That title could easily refer to the lacrosse debacle Sunday, but truth is, figuring that out would be a waste of words. The same things that were wrong with UVA lacrosse all season (including, by the way, a seeming lack of interest from the coaching staff in fixing fundamental mistakes) were also wrong on Sunday, plus Matt Barrett made less than one save. Barrett had been keeping the Hoos in games all season. When headstands from the goalie were absent, the whole house of cards plopped to the ground ignominiously.
Nope, this is about baseball, which I've set a record for not talking about this year. It's a little harder to follow this year because I refused to fork out real money for the amateurish production that is Cavaliers Live. On the occasions when they've been on real TV, it's been painful to watch. A team that was comfortably in the preseason top five now is not even a lock to be top ten in the 14-team conference - which would put them outside the ACC tournament.
It's very flattering that UVA has the kind of program where as long as you return enough players, your replacements are assumed to be good enough to carry you to the elite ranks again. All the same, given the questions faced by the bullpen and the outfield this preseason, ultra-lofty expectations probably shouldn't have been thrust onto this team. A top-25 selection would've made sense.
Once the injury bug got its hooks into this team, though, it never let go. And it kept on biting during the season. Joe McCarthy and Nathan Kirby are arguably the team's biggest star power. McCarthy missed a huge chunk of the season with a back injury and has not at all returned to form since picking up a bat again. Kirby was humming along very nicely (though not quite dominant, which was contributing a bit to the team's swoon) when his lats said "screw you buddy" and shut him down for the season. Add John LaPrise - a .348 hitter last year - to that mix. What that left us was just four of last year's starters - counting the pitching rotation - that didn't either get hurt or go pro. Kenny Towns, Daniel Pinero, Brandon Waddell, and Josh Sborz. That's it.
And then all the replacements got hurt, too. Jack Gerstenmaier was on track for a starting job until his hamstring said nah. Derek Casey had settled very nicely into the weekday starter's role when that went south on him, too. Casey, in fact, was slated to move into the weekend job with Kirby just recently out of the lineup, and his start against Longwood on a Tuesday was supposed to be a shortish one so he could be ready that Sunday. Ernie Clement, the usual starter at second base, missed a handful of games, and Matt Thaiss hasn't been able to help out with the catching, being limited to playing first base by a wonky hip. (That said, Thaiss has been unquestionably the MVP at the plate this year.)
Here's the wacky little secret, though: This team isn't hitting that much worse than last year. Last year's team? Not overwhelming at the plate. Good enough to win in front of the absurdly good pitching that propped it up. It really feels like they're hitting worse, and maybe the better pitching in the postseason takes your numbers down some. (That said, that's not really the case last year, not so's you'd notice.)
But, runs per game in 2015 is 5.39; in 2014 it was 5.48. This year's slash line: .273/.360/.381. Last year: .280/.375/.377. Those aren't real differences. A real difference would be as compared to 2013, where the bats pushed across 10.9 runs a game and batted .312/.408/.463.
Thing is, 2013 had that amazing hitting and decent pitching. 2014 had amazing pitching and decent hitting. Both were enough to carry the team a long, long way. This team has decent hitting and decent pitching. Add a dash of not being so good in the clutch - real big surprise for a team relying much more heavily than usual on freshmen - and you get a team whose record is.... decent.
This all puts UVA in a funny place: the bubble. For both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. I'm not sure they can make the latter if they miss the former; the Hoos are trying to fend off Wake Forest for the final spot, although the conference is so tight this year that a whole bunch of higher seeds are in play. (Which don't much matter, because 7 through 10 are all in the same boat. They'll play one game to try and get to the pool play.) Should the Hoos win their way into the ACC tourney, they ought to hear good news from the NCAA committee as well - though it'd come in the form of a 3 seed somewhere. We'll take it. Freshman experience and all that. Next year, when the team has to stop putting a bunch of guys in roles they weren't meant to play (all those injuries wreaked absolute havoc on the rotation and bullpen, for example, and not just on the guys who can't go) things should be back to normal.