The #46 Terps (10-4) take on ACC nemesis #13 UNC Tar Heels (12-4) to open the home part of Maryland's 2014 ACC schedule. Maryland has found UNC challenging, to put it mildly. The Terps haven't taken a series from the Tar Heels since 2006. Over the past 10 seasons Maryland is 7 - 23 (23%) against UNC. Last year we dropped all three games down in Chapel Hill. In 2013 the Tar Heels won a school-record 59 games and made it to the College World Series.
But this is 2014 and everything seems to be different
North Carolina lost a number of stellar players from the 2013 team. Gone are starting pitchers Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson, catcher Brian Holberton, first baseman Cody Stubbs, and most importantly the number six pick overall in last year's MLB draft: third baseman Colin Moran. With the exception of Johnson who was picked in the 14th round of last year's MLB draft, the other four were drafted within the first ten rounds.
Maryland has been nationally ranked the last two weeks, and their RPI (25) is not much behind that of UNC (21). While the Tar Heels are ranked #13 in the Collegiate Baseball News poll, they're not ranked in the USA Today/Coaches poll; the latter poll has Maryland ranked #46. The two teams have won in similar fashion and have nearly identical records. In ACC play the Tar Heels are 2 - 1, having won the series against Pittsburgh last weekend in Chapel Hill.
Like Maryland, UNC's strength this year lies in their pitching. UNC's team ERA is 2.41 and their opponent's batting average is .221. The comparable numbers for Maryland are an era of 3.54 and an opponent batting average of .189. This weekend each team will start three right-handed pitchers. Friday night's match-up will be Freshman All-American pitcher from last year, sophomore Trent Thornton (4 - 0, 2.33 era) against the Terps' Jake Stinnett (2 - 2, 2.25 era). On Saturday we'll see junior Benton Moss (2 - 1, 2.20 era) vs. Mike Shawaryn (4 - 0, 0.75 era). In his first two seasons Moss had previously compiled an incredible 15 - 3 record. Sunday's match-up pits freshman Zac Gallen (1 - 1, 3.16 era) against the Terps' former closer, Kevin Mooney (0 - 0, 2.08 era).
Chris McCue is UNC's closer in 2014. He has been perfect so far, with an era of 0.00 and six saves in six opportunities. The Tar Heels' middle inning relievers have also been effective.
Running the base paths
UNC is 18 of 25 (72%) in stolen base attempts while opponents are 14 of 19 (74%). Maryland is 27 of 36 (75%) in steal attempts while opponents are only 8 of 15 (53%). UNC's steals are distributed among five players, with the leader being Adam Pate (4 of 4). The Terps have four players with 4 or more steals, led by Blake Schmit (7 of 9). So it seems that Kevin Martir and Nick Cieri will be tested, but not as much as that of UNC's catcher tandem of Adrian Chacon and Korey Dunbar.
Certainly the Tar Heels lost a lot of batting power with the departure of Moran, Stubbs, and Holberton. The slack was expected to be picked up by sophomore outfielder Skye Bolt (second team preseason All-American), junior shortstop Michael Russell, and sophomore third baseman Landon Lassiter. That hasn't occurred. Those three players are currently batting .239, .241, and .231, respectively. As a team the Tar Heels have a .264 batting average (Maryland has a .251 batting average). Korey Dunbar presently leads the team with a .344 average, albeit in limited action. The highest average for an everyday player is .304 for freshman outfielder Tyler Ramirez.
I'm loathe to make a prediction as the two teams have played very different schedules at this point in the season. So the pitching and batting statistics only give an inkling of what to expect. That said, this could be a really tight, well-played series. Both UNC's Moss and Maryland's Stinnett will be early-round MLB draft picks. The two teams play similar styles and each are currently not hitting as well as they'd like. Runs could be at a premium and I wouldn't be surprised if both teams played small ball whenever runners get aboard. What could tip the scale in the Terps' favor is that the series is in their ballpark.