It's always fun beating up on teams that are struggling and aren't on the same level as your team. Teams like George Washington and James Madison are good for the midweek games to get (fairly) easy wins. Playing down ACC teams like Wake is great for confidence, the resume, and the ACC standings, but like two weeks ago when the Hoos traveled to Raleigh, shit is about to get real real.
UNC is one of the top teams in not only the Coastal Division and the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the
WORLD NCAA. They travel to Charlottesville with the #8 ranking in the country and tied with the Hoos for 2nd in the Coastal. The good news for the Cavaliers is UNC is coming off a sweep at the hands of Miami last weekend and could be struggling a little bit. The bad news for the Cavaliers is UNC is coming off a sweep at the hands of Miami last weekend could be pissed the hell off and tired of losing. If I was a betting man, I'd say it's the latter because a 24-9 record doesn't happen on accident.
Historically, UNC has had the Kryptonite to UVa's Rawlings superman strength. Overall the Tar Heels have owned the matchup winning 172 of the team's 274 games, but the record is a little better for UVa fans when Coach O'Connor is involved (13-16). Looking at the recent records it seems the Hoos struggle at times during the season with the Heels but take care of business when it matters most. The two have met in four of the last five ACC tournaments with UVa winning the last three times the two have matched up. Not terrible news for us but not great either. Fortunately for the Hoos, the last time the Heels came to the Dav, the Cavaliers swept UNC although the games were fairly close.
You want to find a team with a lot of weaknesses in pitching and hitting? Look elsewhere because this UNC team is strawng (that's like man strength). On the mound, all three of their starting pitchers this weekend will have an ERA under 3 and combined they have a 9-4 record. Sophomore LHP Kent Emanuel is their UNC starter and comes in with a 1.93 ERA (3rd in the ACC) and 45 batters struck out (10th in the ACC). What is more impressive is Emanuel has only walked nine batters on the year and given up 11 earned runs in total. Unfortunately, the starters don't get easier the rest of the weekend either. On Sunday, UNC's Freshman RHP Benton Moss will take the mound and he has an even lower ERA (1.85) albeit a worse record at 2-2.
In the bullpen, the Heels have Michael Morin closing out the games. Morin has a miniscule 0.84 ERA in 32 innings pitched. He is also in contention for the ACC lead in saves this year having registered eight on the year, which is one off the lead for the Conference. Just last week, Morin held Miami scoreless for seven innings of relief until a Miami home run in the 14th ended the game. If the Cavaliers are facing a hole come the 8th or 9th inning, it could be hard to climb out. They're going to have to manufacture runs early in the ball game and put it away in the middle innings if they want to have success.
If the Heels hold the edge in the pitching matchups, the Hoos certainly hold the favor in the hitting aspect. The Heels have a combined .276 team batting average (UVa .316) and are missing their best hitter who is out for a few more weeks with a hurt wrist (pretty sure). The Hoos also hold the advantage in every statistical offensive category save two (walks and doubles...oh well, boys hit triples anyways). The batter the Hoos are going to have to pay the most attention to is certainly going to be Jacob Stallings. If you remember correctly, Stallings' Daddy is the Vanderbilt head basketball coach and the announcers loved to tell you every three or four minutes last year in the ACC tournament and Omaha. This year, Stalling is the UNC leader in hits and tied for the lead in doubles and RBI. Luckily, he is also the team leader in strikeouts!
The teams appear to be pretty evenly matched. It is a big weekend for both teams as they are trying to cement themselves in the upper echelon of the conference and division. I think the biggest factor for the Hoos success will be their pitching. If the staff can hold UNC to one or two runs per game the Cavaliers could muster enough run support to take the series. A couple of weeks ago I would have given this UVa team no shot at the series and might have said they were going to be swept. Now, I think the Hoos are rolling with enough confidence, solid pitching, and hitting to not only win a game but to win the series. My call: Hoos take the series (2-1), keep the home ACC series winning streak alive, and take 2nd place in the Coastal.
As always I will do my best to provide updates via twitter (@STLUVaBaseball) and will actually be at the game on Saturday with our fearless leader. So, if you see an Asian guy that looks like he has had too much Firefly and loves country music hanging out with a guy that looks like he could be a professional athlete and should have played more in his college career, come say hey (and tell Brian how much you loooooooovvvvvvvveee following him on Twitter)! Oh, and of course, GO HOOOOS!