What’s wrong with Virginia baseball? Better question: what isn’t?
Virginia baseball opened the newly expanded Disharoon Park in February. Fitting for the 2018 brand, it came in an ugly 9-4 loss to VMI that saw the Keydets score six runs in a 31-minute top of the first and never look back.
This was, notably, before coach Brian O’Connor had lost preseason All-American Jake McCarthy to injury.
McCarthy (.314/.446/.412, 0 HR, 5 RBI in 2018) has played 13 games this season, and O’Connor said Monday that there is still no sense of when the junior will be able to return, making you wonder that it’s no longer a when, but an if.
Meanwhile, Caleb Knight (.242/.434/.374, 3 HR, 16 RBI) is out at least for the midweek game this week against ODU, and his status is uncertain for Virginia Tech this weekend.
Hard as it might be to believe, those three homers from Knight are a team-best. UVA has just 10 home runs as a team this season through 28 games, 14th-best in the ACC (Miami, somehow, has just nine), and two less than N.C. State outfielder Brett Kinneman, who leads the conference with 12.
The team slash line is .265/.372/.347, down significantly from last year’s .321/.405/.478, when Virginia slugged 61 homers in 59 games, with two players (Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith) each slugging double-digit homers.
One regular (Andy Weber) is hitting better than .300; last year’s group had seven.
You move over, then, to what is usually the strength of an O’Connor-era Virginia baseball team, pitching, and, well, the team ERA is actually a tick better this season compared to last, at 4.06, to the 4.10 staff ERA in 2017.
I was surprised to see this, honestly. Even the 2015 national champs had a 4.22 staff ERA. (The loaded 2014 team that should have won the CWS had a 3.49 ERA; the 2013 team that was bounced from the Super Regionals was at an astounding 2.23.)
The injury bug has hit the 2018 UVA pitching staff. Weekend starter Evan Sperling (2-0, 3.04 ERA) went down in March with discomfort in his pitching arm and has made just five starts, forcing O’Connor to go Johnny Allstaff in Sunday’s series-clinching loss at Pitt, in the absence of sophomore Bobby Nicholson (1-1, 1.66 ERA), who was serving a suspension for a violation of team rules and didn’t make the trip.
Nicholson starts Tuesday against ODU, and if goes more than a couple of innings, you have to presume he’s not available Sunday, backin gup Daniel Lynch (2-3, 3.64 ERA) and Derek Casey (3-2, 4.02 ERA) in the weekend rotation.
The bullpen hasn’t come around into anything resembling midseason form of yet. Bennett Sousa and Andrew Abbott each have three saves, but each also sport ERAs in the mid-fours (Sousa at 4.30; Abbott at 4.56), and have trouble keeping opposing hitters off the basepaths (Sousa has a 1.30 WHIP; Abbott’s is 1.44).
It all adds up to a team that has scored 151 runs, given up 134, and should be, based on those numbers, a 15-13 ballclub, and is more likely to be the first UVA team in the O’Connor era to miss the NCAA Tournament than it is not.
Story by Chris Graham