OMAHA, Neb. -- While there is a hint of familiarity for a Virginia club that returns to Omaha as 2014 national runner-up, the 2015 Cavs did not exactly follow a path similar to their predecessors.
But now, Virginia -- having played more games at TD Ameritrade Ballpark -- sits in the driver’s seat in its opening round tilt with Arkansas.
|VIRGINIA (39-22) vs. ARKANSAS (40-23)|
The weekend forecast in Omaha calls for rain and thunderstorms that could very well dampen this increased home run trend, especially in a not-so-power-friendly TDABP.
Arkansas has a formidable lineup with eight of nine starters hitting above .280, including the CWS batting leader Andrew Benintendi (.380). Benintendi’s 19 home runs this season also shares the NCAA lead with Miami (Fla.)’s David Thompson.
But in a weekend series in Omaha, where there were only three home runs hit in the 16 games of the 2014 CWS, big offense may once again succumb to shut down pitching.
Both Virginia’s lineup and rotation were hit by the club’s injury plagued season. But while some important bats (Joe McCarthy, Robbie Coman) have returned to the lineup from an injury, Virginia is still forced to limit Nathan Kirby to a bullpen role in the CWS.
Kirby, a left-hander with 75 strikeouts in 59.1 innings pitched this season, threw 40 pitches in a simulated game in Charlottesville, Virginia on Monday and is expected to be available in Omaha.
Connor Jones has been able to step in and be a stable front-end starter for Virginia, posting a .296 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 103.1 innings pitched this season.
Jones will be forced to navigate around the sleeping giants in the heart of the Arkansas lineup, Benintendi and Tyler Spoon, but also be weary of an aggressive Dave van Horn, a fan of the hit and run with this season’s team because of a lineup full of tough outs.
The player with the worst -- if you could even call it that -- batting average in the Miami starting lineup is Ricky Eusebio. Eusebio is hitting .297, a solid average for a leadoff hitter on any team in the country. The Canes' entire roster has just five players hitting below .300.
|MIAMI (49-15) vs. FLORIDA (49-16)|
Miami had the best contact bat in the ACC this season in George Iskenderian (.367 BA) as well as one of the best power bats in the country (David) Thompson whose 87 RBI lead the NCAA and 19 home runs give him a share of the lead with Benintendi.
Iskenderian also leads the Canes in steals with 23. The Miami lineup has four legitimate base stealers with Iskenderian, Eusebio, Carl Chester and Jacob Heyward, who stands a perfect 13-13 on stolen base attempts this season.
This can present a problem to Florida with J.J. Schwarz behind the dish for the Gators. Schwarz has thrown out only four of 19 would-be base stealers and all CWS teams will likely be aggressive on the base paths in Omaha, given the over-arching theme of an expected dip in power numbers.
Although Schwarz is far from being a liability at catcher, he presents the most dangerous bat in the Florida lineup. Schwarz’ four home runs in the regional and Super Regional bring him to within one of Thompson and Benintendi’s NCAA-leading 19.
The Gators -- whose postseason schedule has consisted of five games against four different schools from the state of Florida -- are also one of the most polished defensive teams in the NCAA.
Shortstop Richie Martin’s eight errors are the most on the team but only enough to bring Martin’s fielding percentage to a .974. Third baseman Josh Tobias has just one error in 131 chances, good enough for a .992 fielding percentage. At the plate, Tobias leads the Gators with a .373 batting average.
On the mound for Miami, should be Suarez, a ground-ball pitcher who isn’t exactly an innings eater but does pick up a good amount of strikeouts.
Florida will likely throw Logan Shore, a sophomore with the ability to go deep into games. Shore has only surrendered five home runs in 101 innings pitched this season.