Riding an eight game winning streak, the Hoos will get back in to the ACC swing of things this weekend when Georgia Tech comes to town. The boys are currently in a tie for fourth with Clemson in the ACC and need to take care of business over the next two weekends if they want that fourth seed in Greensboro at the end of the month. Only two games separates UVa from UNC in the Coastal division standings but with UNC having an easy schedule to end the year (Duke and VPISU), I just can't see the Hoos overtaking the top spot of the division.
As is the case historically for the Cavaliers against many in the ACC, Georgia Tech owned the series until Coach O'Connor took over the program. Overall, the Yellow Jackets have the 42-64-2 edge since the matchups began in 1924. Since 2004, when O'Connor took over, the Hoos have been the better of the two holding a 15-9-1 record. Not only that, but UVa hasn't lost a series to the Yellow Jackets since '08 (Seriously, we didn't beat a damn team that year. How we even made the ACC tournament I will never know).
This year the Yellow Jackets have severely underachieved. Ranked by Baseball America coming in to the season as the 12th best team in the country, they have amassed only a 30-19 record and the 31st RPI. In the ACC the Jackets have a 10-14 record which puts them in a tie with VPISU for fourth....in the division. Right now they are clinging to the 7th seed for the tournament and facing a fairly difficult schedule to end the year (@UVa and Miami).
Normally Georgia Tech has a pretty good pitching staff. This year, not so much. Their 4.40 ERA puts them in 10th place in the conference. Not only do they not have a great ERA, but they have given up the second most runs in the conference as well. If there is a bright spot for the Georgia Tech staff it is their Friday night guy, Junior RHP Buck Farmer (legit ACC baseball name). Overall Farmer has a 7-3 record with a 3.20 ERA, but in his last six starts he has been fairly dominant amassing a 3-1 record to go along with a 1.59 ERA. He ranks third in innings pitched and strike outs and fourth in wins. The other dominant pitcher for Tech is Alex Cruz. Cruz went to Atlanta as an infielder but was moved to the mound and has been a stalwart out of the pen. In his 23 appearances he has a 1.74 ERA to go along with a 6-1 record.....again, out of the pen.
In the batter's box, Georgia Tech has been very competitive throughout the year. Led by Jr. LF Brandon Thomas who leads the team with a .366 average and So. RF Daniel Palka with 11 home runs, the Jacket lineup will be a tough test for the UVa pitching staff. The good news is that they strike out a lot. With 332 Ks in their 49 games, if you can get their young lineup off balance and uncomfortable you could be successful. As a team, they have managed to hit a good amount of home runs, but if any of you have been to Atlanta you know that they heat and humidity make that great city a launching pad for baseballs. Couple that with Russ Chandler not being a very pitcher friendly park and you have home runs! Davenport field on the other hand is where home runs go to die. Good luck living by the long ball Georgia Tech; let me know how it works out for you.
As always, limiting the walks is going to be the deciding factor in the pitching matchup. The Hoos have hurt themselves this season by allowing extra runners on base. Keep the walks to a minimum, all the Yellow Jackets to get the hits they will get, and not commit killer errors and the Cavaliers should be successful.
As for my outlook on the weekend, I think the boys should come out of this weekend feeling good about the ACC tournament and hosting a regional come NCAA tournament time. Georgia Tech has struggled but has seen success as of late. Not to mention they are fighting for an ACC and NCAA tournament birth. That won't matter in Charlottesville as the Cavaliers take two of three and clinch a birth for Greensboro.
Saturday's game is on TV but I will do my best to provide updates via twitter (@STLUVaBaseball). Enjoy your weekends, cheer on the Caps, expect greatness from UVa Lax and Baseball, and of course GO HOOS!