In what should be an exciting Super Regional all across the board, it would not be a surprise to see the result come down to which team performs better on the mound. Both teams are comfortable playing and winning low scoring games. Let's take a look at what each team will be bringing to Davenport this weekend.
Entering 2015, the Hoos carried a top five rank thanks in large part due its returning starting pitching. Being able to go into a three game series with Nathan Kirby, Brandon Waddell, and Connor Jones was as good a 1-2-3 punch as anyone in the country could muster. Unfortunately for the Hoos, the trio didn't get off to as hot a start as many would have hoped and then on April 17th, Nathan Kirby went down with a lat strain that has sidelined him up until this point in the season and his return is still uncertain. However, with what has become the M.O. of this team, Jones has stepped up and been a stud while Brandon Waddell has shown glimpses of the pitcher Virginia baseball fans have grown accustomed to seeing the last two years.
Since Kirby's injury, Jones has become the team go-to ace posting a record of 2-0 with a 1.81 ERA. Most importantly though, he has gone at least seven innings in each of his six starts preserving the bullpen after the first night of competition. On the season Jones is 6-2 and allowing batters to hit a paltry 0.222 against him. Some might say that Waddell has been somewhat of a disappointment this season, but that is what happens when a guy is as good as Brandon has been over the last two years. Only once since Kirby's injury has Waddell gone less than six innings and if you take away his outing against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament he has a 2.62 ERA over his last five starts.
At the end of the ACC regular season Coach O'Connor threw Josh Sborz in as the third starter and he was dominant going 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three starts including a one-hit shut out against Georgia Tech where he took a perfect game into the seventh inning. However, issues at the back end of the bullpen have thrust Sborz back into his role as closer leaving third starter duties to Alec Bettinger or Adam Hasely. Bettinger struggled in his last outing as he got the start in game three of the Lake Elsinore Regional and couldn't make it out of the first inning however has proven on the season that he can start and he can finish. Bettinger is 4-5 with a 4.95 ERA, but does have three saves to his name. Hasely has been a do-it-all first year this season for the Hoos. Not only does he regularly play centerfield and bat leadoff, but he has compiled a 2-1 record with a 2.66 ERA in four starts. He has also chipped in one save, but the coaching has been somewhat reluctant to let him go long innings as a starter. It will be interesting to see what the Hoos do, should this series go to a game three.
The wild card in all of Virginia's pitching plans rests on the latissimus dorsi of Nathan Kirby. Should Kirby be a go Virginia could once again pose a starting rotation that is as good as any in the country. Even if he were able to go in long relief, the Hoos would surely benefit. All that being said, knowing the Virginia coaching staff and the 2015 Hoos they are prepared to go, with or without their ace.
For much of the Brian O'Connor tenure in Charlottesville, the Hoos have been characterized by their strength in the bullpen, and especially at the back end with the closer. This year was supposed to be no different. However, the Hoos have been decimated by injuries forcing an already young and inexperienced staff into roles they may not have been prepared for.
For example, Josh Sborz. Sborz began the season as the closer and had his ups and downs, but primarily did his job. As noted noted earlier, the injury to Kirby forced Sborz back into the starting role he occupied last year. And without a doubt, he was stellar. But prior to the Lake Elsinore Regional, O'Connor announced Sborz would move back to the bullpen and in that role he was dominant, going four innings, giving only one hit, no earned runs and striking out four. On the season he is 4-2 with a 2.02 ERA and ACC-leading 14 saves. Most of all, due to his experience as a starter, Sborz is a weapon who is a shutdown closer while still being able to have a longer outing if called upon.
Joining Sborz in the bullpen are third years Kevin Doherty and David Rosenberger along with first year Tommy Doyle. Doherty is 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA, however he only allows batters a 0.176 Avg. Rosenberger, though he has 5.46 ERA is an innings eaters throwing 31.1 innings in only 16 appearances without a start. Doyle sports a 1-1 record with a 3.63 ERA. As maligned as this pen has been much of the season, there is hope that they may have found a groove. This trio was sensational in Virginia's extra inning regional clinching victory over USC on Sunday night combining to throw 10 innings and only giving up one earned run.
Coming into the season Maryland's challenge was to replace last year's Friday starter Jake Stinnett who was taken in the 2nd round of the Major League Baseball Draft. Enter Mike Shawaryn. The sophomore has stepped up and then some. Shawaryn has been just short of unhittable boasting a 13-2 record in 16 starts with a 1.66 ERA and a strikeout per nine-inning rate of 11.06. The First Team All Big Ten selection comes at hitters with a low 90s's fastball and a solid slider. The matchup in Friday's opener with Connor should be a good one and first to three runs wins.
As good as he has been for Maryland, after Shawaryn, the staff has been a bit of a mixed bag. Nine different Terrapins have made at least two weekend starts this start year. Compare that to Virginia who has had only six pitchers make a weekend start (with only six starts going to pitchers not named Kirby, Jones, or Waddell). In recent weeks however, Maryland has seemed to have settled on a combination of Brian Shaffer on Saturday and Ryan Selmer on Sunday. Shaffer is second on the team in starts with 11 and has gone 5-1 with a 4.57 ERA. He is a guy who pitches to contact allowing a mere 1.33 walks per nine innings, but he is hit-able as hitters bat 0.265 against him. Selmer has proven effective over the last three weeks. While he has gone 0-1 over that stretch, his team is 2-1 in games he as started. He comes to Charlottesville with a 1.86 ERA, mostly out of the bullpen, but can give his team innings to put them in position to win.
The strength of Maryland's staff is definitely their bullpen. Alex Robinson and Kevin Mooney can shut any team down over course of an inning or two with both averaging about 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Robinson is the left handed set man with a mid 90's fastball and a 1.63 ERA. He is 1-1 on the season and does not have a start. He can be expected to enter the game as a matchup nightmare for a lefty and only get an inning or two at most as he has 27.2 innings pitched over 25 appearances. Kevin Mooney on the other hand can go a few innings if needed. On the year he is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA. He has made three starts on the season, so like Sborz, if he needs to work a few extra innings he is more than capable. He leads the team with 10 saves and opponents are batting only .127 against him. Needless to say, if he is in the game the Hoos may be in trouble.
Beyond the 1-2 punch at the back end of the bullpen, the Terrapins benefit from the shear amount of arms they have with experience. Any number of their middle relievers can go multiple innings led by Robert Galligan. Galligan is 4-4 on the season with a 2.68 ERA but was at his best on Saturday in Maryland's 4-1 win over #1 UCLA when he pitched 4.1 innings of shut out ball, only giving up one hit and one walk while striking out two.
If you love a pitcher's duel, Friday afternoon should be a good one with Jones going against Shawaryn. After that, the edge probably goes to the Hoos on Saturday. However if things go wrong early, the Terrapin bullpen should prove to be an asset. Either way, fans will be a treated to a nice pitching matchup with Omaha on the line.