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Maryland baseball: Terps can improve their ACC standing by beating VA Tech

Virginia Tech is struggling this year, with an 0 - 12 record against top 50 RPI teams. Can the Terps do some damage this weekend and improve their standing in the ACC?

What a difference a year can make. In 2013 The Hokies were 40 - 22 and hosted an NCAA regional. This season the Hokies are 15 - 16 (5 - 10 ACC) and struggling mightily.

It's hard to tell exactly what caused Tech's decline this season as there's been so many changes. First, the Hokies lost their head coach from last year. Pete Hughes left to coach at Oklahoma (ironically it was Oklahoma that knocked Tech out of the NCAA tournament last year), and was replaced by Associate Head Coach Patrick Mason. Second, Virginia Tech had six players go in the 2013 MLB draft. That group of players included their number three and four hitters: third baseman Chad Pinder (2nd round), and left fielder Tyler Horan (8th round). Probably of greater damage to this year's Hokies is that the 2013 squad had four pitchers drafted.  Third, the Hokies have very little power: they have nine HRs, six of them by Brendon Hayden. Finally, Tech's pitching has been disappointing: Their team ERA is 5.24!

Position players to watch

Catcher Mark Zagunis is a pre-season second-team All-American. He hit .341 last year, although his average has dipped quite a bit (.302) in 2014. Opponents are 43 out of 52 in steal attempts, which bodes well for the speedy Terps. Brendon Hayden is a 1B/DH who hit only .208 last year, but is hitting .305 in 2014 and has been the only Hokie bat so far displaying any power. He also leads the team in doubles.

The Hokies have a pair of freshman outfielders who have fit in nicely. Center fielder Saige Jenco is batting .339 and has 12 stolen bases. Right fielder Tom Stoffel is second on the team in batting average, currently hitting .309.

Tech pitching staff

As noted above the Hokies lost the bulk of their starting pitching from 2013, as well as their closer. Only one of 2013's consistent starters remains: senior RHP Brad Markey (Bel Air, MD native). While he's 2 - 4 Markey leads the starters with a 2.98 ERA and has struck out 40 while only walking eight batters. After Markey things begin to go downhill fast. This year's saves leader, Luke Sherzer, has a 4.12 ERA and has stuck out only seven hitters in 19.2 innings.

The Hokies have juggled their weekend starting rotation throughout the season. So until I get official word on the starting pitchers I'll go with what is most likely. (I'll update when I receive the official announcement, so keep checking back):

Game 1 - RHP Jake Stinnett (3 - 4, 2.84 ERA) vs. LHP Sean Keselica (2 - 2, 5.46 ERA)
Game 2 - RHP Mike Shawaryn (5 - 2, 2.70 ERA) vs. TBD
Game 3 - LHP Jake Drossner (4 - 0 , 2.03 ERA) vs. TBD

Series outlook

After hitting a bump against Clemson and Wake Forest, I expect the Terrapins' pitching staff to return to early-season form. MSM game not withstanding the team's hitting has started to pick up, with players such as Charlie White, Brandon Lowe, and LaMonte Wade really smacking the ball. Jose Cuas remains hot.

That said, this is a series that the Terps have to win. The last time Maryland took a series from Virginia Tech was in 2008. However, Maryland holds an all-time winning record against the Hokies. This year's Hokies have not shown that they can compete with top-caliber teams. Their poor pitching, fielding, and inability to throw out runners is not something that can be changed overnight. I think that Maryland has a significantly better team than the Hokies. It's almost a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. We'll see if it plays out as much this weekend.