Back to back weeks out of town for the Seminoles as they look to return to the elite form that was shown throughout the first month and half. We are very fortunate to have BJohnston from the Wake Forest site Blogger So Dear to do a Q&A about the team's successful season to date. You can read the answers to the questions he asked me here and his series preview here. Below are his answers to my questions.
More than halfway through the season and Wake Forest sits at nine games over .500 overall and 11-7 in the conference, how much have these results exceeded preseason expectations.
Wake was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division and through six conference series sits in second within the division. While the Deacs have benefitted greatly from an early season conference schedule featuring both Boston College and Notre Dame, Wake took two of three from Georgia Tech in Atlanta to open the conference season, as well as taking two of three from Maryland to get a critical series win there. Wake hit 20 wins faster than any former Wake team since 2006 and head coach Tom Walter appears to have the guys on the right track. While the conference series have gone mostly according to form over the past few weeks, including a series loss in Chapel Hill last weekend, Wake has been up and down in their midweek games including a tough loss to a very bad UNCG team two weeks ago. This team has certainly exceeded expectations and it has been a fun team to watch at times throughout the season.
I really like the offensive approach of Wake Forest because of how much it resembles Florida State's. The Deacons are 2nd in the conference in walks and 6th overall in the the country, the don't take a lot of risks on the base paths and they don't bunt an insane amount. What else can you tell us about this offense and who should we keep an eye on this weekend.
The top of the lineup features two of the best hitters in the ACC in Grant Shambley and Evan Stephens. Both of these guys have a great eye at the plate and are able to consistently get on base which is exactly what you need and expect out of your top two hitters. Freshman Will Craig has had an unbelievable season so far with seven home runs, tied for tops in the conference. Craig is a solid hitter who is able to work the count and wait on the right pitch to milk the at bat for all it's worth. He's been impressive for any player, much less a freshman, and he is an exciting player to watch. Wake's conservative style may be due in large part to mistakes over the previous few years on the base paths which had resulted in a seemingly large number of pick offs as well as being thrown out trying to steal bases. Overall the team can lack some offensive firepower at times, but all-in-all the guys have good plate discipline and wait on their pitches.
It appears that Wake Forest's best starter will go on Saturday. I know in year's they have started their ace on Saturday to avoid a sweep, is that the case this season and what can you tell us about the rotation.
Both John McLeod and Jack Fischer have been solid this year for the Deacs, but McLeod has been particularly impressive in the 2014 season after missing all of 2013. These two guys are clearly starters 1a. and 1b. and they have both been able to consistently get the job done throughout the year. Fischer has been able to take a lot of pressure off the bullpen on his Friday night starts as he has gone at least eight innings in four of his five conference starts. McLeod on the other hand leads the team in ERA and has been able to provide a terrifying one-two punch after Fischer grinds down the team on Friday while saving the arms in the pen. Closer Aaron Fossas has been tremendous this year coming in to shut down games and has 10 saves, while also boasting a 4-1 record in 21 appearances and with a relatively deep bullpen, Walter has done a good job getting beneficial pitcher-hitter matchups for the Deacons' pitching staff.
I really like what Wake Forest is trying to do on offense as they resemble Florida State in certain aspects of the game. The Deacons walk almost as much as the Noles which puts them top ten in the country, they don't take a lot of chances on the base paths and they don't give away outs with sacrifice bunts. Now if they had as much talent as the Noles did in their lineup top to bottom they would score more than they currently do. This is obviously where the ability to hit for extra bases or hit at all separates the Noles from the Deacons and the rest of college teams.
The Wake Forest pitching staff has held its own except in conference play where their numbers drop while the Seminoles actually have the same if not slightly better in some aspects. The Seminoles need to take advantage of the Deacs low strikeout ratio and high walk ratio, even during the offensive funk Florida State has still been able to reach base. Their inability to cash in on those base runners is what has haunted them, the makeup of this pitching staff has me wondering if the Noles can take advantage of those base runners this weekend.
What jumps out to me about Fischer is that he is an extreme groundball pitcher which could pose trouble for the Noles. Florida State lost to Indiana last year in the Super Regionals and they struggled with pitchers who had the same makeup as the right hander for Wake Forest. The Seminoles are hoping the Fischer that was rocked last weekend against North Carolina shows up and not the Fischer that shut down Georgia Tech throwing a complete game in route to a victory.
Luke Weaver was fantastic in six of the seven innings he pitched last weekend against the Yellow Jackets. It really came down to only a few pitches for him but unfortunately those few pitches cost him five runs in the first inning. There is no reason to expect those struggles to continue for Weaver as he has pitched like the ace Florida State needs. If it wasn't for Maryland's Jake Stinnett the right hander for the Noles would have the best strikeout to walk ratio for a pitcher with a strikeout per nine greater than seven.
Just like his teammate the lefty McLeod relies on the ground ball but what is also interesting is his high strikeout ratio. Those two aspects of his game is what allows him to have such a high walks per nine and still have as much success as he does. McLeod really has benefited from poor competition in conference, against BC, ND and Maryland he's allowed only 3 runs in 20.2 innings while against Clemson, GT and UNC he's only thrown 14.2 innings and given up 13 runs.
Compton had an outing he would like to forget last weekend as he didn't make it through the fourth inning. This start was not the usual for the right hander as I wrote earlier this week Compton is the same pitcher he was his freshman season when he was an All-American. Compton is going to surrender a good amount of hits but if he can limit the amount that go for extra bases (which is tough to do) and limit the walks he can be a very effective pitcher the remainder of the season.
This is a matchup of relievers forced into weekend starters, Kaden has had mixed results this season in his starter role while Holtmann has looked great albeit against teams with anemic offenses. Kaden lasted only three innings last week against UNC while Holtmann recorded only one out before being pulled against Tech. I would be surprised if either of these pitchers made it deep into the game.
The only way to watch either of these games is if you subscribe to the Universal All-Access through CBS Sports but we will do our best to provide you with updates in this thread.
I fully expect the Noles to win this series and hopefully can get back on track and play like they had been earlier in the season.