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From the Cheap Seats: Checking in with Virginia Baseball

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At just past the mid-way point in the 2016 season, let's take a look at where Virginia has been, where they are, and where they can go. All this...From the Cheap Seats.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

For those familiar with "From the Upper Deck" and "From the Rafters," the "From the..." series continues with a weekly look at Virginia baseball. It's been an interesting season to say the least. While there is still a long way to go, it certainly can't be what Virginia hoped for as they look to defend their College World Series title. However, if there was anything that we learned from last season is that you never count this program out. There is still a lot of season left, so let's check in with the 2016 Hoos...From the Cheap Seats.

On the year, Virginia is 20-14, 7-8 in the ACC. They're fourth in the ACC Coastal, but only a game back of second place UNC. If the season ended today, they'd be the #8 seed in the ACC Tournament.

The struggles for this team have been on the mound. It's not big a surprise as Virginia lost starters Nathan Kirby and Brandon Waddell to the draft, and the biggest loss is proving to be Josh Sborz. Last year, Virginia had three starters that could be counted on for big games (when you include Connor Jones), and Sborz at the back end of the bullpen who could shut things down. This year, the Hoos are really missing someone who can take the ball at the end of the game and ensure they'll get the win. Jones is cementing his case as a first round pick come June with a 6-1 record with a 2.24 ERA. Couple that with Adam Haseley proving that his start in the College World Series Final game two was no fluke and sports a 1.59 ERA and 6-0 record. Between Haseley and Jones, Virginia has two starters who can keep them competitive in a series against the country's elite teams.

Alec Bettinger has moved into the starting rotation after struggling at the back end of the bullpen. From the pen he was 0-4 with a 4.37 ERA, but he did record seven saves. Going forward, Tommy Doyle will get a shot at closing things out for the Hoos. He comes from the rotation where he had a 1-5 record with a 5.48 ERA. While he took the loss on Saturday at Boston College, he was effective, striking out seven in three innings of work. Another pitcher out of the pen to keep an eye on is Kevin Doherty. The two-way player for the Hoos has a 1.50 ERA and leads the team with 17 appearances. He provides a veteran presence on the mound for Virginia and one that can really be an asset for this team if they hope to make a run.

While the pitching has struggled, the Virginia bats have kept the Hoos in the game. Matt Thaiss is having an All American season batting .365 with five HR and leads the Virginia lineup. Not to be outdone, Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, and Daniel Pinero are all batting over .300, but the real revelation for Virginia has been the emergence of Ernie Clement. While hitting at the bottom of the Virginia lineup last year, Clement was most known for the game winning hit against Maryland that sent the Hoos to Omaha. After moving into the two slot, Clement is batting .359 and leads the Hoos in hits with 55. If Virginia is going to go far this season, it's going to have to be the offense that stays strong.

Going forward, Virginia is going to have to win some games. Obviously that goes without saying, but to see what Virginia needs to do the rest of the season, let's look back to last year (through mid April) for a quick comparison.

2015 2016
Overall Record 21-14 20-14
ACC Record 7-11 7-8
RPI 46 44
Top 50 Wins 8 3
Bad Losses 4 1

What jumps out to me most is the difference between good wins and bad losses. Last year's team proved that on any given day, they could compete with the best teams in the country, but could lose to anyone just as easily. It's that upside that led them to the College World Series championship. They weren't scared of the Miamis, the Floridas, and the Vanderbilts because they knew they'd gone toe to toe with quality teams all season long. Unfortunately, this year's Hoos don't profile in the same way. It's as if they've beaten the teams they should beat (Duke, Wake Forest), but lost to the teams they should lose to (Coastal Carolina, Louisville, NC State).

All that said, the schedule is back loaded. 13 of Virginia's 21 games remaining are all against teams in the Top 32 of the RPI starting this weekend when North Carolina comes to town. If Virginia can win three or four of their final five series, they will have nothing to worry about come selection Monday. But should they falter, not only could they miss out on the NCAA Tournament altogether, but they could miss out on even the ACC tournament. Certainly not the title defense Virginia would hope for.

Last year's run was kicked off with a home series win over Miami. Hopefully Virginia can relive some of that magic and get things rolling as they host the North Carolina Tar Heels. Friday's game is at 6 p.m. Saturday's first pitch is at 4 p.m. while Sunday's finale will go at 12 p.m.