The Virginia baseball team kicks off its second weekend homestand in a row, this time when the North Carolina Tar Heels visit Charlottesville for 3 games. The series begins tonight, with a 6 PM game at Davenport. The teams will then play Saturday and Sunday at 1 PM. The Saturday game will be televised on RSN (here's a list of affiliates), and ESPN3 (subject to blackout, if the game's on TV where you live).
The Hoos enter sy 31-6 and 14-4 in ACC play, tied with Miami for first in the Coastal division (though UVA has the tiebreaker). Last weekend, Virginia picked up a huge series win over a quality opponent, Clemson, then trounced William and Mary on Wednesday. The team's recent play has propelled them back to the consensus #1 in the nation.
North Carolina started the season in the top 15, and stayed there until a 6-game losing streak, including a sweep at Duke, sent them plummeting out. However, of their last 9 losses, six have been by 1 run and two have been by 2 runs, indicating their fall from grace is probably at least partially the result of bad luck. The Tar Heels seem to have recovered somewhat, as they took their last two series, albeit against Boston College and Wake Forest. They'll face a tougher test this weekend. Overall, UNC is 22-15, and 9-9 in ACC play, though they still have their toughest three matchups, with UVA, Miami, and FSU, all ahead of them.
UNC holds a 176-100-4 edge in the all-time series. Though UVA took 2 of 3 from Carolina last year in Chapel Hill, UNC swept two very good Wahoo teams in 2011 and 2012 - they're the last squad to win an ACC series in Charlottesville.
While both sides boast strong hitting, this series is about two teams with great pitching staffs. Obviously, Virginia's starters have been brilliant, led by tonight's starter, Nathan Kirby (7-1, 1.23 ERA). UVA's 2.06 team ERA is first in the conference, with UNC a distant second at 2.84. (That's ridiculous. UVA allows almost 40% fewer runs than the next-closest team in the conference). But Carolina's starter tonight, Trent Thornton (7-1, 1.50 ERA) is no scrub either. Kirby and Thornton are the ACC's only two pitchers with 7 wins. This should be a good one. While Carolina's pitching isn't quite as dominant or deep as Virginia's, nobody else in the nation's is either.
UNC's hitters are led by Michael Russell, who's hitting .338 with 12 doubles and 3 homers. Overall, Tar Heel batters rank 6th in the ACC in batting average, 4th in homers, and 5th in slugging percentage.
UNC is a solid team that has the potential to steal a game (or even the series) if they could out-duel UVA's pitching staff. They were a top-15 team until that tough-luck losing streak, and are probably still close to that, despite what the polls say. However, UVA's pitching staff has simply shown no evidence that they could be out-dueled, (and the Hoos would certainly like to erase the memory of Carolina's last visit to Charlottesville). This is usually the part of the preview where Will makes a prediction, and I always get annoyed whenever he thinks the team will lose a game. So, I'll go with a Wahoo sweep, and let him drop in to tell us whether that's rational or hopeful.