Thursday, April 24, 2014
series preview: Florida State
Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 25-27; 6:00, 6:00, 1:00
Record against the Noles: 24-48
Last meeting: UVA 7, FSU 4; 5/25/13, Durham, NC (ACC Tournament)
Last game: UVA 13, UR 0 (4/23); FSU 13, Stet. 3 (4/23)
UVA 2-1 over UNC (3-2, 3-1, 2-4)
FSU 2-1 over WF (7-1, 4-3, 2-5)
Baseball America: UVA #1; FSU #4
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #2; FSU #6
NCBWA: UVA #1; FSU #5
Perfect Game: UVA #1; FSU #4
Coaches: UVA #1; FSU #5
LHP Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.36) vs. RHP Luke Weaver (6-3, 2.83)
RHP Josh Sborz (4-2, 2.81) vs. RHP Mike Compton (3-1, 3.70)
LHP Brandon Waddell (5-2, 2.93) vs. LHP Bryant Holtmann (5-0, 3.24)
This series doesn't need much introduction; it's so often the biggest on every year's ACC schedule and this year is no exception. UVA and FSU represent the ACC's two top-five teams and both sit atop their respective divisions, tied for the prospective #1 seed. The Hoos are clearly putting their #1 ranking on the line this weekend as well. You don't get any better simulations of postseason baseball in the regular season.
-- First base: John Nogowski (.310-4-39). Solid all-around player in all respects - he can hit for contact with decent power, and is a good fielder. Good batting eye, too; most walks (35) and fewest K's (19) of qualified hitters. One of three players (all infielders) who've played every game. Nogowski has been batting fourth for the past five weeks.
-- Second base: John Sansone (.239-1-27). Not a frightening hitter, but a steady player who's started all 41 games at second base. Has a knack for getting in the way of a pitch with 16 HBP, boosting his on-base percentage; a little bit strikeout-prone, though. Usually bats 7th.
-- Third base: Jose Brizuela (.308-2-30). Lefty-batting junior is a long-time starter with 167 starts under his belt at FSU. Broke out last year, hitting .324. Possesses some speed, with 8 SB and 2 triples, but only a fair fielder. Typically the 5th hitter.
-- Shortstop: Justin Gonzalez (.248-1-26). One of two fifth-year senior starters on this team, with a whopping 214 starts in his FSU career (he took a medical redshirt last year.) Excellent fielder who has batted 2nd in most of his starts this year, but he's never been much better than decent as a hitter - his claim to fame is being a Rob Deer All-Star with the most strikeouts and a tie for the most walks on the team - and a cold bat of late has seen him bumped to the bottom half of the lineup.
-- Left field: D.J. Stewart (.359-7-35). Big, stocky player whose bat is easily the best on a team of pretty good ones. He leads the team in most offensive categories, owns an OPS of 1.085, and bats third. Won't hit any triples, but he can mash it. Was suspended four games earlier this year for sparking a brawl in one of FSU's games against Florida by steamrolling the Gator pitcher as he tried to field a grounder down the line, and yes, Stewart did go out of his way to run him over. He's kind of a hothead.
-- Center field: Ben DeLuzio (.281-1-21). Tall, speedy player who is the only freshman in the regular lineup for FSU. Has been successful on 11 of 12 stolen base attempts. Missed some time this year with bruised ribs after forgetting what the warning track is for. Generally the 8th hitter. Center is occasionally manned by Brett Knief, but most of those came during DeLuzio's injury.
-- Right field: Brett Knief (.274-2-21). Right field is the only position where there's a regular split of playing time, with the right-handed Knief platooning with the lefty-hitting Josh Delph. Knief is a fifth-year senior who transferred from North Carolina with a juco stop in between.
-- Catcher: Danny De La Calle (.238-0-23). A juco transfer who never gets a break; he's started 40 of 41 games behind the plate. Light hitter who always bats 9th.
-- Designated hitter: Josh Delph (.285-0-9). Delph usually DHes when not playing in right field, so it's not a true lefty-righty platoon out there. This is as good a time as any to also mention utility man Casey Smit (.330-1-20), who has 11 starts at DH but also a handful at 1B, SS, and LF, and will often be used as a pinch hitter as well.
-- Pitching staff:
Friday: RHP Luke Weaver (6-3, 2.83). A pretty good draft prospect (a 19th-round pick out of high school) who was 2nd-team all-ACC last year and a preseason all-American this year. Weaver is a hard thrower who can get up into the mid-90s, and features an excellent change-up. His breaking ball is still a work in progress and occasionally hangs, but his fastball and change are more than enough to get a ton of outs.
Saturday: RHP Mike Compton (3-1, 3.70). Promoted to Saturday due to the bone bruise suffered by FSU's outstanding starter Brandon Leibrandt. Compton is coming off of Tommy John surgery and is thus a draft-eligible sophomore. He's a pitch-to-contact pitcher who doesn't throw hard but gets groundballs by the handful. Those numbers look very good but they're boosted by a complete-game shutout of Maryland earlier this year; in other games his ERA is 4.54 and he's allowing a .271 BA.
Sunday: LHP Bryant Holtmann (5-0, 3.24). A career reliever moved into the weekend rotation because of Leibrandt's injury. FSU didn't have much other choice because their other weekday starting options weren't very palatable, but Holtmann is solid. He's a big, tall southpaw at 6'5".
Bullpen: Nice thing if you can have a Heisman winner coming out of the pen; FSU has been using Jameis Winston (1-0, 1.17) as the closer, and he's a much, much better pitcher than hitter. He's been nigh unhittable this year - striking out more than one per inning - and his own batting average and that of his opposing hitters are having a breakneck race to the bottom. Both sit way below .200. FSU can also turn to sophomore lefty Dylan Silva (3-0, 1.93) who's done a very nice job this year. After that, their options become decidedly less palatable; the best is probably lefty Billy Strode (1-1, 4.39). Opponents are batting .196 off of smallish freshman righty Taylor Blatch (1-0, 7.11) but, that ERA. Sample size is an issue in both of those stats.
Bottom line: Let's face it: #1 in the country, yes - but if the basketball team had been squeaking by its opponents all season instead of blowing them out three times out of four, nobody would've given them a chance against Syracuse, probably not even me. They weren't #1, and wouldn't have been in that case either, but there's still a parallel there.
FSU is a tough team because they have a good, patient lineup that will make you work for every out. They don't swing at crap very often. The pitching is solid, though not as deep as a title contender would usually like; when they get Leibrandt back, it'll help a ton, but that's not this weekend.
The UVA bats woke up this week against Richmond... but, they woke up against Richmond. Brian O'Connor has talked about being more aggressive at the plate, and this is a good weekend to start, because Friday opponent Luke Weaver will turn you inside-out with his professional change-up if you let him go to work on you.
As the records and rankings indicate, this is a winnable series for either team, and a tremendous challenge for both. I hesitate to pick against either, honestly; UVA has superior pitching across the board but needs to hit much better and needs to do it in a hostile setting. Were this a home series, I would pick UVA; it being in Tallahassee, I give the slight edge to the Noles.