Seminoles Face First True Test

Ryan Syrkus

#12 Florida State has its toughest test of the season as #9 Georgia Tech comes into town this weekend and these two prolific offenses square off. Due to projected bad weather the first game of a doubleheader starts today at 3PM.

Aaron Fitt of Baseball America highlights this matchup as the series of the week and does a great job of previewing it, the following are a few excerpts from his article.

In five of this weekend's most compelling series, an unranked or lower-ranked team is an unlikely underdog, for one reason or another. The weekend's marquee series in the Atlantic Coast Conference pits No. 9 Georgia Tech against No. 12 Florida State. At 20-1, FSU might not seem like an "underdog," and the Seminoles are an ACC goliath every year, but we are dubbing the more talented Yellow Jackets the road favorites this weekend. The Yellow Jackets have the nation's most explosive offense-they averaged exactly 10.0 runs per game through the first five weeks of the season.

The Florida State pitching staff will have its hands full this weekend and Mike Martin knows it...

"Every time I look up they're scoring double figures," Florida State coach Mike Martin said. "I can tell you now, if we've got to get nine to win the ballgame, it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a challenge to get to nine, no question. And they're averaging 10."

The Noles offense has not exactly been on fire lately, they struggled scoring runs last weekend and were held in check on Tuesday and the first half of Wednesday's game against Stetson. The offense exploded for 14 runs in 5 innings on Wednesday but that was against a extremely poor pitching staff and was more like batting practice than anything else.

So to recap, Florida State is off to a 20-1 start this spring even after losing its entire infield, a first-round pick in center field, an accomplished weekend starter who Martin said "was pitching like our No. 1" before he went down, and arguably the nation's best closer from last year's team.

This is in regards to the players lost to the draft, graduation and devastating injuries. As cliche as it sounds that truly is remarkable and a credit to the coaching staff and their ability to take players and make them into winners.

It goes without saying that Florida State should feel great about being 20-1. FSU's first four weeks featured 15 straight home games, including weekend series against Rhode Island, South Florida, Villanova and Boston College. The 'Noles went on the road for the first time last weekend at Maryland and took two of three. But FSU hasn't faced anything remotely like Georgia Tech's high-powered offense. Against a slightly stronger schedule (including three games against a quality Georgia Southern team, three at No. 24 Virginia Tech and another against Mercer), the Yellow Jackets have hit .352 and mashed 21 home runs, compared to Florida State's .286 average and 13 homers.

The strength of schedule cannot be overlooked, Florida State has yet to face a team that is on pace to make the postseason, and that includes the possibility that Florida might miss out too. The level of talent on the field this weekend will be tremendous and a pleasure to watch. Let's take a look at how the two teams match up.

OFFENSE:

As already mentioned the Jackets' have the most potent offense in the country and the stats are off the charts. Not only do they lead the conference in many stats they lead by a large margin:

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Georgia Tech has eight players who have started all 20 games on the season, 7 of the 8 are currently batting .300 or better. Five of the eight have an on-base percentage of .400 or better, 2 others are just below that number with .398 and .396. While 4 of the 8 have a slugging percentage over .500 including 3 who are above the .650 mark. In comparison the Seminoles have eight players who have started at least 16 games on the season, only 3 of which are batting over .300, not that batting average is the end all be all. Five of the Noles' hitters have an OBP of over .400 and 3 of those hitters are slugging over .500 while two have eclipsed a .600 slugging percentage.

The Yellow Jackets' lineup is absolutely brutal as there really is no easy out but the players that really stand out are CF Brandon Thomas who is currently batting an amazing .487 with a 1.123 OPS. Daniel Palka is their designated hitter and like Thomas boasts an impressive 1.198 OPS. Kyle Wren and Matt Gonzalez will not only hurt you with the bat they are also excellent on the base paths stealing at an exceptionally high percentage. The duo is 21 for 25 on the season and as a team the Jackets do very well. The real monster in the lineup is catcher Zane Evans who is slugging a ridiculous .821 with 9 homeruns.

The Seminole have one of the top offenses on the country as well aided my a combination of excellent discipline and power at the plate. 3B Jose Brizuela is having a breakout season leading the Noles with a .377 batting average with a very respectable 1.061 OPS. Florida State is enjoying the addition of catcher Stephen McGee's bat to the lineup, he was top 5 in the nation in walks last season but hit a meager .230 with a pathetic .275 slugging percentage. This season he has hit his first 3 homeruns of his career, slugging over .600 while still maintaining a .500 on-base percentage. JUCO transfer Marcus Davis started off the season on fire but has recently slumped until hitting a homerun this past Wednesday. On the season he has an OPS over 1.000 and leads the team in round trippers with five.

The edge here has to go to Georgia Tech, as said earlier there is no let up in their lineup. Florida State has the offense to compete though which makes the pitching matchups all that much more important.

PITCHING:

Both the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets have very solid pitching staffs which are both anchored by their weekend rotation.

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In the more telling statistics the two teams are almost identical with the only glaring difference coming from the ERA. Georgia Tech is just below league average but that can be attributed to poor outings they have received from their weekday starts.

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Senior Buck Farmer turned down the draft to improve his stock and so far this season he has done an excellent job. With a K/9 at 12 and a strikeout to walk ratio over 6 he has the ability to shut down even the best offenses and is a front runner for pitcher of the year. He is however coming off his worst start of the season where he allowed 5 earned runs to a terrible Boston College team, if he is as erratic as he was in that game the Noles chances obviously improve. Brandon Leibrandt has a season of up and down starts, he flirted with a no hitter earlier in the season but in his last outing against Maryland he struggled with his command and didn't make it out of the 5th inning. An early concern this season for the lefty was the amount of homeruns he allowed but as of recently he has improved on that and will need to continue to do so if he is to limit the high powered GT lineup.

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Right hander Dusty Isaacs has also had a season of mixed appearances, a solid one followed by one he would like to forget. His numbers are very similar to Scott Sitz so he does have the potential to quiet the Florida State bats. In his last outing he shut down the Eagles in 7 innings but in his start against the Hokies he showed that a good offense can get to him as he had his shortest start of the season giving up 6 runs, 3 unearned in only 2.2 innings. Scott Sitz continues to have a turnaround season despite having his least effective start of the season versus Maryland last week. The senior admittedly didn't have his best stuff and couldn't command his offspeed pitches but still was able to give the Noles a quality start. He is going to have to be much better today if he is to have another quality outing.

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Cole Pitts has been great this season for GT in the Sunday spot, he has 4 quality starts in his 5 appearances and has gone at least 6 innings in 3 of them. He doesn't have overpowering stuff as his K/BB ratio is something the Noles can take advantage of just like the Hokies did in the one non-quality start Pitts had all season. Peter Miller could quite possibly be making his last Sunday start for some time.

"Sophomore righthander Luke Weaver (3-0, 1.00) has thrived in the midweek starter role, and Martin said he's about one more strong start away from forcing his way into the weekend rotation, presumably at Miller's expense." -- excerpt from the Aaron Fitt article.

Miller has struggled with his command and has allowed too many walks, GT will absolutely take advantage of that which could cause an early call to the bullpen.

Georgia Tech has the advantage in two of the three matchups this weekend but the Noles have the advantage in the bullpen. On paper Florida State pitching has one of the strongest pitching staffs in the country but as the strength of schedule points out they have yet to be tested. There is no better test than to face the top offense in the country.

DEFENSE:

Measuring defense in college baseball is hard, fielding percentage is flawed and inaccurate but having watched the Noles play this season it is very easy to say that it has been extremely poor. It might be slightly exaggerated because fans have been spoiled by excellent defense the past few seasons but its important to also remember that Florida State does has new players at just about every position. For what its worth the Yellow Jackets have the best fielding percentage in the country. Only 12% of their runs allowed have been unearned whereas the Noles percentage of unearned runs scored is just over 40 percent.

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Picking a winner in this series is difficult, given everything its not hard to see why GT is favored but its also hard to pick against FSU who has year in and year out continue to surprise.

"With Buck Farmer pitching on Friday night, of course we know Georgia Tech's as good as anybody in the country," Martin said. "I'm anxious to see how we line up with them. I must admit, I've gone into games with them before and I've said the same thing, and they've beat us 9-1, and I've said, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to play them two more times.' So it's a very good baseball team. We've just got to make pitches and take advantage of any scoring opportunities we get, because those guys are for real."

A series win would be huge for Florida State would be huge, a series loss would be understandable as GT is probably the better team. Both games today are on ESPN3, first one starting at 3PM and the second one to follow 40 minutes afterwards. Enjoy some great baseball this weekend and we will use this piece as the game thread.

Go Noles!

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