With high expectations coming into the year, it’s an understatement to say that this year’s Virginia Baseball season has been a disappointment. With just over half the season in the books the Hoos stand at 14-14 and 6-12 in the ACC. It will be an uphill climb to reach the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2017, but it’s not impossible. Let’s take a look at how they got here and what the Hoos have to do to turn it around.
During last year’s shortened season, the Virginia offense was a revelation and fueled optimism for the 2021 campaign. But so far the Hoos at the plate haven’t come remotely close to replicating that success. The Cavaliers come in dead last in batting in the ACC, hitting a paltry .235 as a team. Not only is the average lacking, but so is the power as Virginia also ranks last in home runs and slugging percentage. Zack Gelof leads the Hoos in batting at .259 (among those with more than 20 games played) while Devin Ortiz paces the Cavaliers with four home runs. The lone bright spot is freshman Kyle Teel who is batting .314 with three home runs since entering the starting lineup for March 9th against Richmond. Among the biggest disappointments for Virginia have been Chris Newell and Nic Kent. Both came into the year garnering Preseason All-American buzz and both have struggled batting .208 and .219 respectively. For the Hoos to get back into the NCAA Regionals conversation, they’re going to have to get some more production from their middle of the field studs.
Luckily for Virginia, it’s been a different story on the mound. The Cavaliers ranks second in the ACC in both team ERA and strikeouts. They’ve been led by Andrew Abbott and Mike Vasil. Abbott ranks 4th in the ACC in ERA and second in strikeouts but only has a 3-4 record due to his lack of run support. Vasil has fared a little better in the win column and is 4-2 and sixth in the ACC with an ERA of 2.54. The bullpen has been solid as well with Blake Bales pitching well in long-relief and as a setup man to closer Stephen Schoch. Bales hasn’t given up an earned run in 22.1 innings of work and has 31 strikeouts to his name. Schoch is once again the anchor with five saves and 22 strikeouts in 15 innings.
It’s not all roses on the mound for Virginia, however, as they continue to be undone by walks. The same issue that has kept the team out of the postseason in recent years is still a problem. The Hoos have surrendered the second most walks by any team in the ACC with Griff McGarry giving up 27 of them. McGarry has struggled with an 0-4 record and 6.85 ERA. His control will have to improve if he’s going to give his team a chance to win series given his role as the Saturday starter.
With six more ACC series, the Hoos are still in position to make a run at the postseason. Based on RPI the hard part of their schedule is behind them having played the 1st, 2nd, and 4th best teams they’re due to play. They have dug a deep hole and will need to average a 2-1 record each weekend the rest of the way. They’ll have a good shot at a quality mid-week game when they host Liberty (RPI 36) later this month and their opening weekend series win over UConn is still holding up as the season has progressed. Also encouraging is the fact that the bats seem to have come alive in recent weeks. In the first three ACC series of the season Virginia scored only 24 runs while they’ve put up 49 runs over the last three.
The second-half stretch run begins Friday with a series at Clemson. The Tigers are 39th in RPI so a series win on the road will be a good feather in the cap for a team looking to finish strong.