Baseball: Va Tech Preview

Coming off of a series sweep on the road at North Carolina State and a routine midweek win at home against Bethune-Cookman, the Miami Hurricanes will be flying high coming into their road ACC series this weekend against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Last season, the Hokies were a nice story in the ACC. Built around a solid stable of power hitters in the middle of the order and a steady weekend rotation, the Hokies had their best team in a long time, maybe ever.

And while there is still a lot of talent on the roster, Virginia Tech has been left to rebuild in 2014. Sluggers Andrew Rash, Tyler Horan, and Chad Pinder are gone, as are starting pitchers Joe Mantiply and Devin Burke. To top it off, they also lost their head coach Pete Hughes to the Oklahoma Sooners.

Despite the losses in their lineup, the offense is still setting the tone for the Hokies.

Leading the way is right fielder Tom Stoffel. The freshman from Englewood, Ohio is hitting .362 with a .458 on-base percentage. Perhaps more impressive are the numbers of center fielder Saige Jenco. The State College, Pennsylvania native is hitting .352 with a .529 on-base percentage. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is an absurd 12-to-30. He also happens to lead the team with 12 stolen bases.

Catcher Mark Zagunis, who is the lone middle-of-the-order bat to return from last season, is hitting .303 with a .403 on-base percentage with a homer, 27 RBI, and eight steals. Like Jenco, he has also walked more than he has struck out, but his ratio is "only" 14-to-16. First baseman Sean Keselica will also be expected to carry a heavy load. Last season, he hit .307 with five home runs and 31 RBI. This season, the power has not yet come, but he is hitting .259 with 26 RBI.

The Hokie offense has also gotten contributions from holdovers from last season that have moved into bigger roles.

Alex Perez, a second baseman who hit just .225 last season, is hitting .287 with a .391 on-base percentage. Brendon Hayden, a two-way player who hit .207 last season, is hitting .278 with a .411 on-base percentage. He is also leading the team in doubles with eight, home runs with five, and RBI with 29.

The key for the Miami pitching staff will be to pound the zone relentlessly in this series, because if they nibble, Virginia Tech will be more than happy to take their walks. As a team, they have a .384 on-base percentage and six different players that could be considered regulars or semi-regulars have on-base percentages of .400 or higher.

On the mound, there is no doubt that Brad Markey, who will throw on Friday night, sets the tone. The lone holdover from last season's weekend rotation, Markey has stepped up his game this time around. In seven starts, he has a tough-luck 2-4 record with a 3.05 ERA. In 44.1 innings, he has struck out 37 and walked six. Opposing batters are hitting .251 off of him.

Behind him, the Hokies have struggled to get consistency in their rotation.

Saturday's starter is Sean Keselica. He is 2-1 on the season with a 6.17 ERA. In 23.1 innings, he has struck out 13 and walked 11. Opposing batters are hitting .313 against him. He is tied for the team lead in hit batters with four and he leads the team in wild pitches with five.

The Hokies have not announced a starter for Sunday and it really could be any number of people. There are five other pitchers on the roster that have started at least two games, including Andrew McDonald (0-0, 9.72), Kit Scheetz (2-1, 8.35), Luis Collazo (0-0, 6.32), and Aaron McGarity (0-0, 4.68).

But the smart money is on Jon Woodcock, who has started the last two Sundays. He has no record, but has a respectable 3.91 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 14 walks in 23 innings pitched. Opposing hitters have a paltry .183 batting average against him.

There is considerably more depth in the bullpen. Closer Luke Scherzer leads the way with a 2.08 ERA and four saves. Opposing hitters have just a .185 batting average against him, but he isn't going to blow anyone away. In 17.1 innings, he has just six strikeouts.

In front of Scherzer, the Hokies use Sean Kennedy (2.12 ERA, .200 BAA) and lefty specialist J.D. Doran (2.25 ERA, .214 BAA).

Friday night is going to be a big game in this series. If the Hurricanes can get to Markey and get a win in that game, they have to feel good about coming away with a sweep on the road. The Hokies just don't appear to have the pitching to keep up, even against a Miami offense that isn't exactly making a habit of lighting up the scoreboard.

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