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Does UVA baseball have enough hitting to get to Omaha?

college world seriesWe’ve already looked at the question of whether #3 national seed UVA baseball has enough pitching to get to the 2014 College World Series. (The answer: a qualified yes, the qualified part being the big questions surrounding middle relief.)

Now to the question that has vexed Virginia fans and ‘Hoos coach Brian O’Connor all season long: is there enough hitting there to get UVA to Omaha?

There might be more qualified to this yes than with the middle relief.

Virginia hit .277/.376/.384 as a team in 2014, down significantly from the .312/.408/.463 data set from 2013, when the Cavs scored 7.9 runs per game, a light-year or two ahead of the 5.4 runs per game scored by UVA in 2014.

Only one regular with more than 40 starts hit above .300 for the season (Joe McCarthy hit .305). Mike Papi, last year’s offensive juggernaut, saw a slight bump in his home-run totals (10 in 2014, seven in 2013), but his averages dipped from .381/.517/.619 in 2013 to a more pedestrian .289/.442/.487 in 2014.

Pretty much across the board the UVA lineup has seen declines from 2013 across. Last year, 10 players with 176 or more at bats hit .284 or better; this year, there are only three such data sets in the lineup.

So we know the what: that UVA isn’t scoring runs, that the offense isn’t nearly as productive. We don’t really know why. Derek Fisher being out of the lineup for 25 games was a problem during that particular stretch, but Fisher has been back in the lineup for more than a month now, and the offense has scored just 4.9 runs per game since his return.

The lack of punch has put pressure on the pitching staff really all season long. The magic number seems to be four: Virginia was just 3-10 in games in which the opposition scored four or more runs, and 41-3 in games when the opponent scored three or less.

Four runs is not a lot, to say the least. The ACC as a league had an earned run average of 3.45, and factoring in unearned runs, ACC teams gave up an average of 4.19 runs per game.

Meaning that on those rare days that the UVA pitching staff, which led the ACC with a 2.36 ERA and gave up 2.72 runs per game including unearned runs, is merely average, the ‘Hoos will give you far-below-average results.

The scary thing for the Virginia faithful is that the pitching has been merely average of late, giving up 4.5 runs per game the past two weekends, which saw the Cavs go just 2-4, losing a weekend series at Wake Forest and then dropping two of three in the 2014 ACC Baseball Championships.

Could the pitching be breaking down after a season’s worth pf pressure to keep teams down to a run or two to let a surprisingly anemic offense score just enough to post the W?

Let’s hope not. They might not be hitting like it, but there are a couple of first-round talents in the middle of the order (Papi, Fisher), and plenty around them that somehow last year put up big numbers, for this team to finally, finally, finally get hot, put some runs on the board, and propel UVA baseball back to Omaha.

It’s just as likely that they could flame out in Charlottesville and waste a strong season-long effort from one of the better college pitching staffs in recent memory, unfortunately.

– Column by Chris Graham

 
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