Mississippi State vs. (6) Virginia
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2; Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2; Monday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
In a way, this is a classic baseball battle between the team with the better pitchers and the team with the better hitters. The Cavaliers have the better offense than the Bulldogs, but Mississippi State's pitchers are just a little bit better, at least on paper, than Virginia's.
But there's a twist, and it's one we've talked about before, so I'm not going to belabor it too much, but it comes down to John Cohen's unique philosophy on using the bullpen: He does so. A lot. With 12 wins, Ross Mitchell still has the most victories among all of MSU's pitchers -- and Mitchell is a reliever averaging less than three innings an appearance.
Back to those bats for a moment -- Virginia's are very good. The team as a whole has an OPS of .875. Four of the members of the Cavaliers lineup have an on-based percentage of .420 or above; only two are slugging below .400. The most impressive hitter of the lot might be Mike Papi, who has an OPS of 1.152, in part because he gets on base 52.7 percent of the time he walks to the plate. And it's not like the pitchers are worthless or anything. Virginia's team ERA is 3.05, just a few ticks above Mississippi State's mark of 2.73.
My biggest concern with the Bulldogs in this series basically boils down to this: How long can the bullpen keep this up? Three Mississippi State pitchers have logged at least 29 appearances this year, and that can put some wear and tear on the arm. The last thing any pitcher needs before facing Virginia is a little wear and tear on the arm.
And that's not all. Mississippi State is running an absurd 12-3 record in one-run games, and there's only so much luck you can count on. And the last thing you want to do is head into Charlottesville needing a market correction.
PREDICTION: Virginia wins, two games to one