Diamond Scouting Report: ACC Tournament
May 23, 2012
The Hoos hope to have something to celebrate at the ACC Tournament.
The Virginia baseball team completed its 2012 regular season last Saturday by dropping the final game to Maryland 6-5 after winning the series with two earlier wins in College Park. The first win against the Terps ensured that the Hoos would finish second in the Coastal Division of the ACC. The Cavaliers are the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament, which starts this Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C. at NewBridge Bank Park, home of the minor league Greensboro Grasshoppers.
The ACC Tournament plays a three game round-robin among four teams in two pre-determined pools with the pool winners then playing a fourth single-elimination game for the ACC Championship. Virginia is in Pool A along with the No. 1 seed, Florida State, the No. 8 seed, Georgia Tech, and, the No. 5 seed Clemson, the Hoos' first opponent in pool play. In Pool B are UNC, NC State, Miami and Wake Forest. Left out of the Championship were Virginia Tech and Duke from the Coastal Division and Maryland and Boston College from the Atlantic Division, all based on conference records and tie-breakers.
Here is a brief preview of the Virginia opponents in Pool A in the order the Hoos play them.
Clemson - 11 a.m. on Thursday
Virginia swept Clemson in three games in late March in Charlottesville. In that home series, the Hoos exhibited good starting pitching (all weekend starters went at least 6 innings), solid defense (only 1 error versus 5 for Clemson) and got timely hitting from all areas of the lineup. Virginia won the opening game 6-3 behind 6 IP by Scott Silverstein and 4 RBIs from Jared King on a 3-for-4 night plus 2 hits by Keith Werman. On Saturday, the Cavaliers won 5-1 behind a complete game by Branden Kline and 2 hits by Werman. On Sunday, the Hoos got the sweep by winning 5-3 behind 6 IP by Artie Lewicki and another 2 hits by Werman.
UVa has a better batting average than Clemson (.299 vs. .273) and a slightly better pitching staff ERA (3.31 vs. 3.89). The teams have the same fielding percentage at .973. Clemson's two best starting pitchers are both RHP with nearly identical records. Dominic Leone (6-4, 5.18 ERA, 74 IP) was the Tigers starting pitcher in the Saturday game against Virginia in Charlottesville. Kevin Pohle (6-3, 3.25 ERA, 69 IP) was the starting pitcher in the Sunday game in the regular season.
The big question for all the teams in Pool A is which pitcher to start against Florida State. Clemson plays FSU in its second game, while Virginia plays the Seminoles in its last game of pool play. Naturally all games are important in gaining an advantage in pool play in order to play for the ACC Championship, and the first game for all teams is especially important. I think Leone will start for the Tigers against UVa on Thursday morning and Kline will start for the Hoos. Coach Brian O'Connor has had some success against coach Jack Leggett in recent years, including winning the last 5 consecutive regular season series. I look for the Hoos to bang out some hits against the Tigers and win behind a strong effort by Kline.
Georgia Tech - 11 a.m. on Friday
Virginia won the last 2012 home weekend series against Georgia Tech just two weeks ago in Charlottesville. The Hoos were one out away from a sweep when the Yellow Jackets rallied for 2 runs in the top of the 9th inning and won it 5-4 on a home run in the top of the 10th off Justin Thompson. The Cavs picked up terrific pitching performances out of the bullpen by several relief pitchers to win the first two games of that series 6-5 and 4-2.
Georgia Tech faces Florida State in its opening game on Wednesday in pool play and likely will pitch RHP and ace Buck Farmer in that game. Farmer had the best pitching performance against the Seminoles when Florida State swept the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in early April. Thus, I think that RHP Cole Pitts (5-4, 4.41 ERA, 69 IP) will start the game on Friday against Virginia. The Hoos will counter with LHP Silverstein with both Shane Halley and Nick Howard ready when needed. However, should GT upset the Seminoles in its first game there could be some adjustment in the starting pitcher for UVa in this Friday game.
Georgia Tech has a solid hitting ball club with a team batting average of .294, not far from Virginia's .299 average. The Yellow Jacket pitching staff ERA is 4.40 compared to Virginia at 3.31 and their bullpen has been suspect this year other than Alex Cruz with a 2.04 ERA in 27 appearances. But if he is needed in the first game against Florida State, then the Hoos gain some advantage here in the Friday contest. Virginia also has the better defensive stats with a fielding percentage of .973 versus Georgia Tech at .961. I think this game will be decided on how long Silverstein can be effective. Halley and Howard have been spectacular over the last month coming in and pitching well in long relief for Silverstein. If we can get 5 or more effective innings from Silverstein, then I think we will win this game easily.
Florida State - 3 p.m. Saturday
Florida State swept the Cavaliers in Tallahassee in the middle of March by the scores of 12-3, 4-3 and 7-5. The Seminoles scored 3 runs in the 8th inning in both of the last two games to erase Hoo leads and propel FSU to wins. Virginia's relief pitching and defense in that series were not as effective as those elements have been for the Hoos over the last one-third of the season.
What is interesting is that Virginia leads FSU in most statistical categories: Team batting average (.299 vs. .295), slugging percentage (.430 vs. .417), hits (533 vs. 521), triples (32 vs. 10), RBIs (348 vs. 337), team ERA (3.31 vs. 3.49), HBP (87 vs. 84), batters striking out (324 vs. 374), strikeouts by pitching staff (413 vs. 402) ground into DP (26 vs. 52), fielding percentage (.973 vs. .969), and opponents' batting average (.241 vs. .247). The Seminoles only lead in doubles (119 vs. 96) and HRs (34 vs. 25) and in on-base percentage (.407 vs. .401). Virginia left 467 runners on base in 2012 and FSU left 495 on base. But Florida State went 43-12 and 24-6 in ACC competition to run away with the regular season title. Perhaps the difference is the Seminole closer (Robert Benincasa), who is 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 13 saves; it is reminiscent of Kline's closer performance in 2011 when the Hoos went 45-9 and 22-8 in ACC competition prior to the start of the ACC Tournament last year. It also could be the batting average with runners in scoring position, but team statistics don't show those figures.
At any rate, this third game in 2012 pool play could be for the right to play in the ACC Championship game on Sunday. FSU has four quality starters and a strong group of veteran relief pitchers. I think the Seminole starter for this Saturday game will be one of their two best pitchers; both freshmen, either LHP Brandon Leibrandt (6-2, 2.93 ERA, 73 IP) or RHP Mike Compton (10-1), 2.96 ERA, 70 IP) could take the ball in the crucial game. Virginia will likely use Lewicki as the starting pitcher in this game because he has been the most consistent starter over the last month. The Hoos will need to score early and often, and take advantage of every scoring opportunity. Any late rally by FSU will bring back bad memories from the last two games in Tallahassee this season. I rate this game a toss-up as long as Lewicki gets into the 6th or 7th inning.
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