After reading this Q&A you may find that Virginia is a team not so dissimilar from MSU - big ballpark, strong bullpen, no true ace, etc. Outside of some flattering remarks towards Ole Miss, this is some great info from Will - so thanks to him for taking the time.
1. Virginia seems to have built a very solid baseball program over the last decade, how is the sport viewed among the fanbase?
Personally, I think Virginia's favorite spring sport will always be lacrosse. The sustained success that Dom Starsia has had over the last two decades has truly been astounding (and that hurts because I'm not the biggest fan of the "Lax Bros"). Having said that since 2009 the popularity of the baseball program has skyrocketed. We were having pretty good success after Coach O'Connor "Oak" took the program over in 2004 til 2009, but after our CWS run of that year, the flood gates opened. Davenport Field is regularly sold out during the regular season and has been "expanded" (I say that with "" because the expansions were to add temporary bleachers down the RF line, in LF, and in RF that will be permanent until the real expansions come in the next few years) numerous times because the athletic department saw an opportunity to have more seats.
So, is the program #1 in the hearts of Cavalier fans? Probably not, but they are damn close and only getting closer every NCAA tournament run.
2. What UVA hitters should we be on the lookout for and what are their strengths?
Our best hitter is the one you will see as soon as UVa comes to bat. The leadoff, Mike Papi, has been phenomenal this year. He had what I think was a bit of an attitude last year while he was struggling so he didn't start the year in the starting lineup, but after he showed his potential and turned his attitude around about 1/4 of the way through the season, he's been our toughest out. He leads the nation in OBP and is #8 in OPS. His strength is honestly just getting on base.
We don't truly have power guys like a lot of the SEC is used to seeing. Davenport Field is a monster as you will see this weekend, so Oak and the staff have tried to build gap to gap hitters, rather than guys who could leave the park at any time. But, if you were looking for power, I'd say look at Brandon Downes and Derek Fisher. Fisher was in the College Home Run Derby last year and is 2nd on the team this year in HRs. Downes is a bit of an anomaly even to me. The CF looks more like a lead off guy that can fly rather than a HR hitter, but here he is leading the team in HRs.
The rest of our lineup is very similar to ya'll's from what I can tell. Everyone up and down the lineup has a solid average and can do damage if the time presents it. They struggled a bit in the Regionals with men on base and stranded roughly 1287234 runners in the 3 games, but really broke out in the finale against Elon. Oh, and if men are on base, C Nate Irving will be bunting. Hell, if anyone is on base, we're likely bunting.
3. How strong is UVA's bullpen? How many guys are viewed as "shut down" relievers?
The bullpen has won countless games for the team this season. Josh Sborz and Kyle Crockett are the guys you will mainly be seeing coming out of the pen for any big problems or tight ball games. Crockett is a lefty who many thought would be the Saturday or Friday starter. Oak has put him in the closer's spot and he has flourished. He won't throw hard but his command is excellent and his slider has made a lot of guys look bad. The best part is Oak doesn't have a problem going to him in the 7th or 8th, and has confidence he will hold and close out the game. He had back to back two inning saves on Friday and Saturday in the Regional, and will likely be the only Cavalier taken in the first five rounds of the draft this weekend.
Crockett has been excellent and the main shutdown guy, but there have been numerous times where they have been called to action in the 4th or 5th, held the opponent at bay, and allowed the offense to finally get it together. I don't know how many come from behind wins they have had this year but it has to be close to ten at least, and that has to be attributed to the pen.
4. Is there a particular starting pitcher in which you feel like UVA would be in trouble if they lost his start or is the rotation pretty strong 1-3?
Sadly, there is no Danny Hultzen this year. Brandon Waddell and Scott Silverstein will be the two starters that will start no matter what. The third will likely be Whit Mayberry, unless SS Brandon Cogswell can get back on the field (Cogswell has been out since the regular season ended with a broken finger), in which case Nick Howard, the replacement SS, will likely be the third. As I said in the pen question, they have been used a good amount this year so even if one of the starters struggles a bit, as long as the offense is still within striking distance, I don't lose my mind.
That isn't to take away anything from Silverstein or Waddell. Waddell has been a welcomed addition to the rotation. The First Year (freshman) has been solid the entire season and has really cemented his place on the staff. Silverstein is a 5th year lefty who is finally coming into his own. He was the highest recruit UVa had in the '08 class (which also had Hultzen and others), but has had to have two shoulder surgeries. He has been pretty lights out over the last five weeks, and I will be disappointed not just for the team, but for him personally if he doesn't continue that this weekend.
5. I would call this the John Grisham Series, Version 2.0 since he went to MSU and has always been a big Diamond Dawg fan and he donated to UVA baseball with his son playing there. The first would have been the Virginia vs. Ole Miss Super Regional in 2009 (which thankfully UVA won) since he has homes in both locations and went to OM law school. Would you agree and do you have any comments?
I did not know that he was a big MSU fan. I knew he was from Mississippi, but thought he was more of a Rebel (I apologize for not knowing these things). Now that I know that, I will surely agree. Grisham is a regular on the hardwood at basketball games and he deserves one of the biggest thank yous for the stadium that we have now.
I want to personally say welcome to any of ya'll coming up this weekend as well. I was fortunate enough to be apart of the team that traveled to Oxford in 2009, and I can tell you that I loved every minute of it. I know that they are your rivals, but the hospitality that we received from the Mississippians was great, and that food wasn't bad either! What I loved the most was the passion that they had for their team, their school, and their conference. Having studied the last year at South Carolina Law (I do not support that baseball team though), I know that passion isn't just at Ole Miss, but is conference wide and I hope ya'll bring all of that (and some of your ladies) with you to Charlottesville this weekend. Oh, and if I don't hear plenty of cowbells this weekend, I am going to be very disappointed. Go Hoos, and welcome to Virginia.
You can follow Will on twitter @STLUVaBaseball