's tilting the game way, way in favor of the pitcher, and your own pitchers are just mowing them down, that extra run is a big deal. With a runner on first and none out, and you bunt, you're saying that one run is more important than the chance for multiple runs. I agree and would gladly improve my odds of scoring that one run, even at the expense of the second run, given the ballpark and the pitchers. That run looms awfully large when you do score it.
-- So was that also part of Vengeance Tour '14? Oh, absolutely. You'll remember the 2007 regional, in which Oregon State got a weather reprieve and used the newly-rested pitchers to beat UVa twice in a row. Mississippi got the same gift and couldn't cash in, even when they were able to pull a pitcher that UVa was absolutely tagging in favor of their ace.
And now the final round of the Tour begins: I'd long forgotten, if I even ever knew, that Vanderbilt was the team that booted UVa from the 2004 tournament. So now Vengeance Tour '14 can come full circle, from the very first season of BOC. Time to go win.....something.