The Wake Forest baseball team has just seven games remaining in the regular season, beginning today with the first of a three game set on the road against Virginia Tech. Wake enters the series with a 29-19 (11-13 ACC) overall record and currently sits in eighth in the conference. With two conference series remaining, the first focus for the Deacs is getting into the ACC Tournament which is reserved for the top ten teams in the conference.
The 2016 version of the ACC is absolutely loaded, with eleven teams currently ranked in the RPI top 50, and the conference season has been a wild one. While the top ten teams in the conference advance to the ACC Tournament, the top six teams advance straight to pool play placing a premium on getting into one of these slots. The remaining four teams play a one game play-in and the winners advance to pool play where all teams get a minimum of three games (playing each of the other three teams in their pool). The winners of each pool advance to the championship game.
|Atlantic||Conference W-L||Conference PCT||Overall W-L||Overall PCT|
|Coastal||Conference W-L||Conference PCT||Overall W-L||Overall PCT|
Although the Deacs would be in the ACC Tournament if the season ended today, they are far from safely in. The ACC Tournament uses winning percentage to determine the participants, likely due to weather resulting in teams not playing the same number of games. At 11-13 in conference play (.458 winning percentage), the Deacs are only one game ahead of Duke and UNC - who are tied for 12th (and 13th) - so a poor finish could easily see Wake slide out of the tournament. On the flip side though, Wake only trails the current sixth place Clemson Tigers by half a game. With so many teams tightly bunched, it's nearly impossible to speculate even at this late juncture about how everything is going to shake out.
The good news for Wake is that this weekend's series is against Virginia Tech and they are absolutely terrible. VPI is five games worse than anyone else in the conference and is 5-19. Similarly, while every other team in the ACC is ranked in the top 85 in the RPI, VPI sits at 192nd. While this series is on the road, Wake should absolutely expect to win the series and anything less is a major disappointment for the team.
Continuing to focus on the ACC Tournament picture for now, the final series of the season is against Louisville at home next weekend. Louisville currently sits at 2nd in the RPI and is 39-10 (16-8 ACC). Although the Cardinals provide a daunting matchup for Wake, the Deacs have consistently played well at home this year boasting a 19-5 record. Wake hasn't lost a series at home since the conference opener to Clemson (a series where Will Craig missed two games - both losses) and took five of six against FSU and UNC , both of which are in the top 15 of the RPI.
If Wake can go 3-3 in their last six conference games and get to .500 in ACC play, they will likely sneak into the tournament. The bad news is that in the event of a tie (not necessarily likely with the use of winning percentage), Wake loses tiebreaks to a lot of teams around them due to series losses, including Clemson, Virginia, Boston College, and Notre Dame. With a sweep this weekend Wake can feel a little bit better about their ACC Tournament chances looking ahead to Louisville.
Switching the focus from the ACC Tournament, Wake is also solidly positioned at this juncture to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under manager Tom Walter. Most major college baseball publications currently have Deacs in the field, predominantly as a three seed. For those unfamiliar with the college NCAA format, there are sixteen different regional sites each with four teams. The top 16 teams in the nation host these double-elimination regionals and the winner of each four-team pool advances to the Super Regional the next weekend, a best of three series. The Super Regional winners then advance to the College World Series.
Currently ranked 29th in the RPI, Wake will likely make the tournament if they can finish in the top 10 and make the ACC Tournament. Wedged between this weekend's road series against VPI and the home finale against Louisville is a midweek game on the road against a Marshall team presently 80th in the RPI. If Wake can win four of the last seven games of the season, they will likely be into the ACC Tournament with a .500 conference record as well as firmly in the NCAA Tournament barring an absolute collapse in Durham at the Tournament.
Anything worse than 4-3 for the Deacs and worry starts to creep in when the Tournament is announced. While the ACC has had a dominant season, it's unclear if a team that failed to make its own conference tournament and is around the bubble would still be included in the 64-team bracket. In sum, with seven games left Wake needs to keep up the level of play they've shown over the last few weeks. The Deacs are 8-2 in their last 10 games and there's no reason to expect Wake to collapse this weekend in Blacksburg.
Wake is on ESPN3 tonight in Blacksburg at 5:30 in the series opener with Virginia Tech.
What are your thoughts on the Diamond Deacs? Do you expect this team to make the NCAA Tournament and potentially make some noise? Let us know below if you have any questions, comments, or concerns and as always, go Deacs!