With baseball planned all weekend in Winston-Salem, some Blogger So Dear staff (we dragged Rob out of “retirement”) and Les Johns, from Demon Deacon Digest - Wake’s Scout site, answered some questions about what to expect from the Winston-Salem regional hosted by the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
1. What are your expectations for the Winston-Salem regional? What would be a success for the Deacs and what would be a failure?
Riley: I want to win the regional and advance to the Super Regional. Wake is the 1 seed in the pod for a reason, and because of that, gets home field advantage and plays UMBC in the first game. That is really big for setting up Parker Dunshee to pitch Saturday instead of Friday. While the season is still a success for Wake even if we fail to advance, it would be a disappointing end to a great season.
Rob: I should start by saying that I'm clearly a curse to college baseball programs. I go to Vanderbilt for two years and they get progressively worse, while Wake Forest gets back to the NCAA Tournament last year and is now hosting a regional.
I don't want to say that success is winning the regional and anything else is a failure, but I don't think that it's too far from it. If Wake somehow loses to UMBC and then doesn't run the table to win the regional, then that's a failure. Wake also has to at least get to the regional final in order for it to be a success. Wake ran into a buzzsaw in Texas A&M last year, but I don't foresee that happening this year. Go Deacs!
Les: Survive and advance. Any result the gets the Deacs to a super regional is a success. While both West Virginia and Maryland are both capable teams that could make a run, playing at home in Winston-Salem, this is a regional the Deacs simply must win.
Bart: Baseball is random and anything can happen but that being said, any time you’re hosting a regional I believe it is a failure to not advance to the Super Regionals. This doesn’t mean that Wake can’t be happy with what they accomplished if they fall short of moving on, but hosting means you’ve availed yourself as a top 16 team over the course of a 50+ game season. Anything short of advancing is a failure for this team at this stage of the season. Wake has the dogs to do it and I believe they will.
2. The opening game of the region pits the two and three seeds in West Virginia and Maryland this afternoon. What's your prediction for this one?
Riley: West Virginia appears to be the slightly better team on paper, but I'm unsure of how the injury to their best pitcher (Michael Grove) will impact their weekend overall. I'm guessing they will still be able to get by Maryland, but it pushes their 3rd pitcher up into a game (hopefully) against Wake Forest, where they will take on Parker Dunshee. That's a tough ask for the Mountaineers.
Rob: I'll take Maryland since pitcher Brian Shaffer is a legitimate pro prospect. Maryland has a better pitching staff and more home runs on the year. That power could be extra advantageous in Wake Forest's ball park.
Les: The more I look at this matchup, the more I give the edge to the Terps. Maryland coach Szefc said yesterday that they plan to start their ace, Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Brian Schaffer against West Virginia, while the Mountaineers are depleted in the rotation and offered no glimpse of what they plan to do on the mound. I also believe Maryland's running game (101 stolen bases on the season) could be disruptive against WV's unknown and young pitching staff.
Bart: Before finding out that Grove was hurt, I thought West Virginia was the second best team in the region. Even with the Grove injury, I think the Mountaineers are still slightly better than Maryland but it certainly narrows the gap - particularly in a double-elimination tournament where having all arms on deck is a necessity. I believe WVU still gets past Maryland, albeit in a close game, but will have trouble depth-wise getting a push towards advancing out of the region. I’ll go 6-5 Mountaineers in a close one.
3. Wake's first game is tonight against UMBC, who do you see winning this game?
Riley: I see Wake putting up crooked numbers early and often en route to a comfortable 10-3 win. With Connor Johnstone pitching, I fully expect him to limit the Retrievers and let our offense go to work. I do not want to get into a close situation late in the game and have to use relievers up that we could save for the weekend.
Rob: Baseball can be prone to upsets by nature of the sport. That said, randomness is lower at the college game than in the MLB and I believe Wake Forest's team is set up relatively well to avoid randomness against a team like UMBC. UMBC was just 23-23 on the season and was 161st in RPI. They are just 1-6 against RPI top 50 teams and it would be a major disappointment to lose this game. Wake Forest is superior at batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and pitching. Every one of Wake's nine regular players in the lineup have an OBP above .322, and that bodes well for producing a lot of runs against this America East squad and winning relatively easily.
Les: I think it's reasonable to expect Wake to pummel the Retrievers today. It's baseball. Weird things can happen in a single game, but eight times out of ten Wake wins this one big. I figure the bats will get going and Connor Johnstone will do enough on the mound for Wake to potentially even win this one by double-digits. That type of win would be huge in terms of preserving arms for later in the weekend. They key to this is a fast start. Wake has gave up early-game runs often in recent weeks. That needs to stop this weekend.
Bart: I completely agree with the comments above. Wake has only dropped three non-conference games at home this season and has yet to lose period to a team as low in the RPI as UMBC. I do not anticipate that today is the day that the worst loss of the year comes, and quite frankly I anticipate the Wake bats to pound a UMBC pitching staff that has no members below a 4.00 ERA on the season. Wake rolls 14-4.
4. What is your overall weekend prediction for the region: who gets first, second, third, and fourth?
Riley: Despite my thought that WVU wins the first game against Maryland, I will take the Terps to beat UMBC, then beat WVU to advance to Sunday vs. Wake Forest where they fall to the Deacs:
1. Wake (3-0)
2. Maryland (2-2)
3. WVU (1-2)
4. UMBC (0-2)
1st: Wake Forest
3rd: West Virginia
Les: I've got the Deacs advancing, but it wouldn't surprise me to see them having to play Monday after facing a little adversity either on Saturday or Sunday.
Since I'm picking them to win the first game, I'm going to go with Maryland for 2nd, but I figure West Virginia will be game all weekend long. They won't die easy. UMBC will likely go 0-2.
Bart: Again, I agree with the analysis above. I like Wake over UMBC, WVU over Maryland, and then Maryland over UMBC to knock UMBC out. Wake and WVU Saturday should be a great matchup, but I think Wake gets out of there with a win. The Maryland WVU rematch will go Maryland’s way this time with WVU’s pitching depth being a major problem. Wake beats Maryland in a close game Sunday night to claim the region in a behind a solid outing by Donnie Sellers.
5. Who will be the critical guy for the Deacs, that is when we look back at the weekend who will we think was the MVP for our Diamond Deacs (regardless of how the weekend goes results-wise)?
Riley: I think Gavin Sheets is going to have a huge weekend for the Deacs. Not really going out on a limb to pick the 3rd Team All-American 1B, but we should get plenty of guys on and need to get the RISP batting average up (compared to the ACC Tournament performance). I think he puts up a couple of home runs and gives the Deacs the burst that we need to move on to the Super Regional.
Rob: Perhaps MVP is a strong term because he's a starting pitcher, but I think Parker Dunshee has the chance to have an outstanding impact. Assuming Wake takes care of business against UMBC, if he has a strong outing against the winner of West Virginia vs. Maryland, that could have a profound impact on Wake Forest's win probability. If he can set us up and start the regional 2-0, then Wake just has to avoid losing two in a row and will advance to the super regional.
Les: I think offense will carry the weekend for the Deacs, so I'm going to go with Gavin Sheets providing vulgar displays of power.
Bart: While I expect Dunshee to have a great game Saturday, regardless of the opponent, I believe that Wake’s bats are going to be the reason for success over the weekend. It’s so difficult for opposing pitchers to get through the middle of this lineup, with four guys in a row batting over .320 on the season. I think Johnny Aiello is going to bring out the big bats this weekend and go for not one, not two, but three bombs while collecting eight RBI’s.
With that, our pre-regional coverage of the Winston-Salem region is complete. A special thanks is in order for Les for dropping in, and he has done a fantastic job this year covering the Wake baseball beat.
Do you agree with the answers in the roundtable or do you have different insight as to how the weekend will go? Let us know below and get out to the Couch to support the Diamond Deacs.