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Scouting The Opponent with Streaking The Lawn

a Q&A with UVA writers to hopefully give Vol fans some things to watch for Sunday

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

With a two-games-to-none sweep of LSU in the Knoxville Super Regional, the Tennessee baseball team is going to its first College World Series appearance since 2005.

The Vols join seven other teams in Omaha for the final leg of college baseball’s postseason tournament. Five of those remain from the top-16 teams seeded at tournament’s outset: no. 2 overall seed Texas, no. 4 seed Vanderbilt, no. 5 seed Arizona, no. 9 seed Stanford and no. 7 seed Mississippi State, and no.3 seed Tennessee.

NC State and Virginia are the other two teams that made it to Omaha, and the Vols drew UVA for their first game Sunday afternoon.

I thought it might be neat to do a back-and-forth with the Virginia SB Nation site, Streaking the Lawn, so Tennessee fans could get some first-hand information about the ‘Hoos. Tennessee and Virginia haven’t played this season, and UVA isn’t in the SEC. If you’re like me, then Sunday will be the first time you’ve seen Virginia play this season. Hopefully, this helps.

Caroline, the site’s editor, was nice enough to indulge me and deal with my incredible wordy questions and answers. Also, with Sunday coming fast, she’s probably a handy Twitter follow — @cwdarney.

I’m gonna post my questions and Caroline’s answers about UVA first, with the inverse following. All the questions are all slanty-like and dark.

Questions about Virginia from Tennessee

1. Looking at the College World Series odds, Virginia is the next-to-last at +1,000 coming in behind just Stanford (+800) but directly in front of the team with the worst odds, NC State (+1,200). The Cavs also have the worst overall record of any team playing in Omaha. What would you say to any Tennessee faithful who might be inclined to slightly overlook your squad based on those measures?

STL: There is no doubt that the Cavaliers are going to be considered underdogs in Omaha. The Hoos struggled early in the season, starting ACC play 4-12 and looking like they were out of luck when it came to the postseason. Much like they did en route to the 2015 National Championship, however, they turned it on down the back half of the season to finish strong and earn a spot in a regional. This team is scrappy and has played with their backs against the wall for a couple months now, but they’ve always managed to find a way to win. The Hoos have had really great pitching from guys like Griff McGarry, Brandon Neeck, and Matt Wyatt in the postseason, and the bats have come up big in big moments. They might not have the best record, but the Hoos won’t go quietly.

2. Freshman Kyle Teel has gotten a lot of headlines recently with that grand slam against Dallas Baptist, but he’s also one of the top performers in several different season-long statistical categories. But, who else in the lineup should Vol fans be watching closely?

Kyle Teel is definitely a fan favorite as he’s got great energy (he offered to play any position coach needed, including pitcher) and his batting helmet just WILL NOT stay on his head (he says it’s just that he’s got “slippery hair”). But, he’s not all the Hoos have going for them. Guys like Devin Ortiz, Alex Tappen, Nic Kent, and the Brothers Gelof (Jake and Zack) have all had clutch hits at some point or another in the postseason. Jake Gelof, a first year, had no home runs on the season until the ACC tournament. He’s had four since then.

3. When I look at both of these team’s offensive stats, I see what appears to be a fundamental difference in their approach at the plate. The Vols have 98 HRs and 471 total runs, whereas the ‘Hoos have 48 HRs and 343 total runs. But, I admittedly haven’t watched any UVA baseball this season. Is Virginia more of a small-ball team that prefers to manufacture runs instead of power them across the plate? Are those specific stats driving at that sorta conclusion?

So, this is a great question because watching Virginia in the Regional/Super Regional, they relied a lot on home runs and struggled a bit to manufacture runs via stringing hits together. Over the season, though, they did more of that. The bats really have come alive down the back stretch (coinciding with their late push to the postseason), and Coach O’Connor looooves the sacrifice bunt if the lead-off runner gets on base. They also have 63 steals and a 79% success rate doing it, so they like to get aggressive in the base paths to put themselves in more scoring opportunities. That said, they can absolutely hit the ball out of the park. For Virginia to be successful in Omaha, however, they’ll need to improve on the clutch hitting to bring in guys. Far too many men were left on base so far in the postseason.

4. Two-parter:

A) Senior starter Andrew Abbott trails only Vanderbilt’s dynamic-duo starters Jack Leiter (156) and Kumar Rocker (155) in total strikeouts this season with 152. He’s also sporting a pretty mean 3-ish ERA. Tell us a little more about him. Does he overpower hitters with speed, or is he trying to work the corners and beat guys more with his command?

I was lucky enough to be at the game where he was part of the combined no-hitter against Wake Forest, and he has a great mix of speed and placement when he’s on. Griff McGarry is the hot heat guy on the pitching staff (regularly making guys whiff at 98, 99, 100), but Abbott just has a way of mixing pitches enough to keep batters off-guard. He had 16 strikeouts in that no-hitter, including 14 in the first five innings. I had never seen anything like it.

B) Basically, the only one of Abbott’s stats that doesn’t jump off the page, in a good way, is his W/L record at 8-6. Is that a function of poor run support? Bad luck?

Yes? He’s been the victim of two one-run losses in the postseason so far, but he picked up a lot of those losses early in the season where Virginia was really struggling. Down the stretch, he’s been really solid and has gotten run support to boot.

Questions about Tennessee from Virginia

1. Tennessee had an emphatic performance in the Super Regional, absolutely dominating LSU. Outside of “everything,” what went right for the Vols?

I think, “everything,” covers it pretty well. In one or both games of the two-game sweep, UT had impressive performances from starting pitching, relief pitching, great plays in the field and and got an appearance from the long ball. Does that cover everything? (We’re kinda new to baseball around here 8^)

The Vols got a dang-near career best from their lead starting pitcher in Chad Dallas in Game 1 — five IP, one earned run and 12 Ks; Sean Hunley and Camden Sewell, Tennessee’s bullpen bullies, combined for four IP, one hit, four Ks and zero runs; Tennessee got a fantastic defensive play from SS Liam Spence in Game 1 that turned the tide of the game and an incredible diving catch from 2nd baseman Max Ferguson in the third inning that kept LSU from increasing its early-game 1-0 lead. Oh, yeah, and the Vols hit six HRs and plated 15 in Game 2. Tennessee also got some incredible support from the fans. They packed Lindsey Nelson Stadium, sat through an hour-ish weather delay in Game 1 and had a block party outside the venue crowded with folks who wanted to attend but couldn’t get a ticket.

2. Who do you expect to see on the mound for game one, and what can you tell Virginia fans about them and their approach?

Dallas will get the start. He’s not all that big or, necessarily, a physically imposing guy — listed at 5-11, 206 — and he’s not going to blow batters away with a triple-digit fastball.

But, he’s a fiery competitor (don’t take the emotion he shows on the mound personally, UVA fans,) and has developed a mid-80s cutter that he can locate on the corners or throw out of the zone and get hitters to chase. It’s probably his best pitch, playing off his low-to-mid 90s fastball and a curve that has some serious movement when Dallas is in his groove.

This is cheesy (Dallas’s nickname is cheese, too, for the record) but he’s a gamer. He won eight of his 11 SEC starts and is coming off that career-high 12 K, one-run-allowed Super Regional game against an LSU offense that finished in the NCAA’s top 25 for runs scored this year.

3. Which hitters should Virginia fans be aware of?

All of them. That might sound conceded, but it’s not meant to be. Tennessee just has a dangerous lineup, top-to-bottom. Liam Spence leads off and seemingly spends more time on first than most first basemen (.477 OBP). Jake Rucker bats third and mixes plus power with his ability to also hit for average. Drew Gilbert is typically slotted in the clean-up spot, and he set fire to the internet with his walk-off grand slam against Wright State in Tennessee’s first Regional game. Tennessee fans love his post-HR bat flips while people who don’t like fun enjoy them considerably less.

The top of the lineup is threatening, but most teams’ first four or five hitters are really good. It’s the south side of the Vols’ order that their offense apart from most other squads. In my likely seriously-biased opinion, Tennessee boasts one of the best group of six-through-nine hitters in the country.

Six-and-seven hitters Luc Lipcius and Jordan Beck are tied for the team-lead in HRs with 15 each, while Beck ranks top-15-ish in the country with 63 RBIs. Catcher Connor Pavolony hits in the 9-spot with a .260-ish average and was a preseason D1 Baseball Second Team All-American. The Vols’ lineup is like a totally defective straw – its got no holes.

4. TD Ameritrade plays bigger than most home you think that’ll have a huge impact on Tennessee’s hot home run hitting?

Here are the dimensions for TD Ameritrade Park and the dimensions for Tennessee’s homefield, Lindsey Nelson Stadium per the internet. TDAP is on top, and LNS is on bottom.

335 LF, 375 LCF, 408 CF, 375 RCF, 335 RF

320 LF, 360 LCF, 390 CF, 350 RCF, 320 RF

The fences are about 15 feet closer at LNS than at TDAP except in RCF where LNS is 25 feet closer than TDAP, and those discrepancies, well, they aren’t insignificant.

So, to answer your question, I think the deeper fences will have an impact, but Tennessee hits the ball hard, and hard-hit balls don’t just sail outta the park.

Those balls end up in the gaps. Tennessee has the NCAA’s third-most doubles with 133 in 66 games. And sometimes, those balls just end up in gloves. Tennessee also ranks in the NCAA’s top-ish 40 for sacrifice flies.

The UT hitters aren’t going to necessarily wow you with a whole lot of speed on the base paths, but eight of the Vols’ nine batters have at least five steals, and only two of those eight players have been caught stealing more than once. Tennessee is pretty selective about running but typically makes the opponent pay when it does run.

There’s a lot of moving parts — the stuff above plus way more — when it comes to plating runs without hitting the ball out of the park, and Tennessee does enough of those things adequately, I think, to overcome the ball park in Omaha being bigger than what the Vol hitters are used to.

5. Virginia has had late-inning success with manufacturing runs and hitting do you feel about UT’s relievers?

Overall, I’m relatively confident in Tennessee’s relievers. But, I’ll say if I had to pick an area of concern for the rest of the CWS, I’d probably pick the bullpen. I’m not entirely objective on this subject, though, because relief pitchers ALWAYS WORRY ME. It’s just stressful gig, and I’m kind of a worrier.

Earlier I talked about Sean Hunley and Camden Sewell. Of late, they’ve been Tennessee’s go-to guys later in games when the atmosphere is tense and every pitch has game-deciding consequences. Both guys have sub-3 ERAs and hold opposing batters to near the Mendoza Line, and both guys have been outstanding in their last couple outings. Hunley’s pitched seven-straight scoreless innings through his last two appearances while Sewell hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 21st.

I would imagine that UVA is most likely to see one of those two guys with this matchup being Game 1 of the double-elimination final leg of the CWS. However, both Hunley and Sewell are righties, so left-handers Redmond Walsh and Kirby Connell (Kirby has a glorious mullet/ mustache btw y’all gotta check it out) could also make appearances depending on how the matchups shake out.