2010 ACC Baseball Midseason Review: Scouting the Contenders

With the ACC baseball schedule at the midway point, the takes a look at the top teams in the conference and what to expect for the rest of the season.

Halfway through the conference schedule, the Jackets remain atop the Coastal Division on the strength of an offense that is averaging over 10 runs per game. Including Wednesday’s blowout win over Georgia, the Jackets lead the ACC with 354 runs scored.

Six Jackets are hitting .340 or higher, and the Jackets’ team OBP of .432 is second only to N.C. State among ACC teams. The biggest strength of Tech’s lineup, though, has been its top-to-bottom left-handed power. The team as a whole has 70 homers this year, second-most in the nation, and Tech is on pace to record its fifth season ever with 100 home runs; senior first baseman Tony Plagman is tied for the league lead with 12. Sophomore third baseman Matt Skole, Plagman and junior shortstop Derek Dietrich are atop the conference in slugging percentage.

Junior right-hander Deck McGuire has anchored the pitching staff, going 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Behind McGuire, a pair of sophomores, lefty Jed Bradley and righty Mark Pope, have been solid starters for Tech. With junior closer Kevin Jacob out, senior Andrew Robinson has anchored the bullpen, posting a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings. The staff as a whole has a strong 3.52 ERA.

The Jackets dropped two of three at then-No. 4 Virginia last weekend before their big win over UGA. Tech has tough in-conference tests remaining against Clemson and Miami, but both of those series will take place at Russ Chandler Stadium.

For the last few years, Miami has seemed to dominate the ACC but this year they are second in the conference behind the Jackets. Miami is led by a pitching staff that has an ERA of 3.56. They have only allowed 261 hits so far in 298.2 innings pitched this season, and only 18 of those hits have been home runs. Left-handed starter Eric Erickson has an ERA of 2.81 and has only allowed 13 runs and six walks in his eight starts, and fellow lefty Chris Hernandez is allowing batters to hit .223 against him and has 50 strikeouts in only 49 innings pitched. Right-hander E.J. Encinosa and southpaw Daniel Miranda are key cogs in a strong bullpen, with senior David Hernandez as the closer.

With its strong pitching, Miami does not have to score many runs to win games, but junior Yasmani Grandal puts up big numbers. Grandal is second in the ACC with a .414 average and he is second in hits with 53. Sophomore Harold Martinez provides the power for the lineup as evident by his nine homers.

Miami has had a strong first half and have not lost back-to-back games to date. However, Miami has not had a hard schedule so far and their only ACC sweeps have been against last-placed Duke and Wake Forest. Miami will face their first true test against UNC, April 16-18.

The No. 3 Cavaliers are currently third in the ACC Coastal standings but they are the only team to beat the ACC-leading Jackets in a series.

Virginia is a highly skilled ball club with star caliber players all across the diamond. The Cavaliers are tops in the ACC in team batting average at .341 and are second in team ERA at 3.66. Their pitching staff is also third in strikeouts with 306 and they lead the ACC in saves with 14.

Virginia boasts the conference’s top left-handed starter in Danny Hultzen. Hultzen has the smallest ERA of any ACC starter at 2.04 and opposing batters are only batting .169 against him. Like other ACC leaders, Hultzen has won five games but he has had to pitch more innings in getting those five wins (53). Hultzen also leads the conference in strikeouts with 66 and only has only issued 10 walks. Hultzen allows UVA to get off to a strong start and closer Kevin Arico does a great job in finishing the games off, with an ACC-leading 11 saves.

At the plate, UVA is led by junior Phil Gosselin and his ACC-best 55 hits. Senior Tyler Cannon protects Gosselin in the lineup and is hitting .383 in 128 at-bats this season. Cannon also leads the ACC in doubles with 14.

Virginia has managed to win a lot of quality games so far this season including a sweep of Boston College. UVA won its series against Clemson and Georgia Tech and mustered an ACC-high 26 hits in a game against Rhode Island on Feb. 27.

The Seminoles are currently in first place in the Atlantic Division, led by their strong pitching staff. Reliever Tyler Everett leads ACC pitchers (with enough innings to qualify) with a 1.11 ERA with 32 innings pitched. Starting pitcher Sean Gilmartin is tied for first in the conference in wins with five and has a solid ERA of 3.04. Gilmartin has 49 strikeouts and only 14 walks in 50 innings pitched.

In the back end of the bullpen, FSU can rely on closer Mike McGee. McGee has seven saves in nine appearances and has posted an 0.63 ERA this season while also contributing at the plate with a .303 average in 122 at-bats.

Offensively, Tyler Holt leads the way for FSU. Holt has a high average at .362 but he still has middle of the order power as evident by his seven homers and .662 slugging percentage. FSU has taken advantage of Holt’s success this season and have driven him home 47 times.

FSU started off their season strong with 13 straight wins including a three game sweep of Georgia. FSU opened its ACC play by losing their first conference series at home against Virginia, but did manage to win a road series against UNC. Looking ahead, FSU’s chances of being named regular season Atlantic Division champions will likely hinge on their last series of the season, May 20-22 at Clemson.

Clemson is currently second in the Atlantic Division standings. The Tigers are sixth in ERA and seventh in batting average in the ACC.

Clemson’s pitching staff is led by their two ace starting pitchers, Casey Harman and Scott Weismann. Harman is sixth in the conference in ERA with 2.76 and batters on only hitting .199 against him. Harman is also leading the conference in wins with five but Harman is the lone five game winner without a loss. Weismann has been a workhorse for Clemson this season with eight starts and 47.1 innings pitched.

Apart from playing quarterback for the Clemson football team, junior Kyle Parker is also a major contributor for the baseball team’s offense. Parker is leading the conference in homers with 12 and fourth in on base percentage at .500. However, Clemson does not solely rely on Parker to score runs. Jeff Schaus is second in the conference with 45 RBIs, while Brad Miller is ninth in the ACC with 37 runs scored and second in the conference in walks with 33. Clemson also boasts the conference’s leader in walks in Chris Epps.

Clemson has had a couple of impressive performances this season including sweeps of both Virginia Tech and N.C. State. On March 19, Clemson only allowed Virginia Tech one hit en route to a 3-0 win. Clemson’s next game is against the Jackets on April 16.

N.C. State is tied with Boston College for third in the Atlantic Division with a 6-9 record in conference play. The Wolfpack are 22-14 overall in 2010.

The strength of this N.C. State squad is by far its offense. As of Wednesday evening, the Wolfpack were second in the conference in runs scored at 353—just one behind the ACC-leading Jackets. Center fielder Kyle Wilson has been an ideal leadoff hitter, posting a .398 average and a league-high .523 on-base percentage. Wilson has 28 walks against 23 strikeouts, and his speed has come in handy; he is 12-for-13 on steal attempts.

N.C. State is second behind Tech in home runs, with 51 on the season; second baseman Dallas Poulk and catcher Chris Schaeffer are tied for the team lead with eight. The Wolfpack thrive at getting hitters on base and bringing them around to score; of the 13 position players who have started in at least a dozen games, only two have OBPs below .400.

The Wolfpack are below .500, though, because of the struggles of their pitching staff. The staff as a whole has an ERA of 5.23 and a WHIP of 1.60, and their top starting pitcher, right-hander Jake Buchanan, has an ERA of 4.38.

Since being swept at Clemson in their first ACC series, the Wolfpack have held at .500 in conference play and have not been swept. They picked up a win against then-No. 15 Miami and won two of three to take their home series against then-No. 1 Virginia in early April. N.C. State’s propensity to end up in shootouts has hurt them at times, but in general the strength of the lineup will continue to make them a dangerous team in the latter part of the season.