Florida State escapes two close games to come away with the sweep of the Rams to start the season.
With the exception of the first game, the Florida State baseball team had some eye opening realizations. Brandon Leibrandt and the Seminoles were as good as many expected in the season opener as nothing shocking really occurred. The second game brought on some problems with timely hitting, but the team did a great job with drawing walks and getting on base. It could have been a blowout victory had they brought those men in rather than stranding them on base most of the day.
It wasn't until the third and final game of the series when everyone really got a feel for the team. The Garnet and Gold struggled for a large portion of the game, going hitless until the 4th and not breaking into the run column until the 6th. Still, after trailing URI for most of the game (5-0 going into the 6th), FSU showed a lot of character in being able to bounce back and never give up. The Seminoles began to chip away at the lead in the 6th and freshmen Jameis Winston came in relief to prevent any serious URI comeback. Winston struggled at the plate the series (1-8), but did a phenomenal job in his 3 innings on Sunday (2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 K, faced 13 batters, throwing 58 pitches).
What to Take Away from the Series:
Florida State is a young team and it's early in the season. There is still no solid gage on who this team is or what they are capable of. The newcomers (only the starters in DJ Stewart, Marcus Davis, John Sansone, Jameis Winston, and Casey Smith), went a combined 8-38, but some of them came up big when needed. Brett Knief was 1-2 in his role as a pinch hitter and late defensive switch, but the one hit sparked FSU in game three. DJ Stewart later capitalized in the same game with the walk off two-run homer.
It also looked like early season jitters were an issue, mainly for Jose Brizuela at third base. Brizuela had five errors in the three games and the team combined for eight errors in the series. Going along with the early struggles, Peter Miller did not have his best outing in the series finale. Miller only lasted 2.1 IP and walked 4, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) and almost being credited with the lose until FSU made the big comeback late.
It will be interesting to see where Mike Martin takes the team if these struggles continue.
Importance of the Series:
It's only the first series of the season and Rhode Island is not known for their baseball, but for the second consecutive year Florida State had to battle back against the Rams to complete the sweep. FSU needs to work on the issues mentioned above, but I highly doubt this team will continue with those problems the entire season.
One last thing to take away from the series, 50 degree weather with wind gusts up to 20 mph is not ideal for baseball.
Here is how each individual game broke down.
Florida State could not ask for a much better season opener, other than a shutout or no-hitter, but hey, you can't have them all. The Seminoles scored early, they scored often, but most importantly, they scored in clutch situations. Nine of the eleven runs scored came with two outs.
To further the success of opening night, FSU showed the fans some of the new, young talent replacing old favorites from last year. Freshman DJ Stewart got things started with an RBI double to right center in the first inning. Two batters later, junior college transfer Marcus Davis cleared the bases with a two-run blast over the right field fence. However, the images of the newcomers quickly went downhill as Stewart, Davis, Jameis Winston, and John Sanson (all starters) went a combined 2-11 with three walks.
As expected, sophomore pitcher Brandon Leibrandt pitched up to expectations as the Friday starter. Leibrandt went five and faced two extra batters in the sixth before getting pulled. Although he gave up four runs, the first two were partially from the defense extending the inning (the double steal from Rhode Island), while the second two was just a bad pitch knocked out of the park for a two-run homer. Leibrandt struck out six and walked one.
Something not as expected was the bullpen. Although the three that came in (Bryant Holtman, Robby Coles, and Luke Weaver) gave up a combined four walks in four innings pitched, they also combined to only give up one hit, an RBI single in the 9th.
MVP of the Game: Jose Brizeuela: Florida State had a 7-4 lead when Brizuela's grand slam in the 6th put the game way out of reach for the Rams.
Things to Work On: For Florida State to make it back to Omaha, the young guys need to hit. Granted, it's only the first game of the season, but the newcomers need to fill the holes left from FSU being picked apart by the MLB Draft.
Quote of the Game: Head Coach Mike Martin on opening day: "When you start an opening day with a lot of new guys, you are a little bit cautious of what to expect. After the nine innings I just saw, I was very pleased with the way we played"
The main thing that was working in game one was the exact opposite in game two: timely hitting. FSU could only muster seven hits against the Rams, only one of them being a clean RBI hit (Justin Gonzalez's leadoff homerun in the 8th). The Seminoles stranded 14 and needed runs late to pull away from Rhode Island.
Due to a throwing error from third basemen Jose Brizuela, URI extended the inning and scored two in the 7th to take the 2-1 lead late in the game. Florida State quickly responded in the bottom half of the inning with their patience at the plate, walking three and getting a HBP. FSU continued to expand their lead in the 8th with two more runs, bringing the score to 6-2. Even with the five runs late in the game, the ‘Noles only recorded two hits in those two innings combined, the Gonzalez homer and DJ Stewart's single right after Gonzo's shot.
The main bright spot from this game is the one thing Mike Martin, Jr. preaches every year. The patience of the hitters, even the young ones, was remarkable. As a team, FSU recorded 12 walks. Redshirt Junior Stephen McGee had four walks alone! Still, those walks won't matter if you can't bring them in.
MVP of the Game: Brandon Johnson: Johnson came in relief for Gage Smith in the 7th and prevented Rhode Island from having the big inning. Johnson went a career high 3 innings, striking out one and only giving up a single in the 9th.
Things to Work On: Florida State needs to get back to what worked in the first game of the series. As already mentioned, timely hitting is key to this team's success.
Quote of the Game: Freshman Jameis Winston on his first career hit as a Seminole, a triple to right field in the 5th: "I'm still not satisfied, but a hits a hit and hopefully I get better." Through two games, the two sport athlete is 1-8.
Mike Martin_URI Game 2 (via Ryan Syrkus)
What started as a blowout became something not far from spectacular. Rhode Island jumped all over Peter Miler early in the game, chasing him after 75 pitches and tagging Miller with four runs, only two of which were earned. The Rams looked on pace to upset the ninth ranked Seminoles, leading 5-0 going into the 6th. However, Florida State finally started to get to URI starter Liam O'Sullivan in the 6th and the picked apart Rhode Island's bullpen for a stunning comeback.
Jose Brizuela struggled at third base once again this game, but made up for it at the plate. His RBI triple in the 6th got the FSU dugout excited for the first time the entire game as it scored the first Seminole run of the day. Brizuela would later get a leadoff double in the 8th and advance to third on a throwing error eventually scoring bring it to 6-3 Rhode Island.
Even with the team chipping away at the lead, it wasn't until Brett Knief's 2 RBI double in the 8th that it really felt like the comeback was possible. Knief drove the ball down the left field line scoring Giovanny Alfonzo and Seth Miller, cutting the URI lead to 6-5. Stephen McGee would later tie the game at six with a fielder's choice to the shortstop, scoring Casey Smit.
With a 3:45 pm travel curfew quickly approaching, the game went into extras and the possibility of tie becoming more and more likely. Gage Smith made quick work of the Rams in the 10th, facing four batters on 20 pitches and giving the Seminoles a chance to win it in the bottom half or leave Dick Howser with the tie. Justin Gonzalez would get on with a single and one out. DJ Stewart cam up next and took a 2-2 fastball out of the park for the two-run walk off homer to right center.
Stewarts walk off was the first for FSU since Mike McGee did it against Vanderbilt in 2010.
MVP of the Game: Brett Knief and DJ Stewart: As much as I hate splitting a "MVP" award, both Knief and Stewart played huge roles in the comeback. Knief came in as a pinch hitter in the 6th (striking out his first AB) and lit a fire under the team with the 2 RBI double in the 8th. Stewart had the game winning hit to prevent the first tie for FSU since a 7-7 game against Miami in 2003. Stewart's shot was his first career shot with Florida State and he finished 1-4 with a walk on the day.
Things to Work On: FSU needs a Sunday starter, and possibly a Saturday one too. It may have just been nerves or cold weather, but if Peter Miler struggles like he did in this game, Mike Martin will have to replace him. As expected, and as Martin said in preseason, the surgery for Mike Compton will cause problems in the starting rotation. Had Compton not had surgery and was pitching this season, Scott Sitz would have been the Sunday starter and Miller probably would have been in relief or a midweek starter.
The other major eye opener during this game was the lack of concentration at times. With five errors in the game, it seemed at times they were either over thinking a play or trying too hard to make the routine putout. Luckily for FSU, the errors did not result in a loss.
Quote of the Game: DJ Stewart on his game winning two-run homer: "[I] listened to 11 the whole way. He's telling me to let the game come to me, look for my pitch to hit and drive it...I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it."
Mike Martin_URI Game 3 (via Ryan Syrkus)
DJ Stewart_URI Game 3 (via Ryan Syrkus)
Florida State finished the series with an unblemished record which is more than can be said for other teams ranked in front of the Seminoles. Six teams ranked ahead of Florida State in the Baseball America poll lost at least one game this week, including rival Florida who fell to Duke on Friday night. The Noles could move up a few spots before next week's series with South Florida who went 1-2 on the weekend.
The Bulls were trounced on Friday 10-1 by 4th ranked Louisville but bounced back beating a weak Purdue team 20-2. Their Sunday game saw them outhit Indiana 14-12 but the score was quite lopsided as they were defeated 12-2 by one of the Big Ten's best teams. Before that Jacksonville comes into town on Wednesday afternoon for a quick one game series starting at the 4 PM (the game was originally scheduled for Tuesday at 4 PM, but postponed due to projected thunderstorms in the area). The Noles should be able to take care of business as the Dolphins had a lack luster weekend losing the series to the mighty Radford Highlanders.
Hope you enjoyed the first week of College Baseball, we look forward to providing you more coverage than ever.