After facing off last weekend against highly ranked Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the 'Hoos will face an easier opponent this weekend. The Blue Devils roll into Charlottesville carrying a 20-16 record and a less than impressive 4-11 ACC record. So far, they have only won a single ACC weekend (vs. NC St), and have been swept twice by highly ranked ACC opponents (UNC and Clemson).
Duke is lead on the mound by, well, nobody. They have three starters that they will run out there, but not a single pitcher has distanced themselves as an ace or has an impressive resume. Their Friday starter, FR. LHP Dillon Haviland, enters with a 2-2 record and a 2.76 ERA. Haviland has pitched 32.2 innings and given up 30 hits and 12 walks. He's only struck out 18 and doesn't appear to be too overpowering. The Hoos should be able to put the ball in play regularly and put pressure on the Duke fielders that have 37 E's on the year (UVa has 23). The rest of the staff has 4.53 ERA and has a large problem with control having issued 140 walks. If the Hoos are disciplined at the plate (which they damn well should be) and put the ball in play, runs should not be too hard to come by.
At the plate the Blue Devils are more comparable to the Cavaliers, boasting a .292 team average and 214 runs scored (UVa: .305 and 266). Sophomore catcher Jeff Kremer leads the team offensively with a .380 average and .504 slugging percentage. I would say his most impressive stat though is his 17 strikeouts in 121 at bats. Thats an impressive percentage for a player that has played in all the games for the Blue Devils this year. The biggest threat that the Blue Devils possess however is their aggressiveness on the basepaths. Will Piwinica-Worms and Marcus Stroman both have double digit SB's this year and no starter in their lineup has less than 4 attempts. John Hicks will have to be on his toes all weekend ready for the Blue Devils to try and swipe an extra bag.
Historically, UVa has the edge over the Blue Devils with a 84-52-1 head to head record. Coach O'Connor has been even more successful posting a 17-6 record and has only lost a single sesason series (2008) to Duke in his seven years at the helm of the Cavaliers. The 'Hoos also havent lost to the Blue Devils since May 8, 2009 and has beaten Duke in six straight games.
The final aspect of the weekend everyone will be focused on will be the change in the UVa starting rotation. Coach O'Connor made the switch everyone has been clamoring for by moving 3rd year Will Roberts to the Sunday role instead of Cody Winiarski. I know that many are strongly in favor of the change but personally, I don't see why. Yes, I understand that all three losses have come on Sundays that Cody has pitched and I know that Will has been literally perfect during some of his starts but let's look at the facts. Cody has a 3.77 ERA and a 4-2 record. One of UVa's losses wasn't even his fault. On the other hand, Will has pitched the only perfect game in UVa history and has been dominant all year. However, Will's opponents have not been nearly the same caliber opponent that Cody has been facing up against. Does Cody amount for 2/3 of UVa's losses? Yes. Does Will have a 7-0 record and lead the team with a 0.87 ERA? Sure. Is UVa currently ranked #1/#2 with a 32-3 record and hasn't lost a series yet this year? Yes, so IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T WORRY ABOUT FIXING IT. I trust in Coach O'Connor and nobody other than the coaches and players know what has taken place at all the practices and offseason intersquads. There was a reason Cody was the Sunday guy. Let's just hope that Will is as successful on Sunday's as he has been on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The boys shouldn't have too big of an issue this weekend. The 'Hoos are clearly the better team this weekend and should handle their business without problem. I expect them to sweep and stay on top of the Coastal division.
Another matchup to watch is out in the SEC. UVa's competition for the #1 spot, Vanderbilt, is taking on their toughest opponent of the season when they travel to South Carolina. If USC-East is able to win two of the games and take the series I would expect the Hoos to move into the top spot. If the Gamecocks sweep the Commodores, USC could threaten both the 'Hoos and Vanderbilt for the #1 ranking.
The Blue Devils and 'Hoos square off tonight at 6 and will play a doubleheader on Sunday due to possible weather on Saturday. I'll provide updates on twitter @STLUVaBaseball and as Nolan Smith says when he is watching baseball: "Gooooooooo HOOOOOOOOOOOOOS"