Baseball: UNC Series Preview

Baseball: UNC Series Preview

Believe it or not, we are staring the final regular season weekend of the college baseball season squarely in the face. It seems like just yesterday we opened the season, but yet here we are.

The only team standing between the Miami Hurricanes and a near-perfect second half of the season is the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The 2014 version of UNC is not one of their better versions over the last decade, but they are still pretty good and they will come into this series motivated. A series win on the road against the Hurricanes will likely push them from being very much on the NCAA bubble to being solidly in the tournament.

The Tar Heels haven't been nearly as sharp in any phase of the game this season when compared to last season, but their offense has seriously underperformed.

When they lost the likes of Colin Moran, Cody Stubbs, Brian Holberton, and Chaz Frank after last season, you knew their offense would take a step back. But with the superb freshman duo of Landon Lassiter and Skye Bolt returning, the thought was that they would still be a solid offense.

That hasn't really been the case, though. Lassiter, who hit .358 last season with 18 extra-base hits, is hitting .287 with just five extra-base hits this season. Bolt, who hit .321 with 22 extra-base hits last season, is hitting just .250 with eight extra-base hits this time around. If those two were putting up numbers anywhere close to what they put up last season, this team probably wouldn't be in need of a good performance in the last week of the season to get into the NCAA tournament field.

The lack of offense at times has been no fault of Michael Russell, however. Russell has been a solid contributor throughout his entire career, but he has taken it to the next level this season. The junior from Huntersville, North Carolina is hitting .343 with 17 doubles, four home runs, and 29 RBI. He also leads the team with 13 stolen bases.

Wood Myers, just a freshman, has also been a nice surprise. He is hitting .305 with nine doubles and 20 RBI. Tyler Ramirez, a diminutive freshman outfielder from Suffolk, Virginia, has been quite good as well. He is hitting .296 with nine doubles, two home runs, and 24 RBI.

Although the staff is not as dominant as some UNC staffs of the past have been, pitching is still the strength of this team.

On Thursday, the Canes will face Trent Thornton. After spending 2013 in a hybrid role, Thornton has taken a spot in the weekend rotation this season with great success. He is 7-3 with a 2.06 ERA. In 83 innings, he has struck out 75 and walked 22. Opposing hitters have just a .206 batting average against him.

On Friday, Miami will see Benton Moss. The veteran from Enfield, North Carolina is 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA. In 78.1 innings, he has struck out 58 and walked 28. The batting average against him is .223. He isn't going to overpower anyone, but he induces soft contact and does a great job of getting deep into games.

In the finale on Saturday, the Tar Heels will throw freshman righty Zac Gallen. He is 5-3 with a 4.43 ERA. In 69 innings, he has struck out 48 and walked 22.

The bullpen for UNC is both versatile and deep, with Reilly Hovis as the undisputed workhorse. In 30 appearances, he has thrown 52 innings with a 1.73 ERA. He has struck out 70 and walked 19. Opposing hitters are batting just .179 against him and he has tallied six saves. He also has seven wins, which is a ton in a relief role, even if that's not a particularly significant stat out of the bullpen.

Spencer Trayner and Trevor Kelley haven't been quite as dominant, but they've both been very good. In 29 innings spread over 23 appearances, Trayner has a 2.17 ERA. He has struck out 27, walked 11 and the batting average against him is just .209. Kelley has thrown 36.2 innings in 27 appearances. He has struck out 24, walked 13, and has a 2.95 ERA.

This Tar Heels team is undermanned, but I think the Hurricanes will get their best shot this weekend with so much on the line. If they don't play well, UNC has what it takes to pull an upset.

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