#7 FSU Baseball host #16 UNC Tarheels: Series Preview

The Florida State Seminoles play host to a very hot North Carolina Tarheels this weekend in a premier ACC matchup of the week.  Florida State is coming off of two ACC series that they should have won and did win in pretty convincing fashion.  They went 4-2 against Wake Forest and Maryland giving them a 3 game lead in the Coastal division over NCST.  There was doubt to the strength of UNC this year after they started the season 7-2 playing the 3 worst teams ACC teams in Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Duke.  The Tarheels took a big step forward this past weekend in silencing their critics by sweeping a talented but injured Clemson team. 

For a look at what the 2011 North Carolina Tarheels baseball team we will turn to their preview from www.eastonbaseball.com 

NORTH CAROLINA (38-22, 14-16)

  • 2010 RPI: 24

  • Starters Returning: 5

  • Weekend Starters: 2

  • Mid-Week Starters: 2

  • Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

All Conference Candidates:

  • SS Levi Michael (.346-9-54, 20SBs)

  • OF Ben Bunting (.313, 10SBs)

  • C Jacob Stallings (.307, just 3Es)

  • 1B Jess Wierzbicki (.307-8-52)

  • RHP Patrick Johnson (6-3, 3.71)

The Good News:

Obviously, 2010 was an off year for the Heels. But when your off years still produce 38 wins and a trip to the NCAAs, you know your program is set at a high level in college baseball. Levi Michael is the straw that stirs the Tar Heel drink at the dish and in the field. He’ll team with middle infield mate Tommy Coyle (. 282, 14SBs) to turn a mean double-play and to give opposing pitchers the willy-nillies on the basepaths. The defense was its usual solid self, playing at a .970 level last year and these two sweeps will help keep it that way. Speaking of good defense, Jacob Stallings has become one of the best backstops in the college game, scooping pitches in the dirt and handling the mound corps with aplomb. Expect RHP Garrett Davis (3-3, 4.59) to take on a bigger role this season, as will fellow righty Greg Holt (3-4, 5.11, 3svs), as they held opposing batters to .210 and .231 averages respectively last season. The Tar Heels had a capital recruiting season as well, bringing in 25th-best class in the country, featuring four players that were drafted last June by the pros, but chose to wear the blue for Coach Mike Fox instead. Look for immediate contributions from C Matt Roberts (38th round, D-backs), RHP Andrew Smith (40th round, Rays) and big lefty Kent Emanuel (19th round, Pirates). Interesting note: incoming RHP Jake Cole (24th round, Rangers) was named the No. 1 ranked prospect in the state of Arizona last season, but escaped from the clutches of ASU and UofA to come across the country and be a Tar Heel. Great coo.

The Bad News:

Into a every life a little rain must fall. Even for the Tar Heels. Yep, they had the latest indignity of being a sad sack team that did not make its conference tournament and still got a bid to the 64-team Big Dance. (Shake your head side to side while looking down). Maddening! But even more troublesome will be losing ace stud Matt Harvey and spot duty hurler Colin Bates, who combined for 38 wins in their three years on the hill. Those are two big hits to the roster. The Heels collected only 45 home runs last year and will need to find some bats that can go yard and score some sac fly runs when necessary. Expected stud OF Brian Goodwin, who hit .291-7-61and was a Freshman All American, has been suspended for the entire 2011 season and 1B Dillon Hazlett, who was 3rd on the team with a .324 average, has transfered out.

Schedule Note:

A good start… or an ominous start.

I was excited to see that the Heels are heading out west in the opening weekend because their games against Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton, USC and Missouri will tell a lot about this team. Good or bad. And I was also excited because UNC has played some pretty crappy non-conference schedules in recent years. But this makes up for it. Most of the toughies in conference play will be on the road as they’ll go to VaTech, Florida State, N.C. State and Georgia Tech. They get Clemson, Miami and Virginia at the Bosh.

Inside we will preview what these teams have done so far and what the pitching matchups should look like.

OFFENSE:

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We are almost half way through ACC play and while offensive numbers are down across the NCAA Florida State still ranks as one of the best in the conference and the nation.  Try not to focus on batting average as that is an archaic stat that should be thrown own when looking at a team’s performance.  The fact that the Noles have an OPS almost 70 points above the league average shows that they are still one of the best despite the new bats.  For those that think this team strikes out too much the numbers prove otherwise, they are league average in PA/K and they walk at an impressive rate maximizing their scoring opportunities.  The Tarheels have a very respectable offense, are above average in every category and should be able to hang with the Noles throughout all 3 games. 

Players to watch in the UNC lineup are senior 1B Jesse Wierzbicki who has posted a .368/.419./684 slash in ACC play.  Leadoff hitting CF Ben Bunting (.327/.393./455) and 3B Colin Moran (.311/.418/.489) make this a potent lineup that will take advantage of any mistakes made by Seminole pitchers.  The Noles continue to get outstanding play from the middle of their lineup, Devon Travis and Justin Gonzalez have posted a combined .298/.455/.464 slash in ACC play and continue to impress with their fielding as well.  Not to be outdone is Florida State’s best hitter Mike McGee (.306/.432/.639) who is improving his draft status by showing he can hit and hit well with the new composite bats.

PITCHING: 

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Both pitching staffs have had good seasons to date and on paper look pretty even.  Where UNC surpasses FSU is their K/9.  Whether that stat is inflated due to UNC’s weak strength of schedule to start the season is still to be determined but they did strike out 28 Clemson batters last weekend.  

WEEKEND PROBABLES:

Friday, April 08, 2011 – Tallahassee, FL – 6:00 PM

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Sean Gilmartin has looked drastically better than last season as he is allowed to pitch to his strengths.  He has been fantastic in ACC play earning a quality start each time out and going 7+ innings in two of the four.  Patrick Johnson has an impressive strikeout rate but good news for the Noles is that it is accompanied with a high H/9 and BB/9. 

Saturday, April 09, 2011 – Tallahassee, FL – 6:00 PM

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Scott Sitz has struggled lately not making it past the 4th inning in his last two starts against lowly Wake Forest and Maryland.  The problem with Sitz is that he has a low strikeout rate and if you are going to allow as many hits and walks as he does you are bound to get yourself in trouble.  In his last two starts he has allow 17 of 34 batters faced to reach base,  that will have to improve because for the 3rd series in a row FSU will face the opposing teams best pitcher on a Saturday.  While not a Friday starter Kent Emmanuel has sure pitched like one, the Noles will have their hands full with the 6’4" freshman lefty.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 – Tallahassee, FL – 1:00 PM

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Both pitchers didn’t start the year in the weekend rotation but now are and it is tough to put too much stock into the above numbers as the sample size is ridiculously low.  I wouldn’t expect too much out of these starters, if they make it through the 5th inning I will be extremely impressed.

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Florida State will have quite the task this weekend to maintain their current lead in the Atlantic Division as  NC State travels to Miami and Clemson hosts Maryland.  Winning the series would be huge for the Noles and I think they have to be favored in 2 of the 3 games.  Weather shouldn’t play a factor other than the heat and humidity.  None of the games will be televised but there will be an open thread here tonight and throughout the rest of the weekend.

Go Noles!

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