This is usually the time of year we have been knee deep in the Spring Sports, mainly, of recent, baseball. With the Cavs playing lights out for the good part of the last decade, it usually is front and back page news right now. But a very impressed and unprecedented basketball season has mostly turned our attention to John Paul Jones Arena. But now with the Winter Sports in the rear view, we get back to the one team living up to expectations: baseball.
While it is not uncommon to see the Virginia Baseball team start a season in the Top 3 in all major polls and have a 25-4 record, it is how this team has gotten, and stayed, that high that has been a bit of a paradox. Let’s hit some of the highlights if you are just getting into the baseball season.
1. Pitching. After a down season that left a lot to desire on the mound, Brian O’Connor looks like he has found a great rotation. Virginia’s team ERA is a full point lower than last season (2.11 vs 3.12), and ranks 6th among all NCAA teams. If the Cavs finishes on that pace, they will rank 2nd all time in UVa history, even better than the great pitching teams of 2007 and 2011. Leading the way are the 2nd year trio of weekend starters Nathan Kirby (5-1, 1.24 ERA), Josh Sborz (3-1, 2.78 ERA), and Brandon Waddell (3-1, 3.76 ERA). But what has set apart the Hoos is the insanely strong middle and late relief. Lambeth Field favorite David Rosenberger has a 0.48 ERA through 18.2 innings, and rookies Connor Jones (4-0, 0.88) and Alec Bettinger (3-0, 0.95) have lived up to the hype. Even the two ‘veterans’, Whit Mayberry (3-1, 2.66) and Nick Howard (1.86 ERA, 8 Saves) have proven solid at the back end. Virginia will have plenty of arms available when the schedule gets more difficult.
2. Defense, Defense, Defense. What had started as a shaky start to the year, and seen the Hoos become a rock solid fielding team, sporting a .986 Fielding Percentage and good enough for 2nd in the nation, and T-3rd in total errors with 15 on the year. Again, if the Hoos continue on this pace, they will freak the fielding percentage record of .978 set in 2011, which would be a very impressive, since every BOC since 2004 is in the Virginia Top-10 record book. Solidifying the infield with Cogswell, La Prise, and 1st year Canadian Daniel Pinero went through some early growing pains, but the rotation seems to have settled down now.
3. RPI. Virginia has always benefited from having a strong RPI, and this season is no different. Virginia is sporting the 6th best RPI in the nation and is 4-2 against the Top 50 and 9-2 against the Top 100. The losses to Duke & VMI didn’t help, but the losses to Kentucky and Miami were not bad, and have had some solid wins over Top 100 teams, 4 of which were on the road (UNCW, W&M, Miami twice).
1. Hitting. At the beginning of the year, Virginia was pegged to be one of the best hitting teams in America. One pontificator even went as far to say the Hoos could become one if not the best hitting team ever in college baseball. Well, Virginia has not lived up to that hype, not yet. After a hot 10-0 win over George Washington Wednesday, the Hoos will land somewhere around 65th in the nation, up from 82nd, with their BA at .287. Last season, Virginia hit .312, were one of the Top 10 teams all season, and returned all but 2 of their major rotation players. Irving’s .284 BA had the lowest of the 10 consistent starters last season. This year only 6 players are doing better, and one of them is on the DL. Which leads to the 2nd issue…
2. Hoos on the Base path. Virginia has been getting on base, 29th in the country with .391 ob%, but when you seen such a disparity between OBS (29), Runs (T-53), and BA (65), you know you are leaving men on base. And they are leaving men on base in ACC play. The Hoos couldn’t push across more than 3 runs a game against Duke and did the same for 2 games against BC, both teams with mid 100 RPIs.
3. Man Down. Hoos always seem to have to deal with 1 huge production player going down for an extended period of time each year. This year it was Derek Fisher, who only appeared in 14 games, but has a .333 average and 7 RBI. It is expected that he will be back in time for the FSU series at the end of the month, but it is still a hole the Hoos have had to fill.
1. The ACC. Boy, has it been a rough one for the conference. In the most recent past, the ACC had been the best or 2nd best conference without hesitation. This year they are 4th in RPI and only have 3 ranked teams. THREE. Granted FSU and UVa occupy 2 of the top 3 slots, and Clemson has been solid, but no one saw GT, NC State, and UNC just not get out of the gate strong at all. For UVa, that means that they won’t get the massive gauntlet they are used to ending the season. They do get Clemson at home and FSU away to save the RPI, but UNC and GT are at home, with only Pitt and Wake away remaining. This will be a tough year for the Hoos to hide a few losses and still stay in the top 8 for SR consideration.
Virginia has been playing much better of late thanks to a strong showing down in Miami after the first game. They will have a strong shot to come into the Clemson series next weekend on a 12-game winning streak. Wrap up that series and the UNC one the week after and the Hoos should be able to walk into strong National Seed contention no mater what happens at FSU. You would have to think the pitching and batting will normalize, but I don’t think they will be too far off from what both have done in the first half of the year.