This is the first of a three-part series looking back at just how Virginia’s 2018 baseball season became an outlier after 14 straight years of postseason success.
Entering the 2018 baseball season, the Cavaliers had high hopes for how the season would play out. They came in ranked in the Top 25 by almost all of the relevant ranking polls, returned a lot of talent from an NCAA tournament run, and had an entering class ranked No. 17 overall by Perfect Game.
Then the lines got put on the field, the bases were set, the lights came on, and people with different uniforms started showing up.
And the injuries happened.
Injuries happen to every team. The Washington Nationals blame injuries every year for when they either don’t make the playoffs or lose in the first round.
Sure, Coach Brian O’Connor had dealt with injuries before. Nathan Kirby missed a lot of time. Stephen Bruno. Scott Silverstein. Greg Miclat. All missed significant parts of their UVa careers due to injury.
But the injuries that plagued this team had a greater impact than any before it.
Of the six players on this year’s media guide—Derek Casey, Daniel Lynch, Bennett Sousa, Jake McCarthy, Cam Simmons, and Caleb Knight—three of them (McCarthy, Simmons, and Knight) missed significant games due to injury and one (Casey) was in just his second year back from missing an entire season due to Tommy John surgery.
The hits started to come even before the season got started. Prior to UVa’s first pitch against UCF in February, Coach O’Connor had already lost junior outfielder Cam Simmons, junior pitcher Chesdin Harrington, and sophomore catcher Drew Blakely.
Simmons was going to lock down the outfield with Jake McCarthy. In 2017 he batted .374 in ACC games and .352 overall, which was good enough for fourth in the entire conference, and was eighth in the conference with 57 RBI. All that was good enough to land him Second-Team All-ACC honors in 2017, and he was going to be a mainstay in the lineup before a shoulder injury ended his 2018 season before it started.
Drew Blakely was going to give Caleb Knight some backup. Though he had only played in 10 games his first year in the program, Coach Kuhn’s and Coach McMullan’s requires almost an entire year of learning. Blakely would have given depth off the bench, a bat at the DH position, and Knight a few days off. Tommy John surgery shelved Blakely the entire 2018 season.
Caleb Knight was penciled in to start behind the plate all season. In his first season at UVa, he played in 42 games and started 33, including the final 30 straight, and batted .301. Although most would expect a few days off for the starting catcher, depth at the position was limited given Blakely’s injury. An injury forced Knight to miss games in March and April limiting him to just 42 games again in 2018.
Chesdin Harrington might have pushed for a starting role at pitcher, but it was more likely he was going to provide some much needed depth out of the bullpen. A junior with 29 appearances in his first two seasons at UVa, he had held opponents to a .160 batting average in 2017. Harrington suffered an elbow injury and never saw the mound in 2018.
Evan Sperling and Noah Murdock were going to come into the season with chances to lock down weekend rotation spots. Murdock had been named to the ACC All-Freshman Team in 2017 while Sperling had made four of his ten starts in ACC play. Murdock was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery at towards the end of the 2017 season forcing him to miss most of the 2018 campaign and only pitch 13.1 innings in five appearances. Meanwhile, Sperling suffered a forearm strain in March landing him on the bench until mid-May giving him only 29.2 innings in seven appearances, with most of those coming prior to the injury.
While some might argue Cam Simmons’s injury was the hardest for UVa to overcome, most would point to the absence of Jake McCarthy. Although he missed nearly his entire freshman season due to injury, McCarthy came back in 2017 to play in all 59 games, bat .338, steal 27 bases, and hit seven triples. He entered 2018 on the Golden Spikes preseason watch list, was a Second Team Preseason All-American for Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, and Perfect Game, and was a First Team Preseason All-American for the NCBWA and D1baseball.com. In early March against Davidson, McCarthy would suffer a wrist injury causing him to miss the next 34 games and only appear in 20 games in his final season with UVa.
Six players were forced to miss significant time for UVa. At least two were going to start nearly every game in the lineup. At least one could have been a weekend starter in the rotation. One could have provided depth in the pen the Hoos desperately needed. In all, those six players combined to play in just 32 games in 2018.
Just one reason UVa’s 2018 season became an outlier.