Friday, June 1, 2012

Raleigh Regional Preview

No. 4 Sacred Heart (25-30, 19-13 NEC)
Team Batting: .272/.356/.347, 4.6 runs per game
Team Pitching: .291/.374/.401, 5.9 runs per game

The Pioneers are one of the worst teams to make the NCAA tournament field, riding a recent hot streak all the way to the NEC tournament championship and sneaking into the field despite a losing record. The best opponent that the Pioneers played this season, New Mexico State, outscored them 71-22 over a four-game sweep. Sacred Heart has won seven of its last eight games and its only loss was in extra innings, but all those wins came against a weak NEC conference schedule and their underlying numbers show why they went just 6-17 outside of conference play this season.

The team hit just .272 overall but got on base at a respectable .356 clip, but the team’s lack of power is outstanding. They have just 10 total home runs on the season – that’s four less than Ryan Matthews has by himself – and no one had more than 16 extra base hits for the team. They are a singles hitting team that needs to string together hits and use its speed (71 stolen bases on the season) to manufacture runs.

Sacred Heart has usually given the ball to Nick Leiningen to open its series this year, and he seems the most likely candidate to start against the Pack on Friday. Leiningen is a pitch to contact guy, with just 38 strikeouts in 87 innings and has allows about five runs per nine innings of the course of the season. The rest of the staff is similar with just handful of bullpen arms striking out more than a batter per inning. The Pack will be able to put the ball in play against the Pioneers.

No. 3 UNC Wilmington (38-21, 24-6 Colonial)
Team Batting: .302/.384/.443, 6.3 runs per game
Team Pitching: .255/.337/.401, 4.2 runs per game

The Pack has actually played the Seahawks twice this season, first in a mid-week game and again at a weekend tournament. The Pack took both games, winning by 10-0 in the first match and 8-3 in the second. Both match-ups came early in the season and the Seahawks have been dominant since entering Colonial league play, winning the conference tournament and earning a short trip to Raleigh as the third seed.

Hitting over .300 as a team, even against a much easier schedule than the Pack’s, is no small feat and Wilmington not only hits for average but also gets on base and hits for power. The team has power (48 home runs, 116 doubles) and speed (104 stolen bases in 132 attempts) up and down its lineup. Even adjusting for the league they played for, this is a dangerous hitting team capable of putting up runs in bunches.

The Seahawks will probably throw ace Mat Batts in their opening-round match-up with Vanderbilt, so it’s likely that if the Pack sees them on Saturday they’ll be facing Tyler McSwain. McSwain isn’t nearly the strikeout pitching that Batts is, but he’s effective nonetheless and has pitched a team-high 101 innings this season. The bullpen is also effective with four relievers with sub-3 ERAs, so getting past their starting pitching doesn’t promise better results. 

No. 2 Vanderbilt (33-26, 20-15 SEC)
Team Batting: .266/.365/.377, 5.4 runs per game
Team Pitching: .253/.354/.344, 4.5 runs per game

Don’t be fooled by the Commodores’ somewhat unimpressive record and overall numbers – they played a brutal schedule and finished No. 24 in the RPI despite their record, a number that earned them the 2nd seed in the Raleigh regional. Like everyone else in the Pack’s regional, they closed the season strong winning 12 of 13 games before losing to Mississippi State in the SEC title game.

Vanderbilt hit just .266 as a team but make up for it by getting on base and stealing bases. Virtually everyone in their starting line-up has a stolen base and as a team they’ve stolen 78 bases. They need the help though, because this isn’t a team that hits for a lot of power – just 26 home runs and 100 doubles (the Pack, by comparison, hit 35 home runs and had 131 doubles).

The Commodore pitching staff succeeding by striking batters out and limiting extra-base hits – forcing the opposition to play station-to-station baseball. All three of Vanderbilt’s weekend starters struck out close to a batter per inning and none allowed more than five home runs. Vanderbilt changed its rotation late in the year and moved TJ Pecoraro from the bullpen to the Friday role while putting its best pitcher – Sam Selman – in the Saturday slot. So it’s tough to know how they will set their rotation for the regional, but it’s likely the Pack would face one of those two pitchers if they meet the Commodores on Saturday.

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