Thursday, June 4, 2015

series preview: Maryland

Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., 6/5-6/7; 4:00, 3:00, 3:00
(Sunday if necessary)

TV: ESPNUVA on Fri. and Sat., ESPNUVA or ESPN2 on Sun.

Record against the Terps: 111-80-1

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over Maryland (4-5, 7-3, 11-2); 6/7-6/9/14, Charlottesville (NCAA Super Regional)

Last weekend:
UVA won Lake Elsinore Regional (6-1 over USC, 3-1 over SDSU, 14-10 over USC)

Maryland won Los Angeles Regional (3-1 over Ole Miss, 4-1 over UCLA, 2-4 to UCLA, 2-1 over UCLA)

Pitching probables:

RHP Connor Jones (6-2, 2.90, 101 Ks) vs. RHP Mike Shawaryn (13-2, 1.66, 133 Ks)

LHP Brandon Waddell (3-5, 4.12, 74 Ks) vs. RHP Brian Shaffer (5-1, 4.57, 52 Ks)

RHP Alec Bettinger (4-5, 4.89, 62 Ks) vs. RHP Ryan Selmer (3-1, 1.86, 19 Ks)

(Friday's have been released officially.  Saturday and Sunday are wild guesses of my own.  Bettinger got nuked last weekend but it's not like we're loaded down with other options.  Selmer only has three starts this season for Maryland but two were in the postseason and the other was the week before.)

Hosting a super regional is almost old hat for UVA.  The way we got here this year is not.  The combination of circumstances it took to make that happen had some astronomical odds attached.  Funny sport, though, baseball.  So much of it is mental, and so much of the mental aspect comes from confidence and having been there before.  UVA is just about officially that team that won't die til you stab the heart.

Course, maybe being at home isn't the greatest thing, the way UVA has struggled (relatively speaking) at Davenport and been so good on the road.  And you can bet the opponent wants blood.  Revenge will be on the Terps' mind, after they were just one win away from Omaha last year at the same venue.  UVA doesn't have nearly the team it had last year, on paper, and that pitching staff still is what it is: thinner than cheap beer.  D1Baseball gives UVA the edge absolutely nowhere on the field - but gives the Hoos the intangibles edge.  Sometimes that's all it takes.

The scouting report on Maryland:

-- First base: Kevin Biondic (.182-0-9).  Almost certain to bat ninth. Biondic has been in and out of the lineup all year as the Terps hunted for back-of-the-order hitters who could, uh, hit.

-- Second base: Brandon Lowe (.329-9-53).  Maryland's park is a bandbox, with the deepest part being about 370 or so, and right-handers in particular can hit balls out like it's nothing.  You have to take most RH power numbers with a grain of salt.  Lowe, however, is a lefty.  He leads Maryland in nearly all conceivable categories, including HBP, and is entrenched in the 3-hole in the lineup.

-- Third base: Jose Cuas (.241-11-53).  The book on Cuas is much the same as last year: not the world's greatest contact hitter and strikes out too often, but when he gets his bat on the ball it can really fly.  Typically bats fifth.

-- Shortstop: Kevin Smith (.274-7-35).  Not much sticks out.  Smith is a good player, was described as such in the "opposing coach breakdown" on D1Baseball, and never mentioned again.  He bats second, and basically does his job, neither striking the fear of God into anyone, nor acting the automatic out.

-- Left field: Tim Lewis (.215-0-32).  Not an ounce of pop in his bat and never has been, but he can wheel around the bases and has five triples to show for his efforts.  He was a much better hitter last year and has lost almost eighty points off his average this year.  Bats in the bottom third of the order.

-- Center field: LaMonte Wade (.344-4-29).  Missed a portion of the season.  As tough an out as there is in the Maryland lineup, with 29 walks against only 16 strikeouts.  Natural and obvious leadoff hitter.

-- Right field: Anthony Papio (.261-6-25).  Fills out the sixth or seventh spot in the order.  Not a frightening hitter.  Last year I called him a strikeout machine; this is still true as he has 61 of them.  Still, one of only two players to start every game.

-- Catcher: Kevin Martir (.339-7-44).  A good hitter who holds down the cleanup spot and makes a very difficult middle of the order hitting behind Lowe.  You can run him ragged on the basepaths, though; he's only thrown out nine of 37 basestealers.

-- Designated hitter: Nick Cieri (.305-3-27).  Much better hitter than he was last year, when he was the only freshman in the starting lineup.  Usually bats sixth or seventh.

-- Pitching staff:

Friday: RHP Mike Shawaryn.  Only a sophomore, Shawaryn is one of the top pitchers in the country.  Lots of national recognition: first-team all-American, national team roster, etc.  UVA avoided Dillon Tate, so this is easily the toughest pitcher they've faced in the postseason.  Shawaryn doesn't have an overpowering fastball or anything like a nasty slider, but he commands his pitches exceptionally well and his changeup has developed big-time just over the course of this season.

Saturday: RHP Brian Shaffer.  A guess here.  Shaffer has been the second pitcher on the hill in the B1G tourney and the regional as well.  Shaffer's a tall, lanky righty at 6'5", 181, who throws to a ton of contact.  He's walked just 9 in 61 innings this year, and - rare for a college pitcher - hasn't hit any batters.  You have to hit him.  He doesn't have overpowering stuff at all, and relies on his defense.  If your hits find the gaps, you'll knock him off the bump early.  That said, he threw 7 innings against top Big Ten team Illinois, in the tournament, and shut them down hard.

Sunday: RHP Ryan Selmer.  Another guess.  Like Shaffer, a freshman, but even taller at 6'8".  To make things more fun, he's a sinkerballer, though that part of the scouting report might've been influenced by how high he throws the ball from to begin with.  He doesn't strike out many hitters, but it's really hard to hit the ball in the air against a guy like this.

Bullpen: Maryland has a really good 8-9 setup in Alex Robinson and closer Kevin Mooney.  Mooney was a roller coaster last year; this year, opponents are batting .131.  Robinson is a really hard-throwing lefty; he walks lots of guys, strikes out even more, and also barely allows any hits.  The kind of pitcher who really messes up your approach after you've seen seven innings of righties without elite velocity.  Maryland will also heavily use Zach Morris and Robert Galligan, both also lefties.  Galligan is a long, long reliever, good for more than once through the order if necessary, and could start a game.

-- Synopsis: It's hard to believe Maryland is the only thing standing between UVA and Omaha.  After all that's gone on this season, Omaha is two wins away.  Incredible.

Maryland is no pushover.  They have a very decided advantage on the mound.  More bullpen depth, more bullpen talent, a true ace in Shawaryn, and far better options on Sunday than UVA can pull out.  At least on paper.  Nathan Kirby has been kinda sorta cleared to pitch, but nobody should be expecting him to swoop into the rescue.

That means, like the regional, this series is on the shoulders of Connor Jones and Brandon Waddell.  Jones is the best we got right now.  Waddell has struggled, but he pitched a beauty against SDSU and Maryland is probably a slight downgrade at the plate from the Aztecs.

At the plate is where UVA has the edge.  D1Baseball called it a push, but Maryland's home run numbers, especially on all their right-handed hitters (and they have many), thanks to the phone booth they play in.  And oh yeah the conference they play in - even though the Big Ten put two other teams in the tourney, it was still crappy most of the rest of the way down the standings.  If the UVA lineup can get to Shawaryn, look out.

This is a pretty evenly-matched series, so if I were a faraway objective observer, I'd give the edge to Maryland in three games.  Pitching staff.  Intangibles could swing this series wildly in either direction, though.  Does Maryland have a healthy sense of revenge?  Does UVA's pitching hit a wall and fold?  Or do Maryland's freshmen - and they have quite a few in the lineup and on the hill, including Shaffer and Selmer - get all wide-eyed and shaky while UVA's battle-tested group buckles down to business?  Fascinating storylines and Omaha at stake.  Doesn't get much better.

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