Charging the Lineup

Charging the Lineup

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Colin Moran and Cody Stubbs have batted in a staggering single-season school record 156 runs this season – and its not even June yet. Sandwiched in between the left-handed bats is rookie Skye Bolt, a legitimate switch-hitter that has served as an indispensable complementary piece in the lineup.

If there's a preferred method of attacking North Carolina's batting lineup, it's by throwing a left-handed pitcher against the lefty-heavy Tar Heels. UNC (52-8) finished the 2012 season with a 15-7 record against left-handed arms and six of its eight losses in 2013 have come against southpaws.

Moran quickly positioned himself in the nation's best hitter conversation upon enrolling in Chapel Hill three years ago, but the lefty was often left to carry the program at the plate during his first two years. In 2012, for example, only three Tar Heel regular starters batted over .270 on the season and Moran (.365) was the only one over .300.

Those statistics have changed dramatically this spring – six Tar Heel starters are batting .300 or better and four are batting a minimum .348. Moran is second on the team in batting average (.357), trailing fellow lefthander Cody Stubbs (.362).

Moran hits third in the batting order while Stubbs sits in the 5-hole. Batting cleanup is Bolt, a player who may be at his best from the right side of the plate.

"It's the best lineup, the most talented lineup that they've had," Baseball America editor John Manuel told InsideCarolina.com Radio last week. "It's hard to top Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager as a duo, but I think right now Colin Moran and Skye Bolt are actually better. And Skye Bolt, to me, offensively, is the key to the whole deal for Carolina going forward…

"Bolt, being a switch-hitter who is outstanding from the right side, gives Carolina's offense a dimension it hasn't had in past seasons."

The stats back that statement up. While Moran (.414) and Stubbs (.419) have been dominant against right-handed pitchers this season, the former is batting .290 and the latter .292 against left-handers.

Bolt, however, has been equally as efficient on both sides of the plate, batting .349 (29-83) against lefties and .349 (30-86) against righties.

Moran, who has obliterated the single-season school record this season with 84 RBIs and currently ranks sixth on the all-time list with 190, acknowledged that Bolt's presence behind him has made life easier at the plate.

"Pitchers definitely respect him and have been throwing to me more," Moran said. "Any time you can hit in front of and behind good hitters, it's always going to be beneficial… It's nice having him as protection."

Baseball is often a chess match of matchups, pitting right arms against right-handed bats and vice versa. North Carolina's ability to offer unique matchups up and down the batting order, specifically in the middle, has been a key to its offensive success.

"The obvious thing is we've sandwiched him in between [Moran and Stubbs] and he can turn around and hit from the right side," UNC head coach Mike Fox said on Monday. "We're going to face left-handed pitching for the rest of this season and probably for the rest of my career here. It does give us a little bit of a difference in there where maybe they might have to think about making a change or not pitching to Skye or what.

"I think all three of them have complemented each other in certain ways."

Bolt has not completely returned to form after suffering a broken right foot at Virginia Tech on Apr. 12. The Woodstock, Ga. native batted .392 with 41 RBI through his first 34 games. Since returning to the lineup nine games ago, he's batting .227 with six RBIs.

"My foot feels great," Bolt said this week. "I'm moving well again. I'm moving back to pretty much full speed as far as running and power. My strength's not there yet fully, but that's an individual problem. I've got to work on that continually...

"Hopefully I can get back into my groove and start helping and contributing a little bit more the way I know that I'm capable of doing for these guys."

There are certainly other reasons for UNC's offensive success this season. Stubbs has upped his average against right-handed pitchers to .419 from .242 in 2012 and freshman Landon Lassiter is batting .348 and has accounted for 67 runs from the 2-hole.

Bolt's presence in the lineup has been a critical addition, however, and provided he regains his pre-injury form, UNC's bats will have plenty of firepower to make a serious run in Omaha.

 

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