Baseball: Hoos Look to Clinch the Title: UNC Preview

The 2011 baseball regular season comes to an end this weekend in Chapel Hill where the Cavaliers will visit the #13 ranked (#1 in theUVAFool’s heart) Carolina Tar Heels. Should the Hoos win a single game or Georgia Tech lose a game in their series at VPISU, the ‘Hoos will clinch a share of the 2011 regular season ACC title, its 2nd in two years (back to back). If the ‘Hoos can take the series or the castrated turkeys can pull off a miracle, the Cavaliers will win the honor outright.

The Tar Heels have been somewhat of a surprise to many folks as they were expected to experience growing pains this year due to the amount of talent lost the last two years in the draft. They entered the season unranked by Baseball America and have shot up to #17 this past week thanks to a 41-12 record that includes a 17-10 ACC record. The Tar Heels should come ready to play especially this weekend with it being the final regular season weekend and coming off a tough series loss at the hands of the Yellow Jackets last weekend.

On the mound the Heels are one of the better teams in the conference. Their 3.55 ERA and six shutouts places them sixth in pitching stats for the conference (it’s a big drop after them). The Tar Heels are lead by their ace Patrick Johnson who will pitch for them on Thursday. Johnson has an impressive 9-1 record which ties him for 2nd most in the conference. To go along with his record, Johnson has a 3.07 ERA and has struck out 85 batters which is 8th most in the ACC.

I know I say this just about every other week but the Tar Heels key stat is their strikeouts. This time I promise and I have the stats to back me up! Carolina has racked up 492 Ks on the year which is 2nd most in the ACC and country (to UVa). To be successful the boys will have to limit their strikeouts and get hits.

Coupled with the fact that their pitchers strike so many people out, their defense seems to be outstanding as well. They only have 42 errors on the season which gives them a superb .979 fielding percentage. Runs are going to be hard to come by for both teams this weekend if the hits are falling and teams aren’t executing at the plate.

The distinct advantage between the two teams comes at the plate. Virginia is 3rd in the conference with a .309 batting average and is more than 23 percentage points better than Carolina’s (.286). North Carolina does however hold a distinct advantage in the home run column with 32 to UVa’s 16. I wouldn’t put too much stock into this as UVa has proven year in and year out (except last year) that it doesn’t rely on the home run and will beat teams in other ways. Colin Moran leads the Tar Heels at the plate with a .349 average and 9 home runs to go along with only 25 Ks on the year. The ‘Hoos will have to limit the damage Moran can do to be successful this weekend.

At the beginning of the year I would have said that this would be an important series due to the fact that it was the last series of the year, Coach O’Connor and UNC head coach Mike Fox don’t exactly get along well, and the two teams are always good. After the way the season has played out, this series seems to feature two of the better teams in the ACC. Carolina will be trying to win to improve their resume to be a national seed in the NCAA tournament while UVa will be trying to cement their second straight ACC regular season title. My prediction: UVa wins 2/3 and takes the title but the games are close.

As always I will be providing updates via twitter through @STLUVaBaseball and as I heard Tyler Hansborough say the other day between pushups and closing his eyes because his eyeballs were drying up because of how wide open he has them all the time:

Tyler: Man I owned UVa when I was there but, this baseball game is too hard for me to understand.
Me: Thanks Tyler, anything else?
Tyler: Go Hoos?
Me: That’s right Tyler. Thaaaaaaaaaaats right.
Tyler: Duhhhhhhhhh, thanks.

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