Sunday, June 14, 2015

game preview: Florida

Date/Time: Monday, June 15; 8:00


Record against the Gators: 1-4

Last meeting: UF 18, UVA 0; 3/9/89, Gainesville

Last game: UVA 5, UA 3 (6/13); UF 15, Mia. 3 (6/13)

Pitching probables:

Virginia: LHP Brandon Waddell (3-5, 4.15, 81 Ks)
Florida: LHP A.J. Puk (9-3, 3.96, 99 Ks)

Opening day in Omaha produced two storylines: UVA going all Ocean's 11 on the basepaths, and Florida dropping 11 on Miami in the fourth inning.   So the ACC and SEC will go another two rounds on Monday, with the ACC's 7th-place team in the Omaha winner's bracket.

Last week, the Washington Post's article on the win over Maryland started off with a great first paragraph:
As Virginia freshman Ernie Clement walked to the plate, the arc of the Cavaliers’ baseball season perfectly aligned with this moment. Virginia had struggled early, stayed within reach and now seemed poised for a dramatic rally.
The Arkansas game was even more such a microcosm, with all five UVA runs scored with two outs.  Matter of fact, until the 9th, every UVA leadoff hitter failed to get on base.  Connor Jones wasn't at his sharpest.  Adversity schmadversity; UVA merely smacked around yet another closer in the eighth and ninth innings and then once again gave Josh Sborz the ball and watched him grind opposing hitters into dust.  Thus the Omahoos/Omahogs matchup went to the good guys.

And of course, the running.  BOC was his usual self in the press conferences, because he's too nice to say "we noticed Tucker Pennell has a tendency to miss the target by six feet."  But that's pretty much what happened.  As soon as the coaches got a feel for when Trey Killian was going to throw a breaking ball, off went the runners.  They stole themselves out of a couple innings when Pennell made an accurate throw, but you don't even mind that.  Two strikes, two outs is a great time to give it a shot and if you get thrown out, oh well - your batter gets a fresh count next inning.

Up to this point, UVA has played some good teams.  USC, Maryland, Arkansas, not too shabby.  You can't win the CWS by only ever beating regional 2 seeds, though.  Florida is one of the top teams in the country - SEC champs, national 4 seed, and the pick of many to win the whole thing.  To the extent you can call playing any team in the tournament a "honeymoon," that part's over.  Florida's as good as any team in Omaha.  Waddell pitched a marvelous game last time out, against Maryland, but he won't be able to get away with putting dudes on base as much this time.  Florida's lineup is as so:

-- Catcher: J.J. Schwarz (.335-18-73): Mike Rivera had the catching duties last night, but Schwarz is usually behind the plate when Puk pitches.  Schwarz is a terrific hitter, nearly as good as Andrew Benintendi, but has only thrown out four of 23 basestealers this season.  That stat and UVA's sudden running game may spook Kevin O'Sullivan into putting Rivera back there again, but coaches don't like to screw with their rotations too much.

-- First base: Peter Alonso (.305-3-28): Looks like a cricket player because of the mask he wears to protect his face.  Alonso is a good hitter whose extrapolated stats are excellent; the mask is necessary because of a broken jaw earlier in the year.  The fact that he hits sixth is a testament to the deep Gator lineup, and he flashed a great glove on Saturday with a diving stab of a Miami line drive otherwise destined for the corner.

-- Second base: Dalton Guthrie (.294-2-25): Yes, the Gators have a .294 hitter batting ninth.  OK, eighth on Saturday.

-- Third base: Josh Tobias (.370-5-44): A 10th-round pick of the Phillies, Tobias probably should've gone higher.  The toughest out in the lineup with a .446 OBP, Tobias has some power as well, and has committed one error all year at the hot corner (as well as playing some second base.)

-- Shortstop: Richie Martin (.287-5-33): Martin's stats aren't much to look at, but the A's made him the 20th overall pick of the draft.  Weirdly, he's hit better in wood-bat summer leagues than in college.

-- Left field: Harrison Bader (.289-15-62): Bader is Florida's leadoff hitter, a bit odd as he's more of a traditional power hitter with high slugging and high strikeout totals - you would probably peg him as the cleanup or fifth hitter, normally.  Still, it's doubtful he'd have been a 3rd-round pick without some speed, and the big-league scouts think he has a chance to play center in the pros.

-- Center field: Buddy Reed (.316-3-44): Fast player who represents one of the Gators' two biggest steal threats on a team that likes to do that.

-- Right field: Ryan Larson (.308-1-24): The Gators platoon this position between Larson and Jeremy Vasquez; since they'll face a lefty on the hill, the right-handed Larson probably gets the call.  Vasquez is the better hitter and could pinch-hit somewhere, but Larson batted 9th on Saturday and hits .308 - again, you could do much, much worse.

-- Designated hitter: Mike Rivera (.267-3-45): If there's such a thing as a respite in the Florida lineup, it's here; Rivera's a freshman whose bat is a little less frightening than the rest of the bunch.  If Rivera is catching, Schwarz will DH instead.

-- Starting pitcher: A.J. Puk (9-3, 3.96, 99 Ks): With a .211 OBA, Puk's high ERA is a function of control.  Puk is a rarity - a huge, power-throwing left-hander, a trait that will get him drafted in the first round when he's eligible next year.  Coming out of high school, he was already throwing in the low 90s, and his powerful, well-located fastball has only improved since.  He's at his best when blowing his fastball by hitters and controlling his change-up.  A post-high-school scouting report, though, basically said "his curve stinks and will always stink."  Take that with a grain of salt.  The same writer said he was a 70% chance to sign despite being picked in the 36th round.  High schoolers headed to the SEC and taken in the 36th round would have to be so stupid to sign that no organization would want them.  Still, Puk's fastball is excellent, and references to his control are basically allusions to his breaking pitches.  UVA's chances depend on whether they can find and catch up to Puk's fastball; if not, it won't really matter if his off-speed stuff can't find the strike zone.

-- Bullpen: Miami did the Hoos no favors; the Gators will have their full arsenal ready to go.  Neither closer Taylor Lewis (6-1, 1.89, 33 Ks) nor top long reliever Bobby Poyner (5-2, 2.73, 56 Ks) pitched against the Canes.  Even if they had, the pitchers they did use only went an inning apiece and will all be available.  Florida has a very deep bullpen, and most of them were drafted; even if Puk is knocked out early, using it up is not in play.


Nothing's changed.  As with before, it comes down to if Brandon Waddell can work deep into the game.  It's just, that'll be a lot harder than in the past.  UVA will be a major underdog here.  Not for the first time, but not yet by so much.

It's doable, though.  Puk has a powerful arm, but it can sometimes be a loose cannon.  Waddell is battle-tested through and through, and the team has the right attitude for Omaha.  They have the easy confidence that comes with experience and comfort in the environment.  And Florida used up all its runs against Miami.  (OK, that last thing is not a thing.)

UVA's storyline diverges here.  This game means almost everything.  The winner gets four days to rest its pitchers and needs only win one more to get to the finals.  The loser has to win three.  Connor Jones can go again on Friday, but if UVA has to play on Wednesday they'll be digging deep, and may not have the arms to win on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

In other words, a loss means the story goes like this: UVA scrapped and battled and put together a really nice improbable run, but unsurprisingly ran out of juice at the end.  Good game, see you next year.  A win, though, and UVA starts to look like the Michigan State of baseball: doesn't matter what happened in the regular season, just get Brian O'Connor into the tournament and watch how hard it is to kick him out of it.

No comments: