Florida State (4-0) is off to a perfect start sweeping the Rhode Island Rams (0-3) followed up with a midweek win against Jacksonville (1-3) while South Florida had a bit of a rough opening weekend losing two games by a combined total of 22-3. Losing in the fashion they did was probably disheartening but the teams they lost to were quality, Louisville (3-1) is the fourth ranked team in the country and Indiana (2-1) is the favorite to win the Big 10. The Bulls did have a bright spot to their season's start by crushing a Purdue (2-2) team that is one year removed from winning their conference; they outhit the Boilermakers by a total of 20 to 6 in a 20-2 rout.
The Bulls renew their rivalry with FSU this weekend; the schools have not faced off in baseball since 2002. In the 2002 NCAA Regional match-up in Tallahassee the Seminoles defeated the Bulls 13-6 to knock USF out of the NCAA Tournament. The last regular-season meeting between USF and FSU was in 1989 when the Bulls took 3 of 4 from the Seminoles. Overall, USF and FSU have faced off 77 times with the majority of games going to the Seminoles (62-15).
The Seminoles' lineup has been a strength so far in this young season, through four games the Noles have a .254/.451/.508 line with 17 of their 32 hits going for extra bases. The Bulls have done a solid job of reaching base as well with a .342/.417/.429 line but only 5 of their 31 hits have been of the extra base variety including only one homerun. Florida State has also exercised more plate discipline than South Florida walking 11 more times than they have struck out whereas the Bulls have struck out 10 more times than they have walked.
The strength of the Bulls' lineup is their outfield, leadoff hitter and CF James Ramsay was their best bat last season and is also a threat on the base paths stealing 14 of 19 last year. Alex Mendez (LF) and Jimmy Falla (RF/1B) are USF's 3 and 4 hitters respectively and are the only returning players to have hit more than two homerun's last season.
Catcher Stephen McGee has led the way so far for FSU with his ridiculous .611 on-base percentage. Freshman DJ Stewart (CF) and Sophomore Jose Brizuela (3B) have been impressive at the plate early this year while Marcus Davis (RF) has been a welcomed addition with his obscene 1.376 OPS.
The Noles have the apparent advantage but the Bulls proved against Purdue that they can score runs against bad pitching.
Friday: South Florida lost all three weekend starters from last year so midweek starter Joey Lovecchio moves up to the Friday spot. In 14 appearances last season the righty senior made 12 starts posting a 4.78 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 17 walks. What really hurt Lovecchio a year ago was the amount of extra base hits he allowed, 30% went for extra bases. In his lone start this season he was very impressive against Purdue pitching five shutout innings , striking out five and walking none. Brandon Leibrandt was business as usual in the season opener versus URI despite allowing four runs. Some poor defense and one missed pitch ended his day after five innings but in that time he struck out six and walked only one.
Saturday: It is doubtful that lefty Nick Gonzalez can pitch any worse this weekend than he did last. In the season opener against Louisville the junior faced only nine batters, retiring just two. Gonzalez worked primarily out of the bullpen last season, in 41 innings he had a 2.63 ERA with a 2.45 strikeout to walk ratio. Senior Scott Sitz takes the mound Saturday and as a starter has had mixed results throughout his career. While allowing no runs in his first start he was only able to last four innings due to some command issues and a high pitch count.
Sunday: The Bulls apparently were not pleased with the outing from JUCO lefty Nolan Thomas last Sunday in the loss to Indiana where he allowed four earned runs on five hits, walking two and striking out only one. USF has not yet announced a Sunday starter. Peter Miller is fighting to keep his spot in the rotation and he should be concerned given the Luke Weaver outing this past Wednesday. In his first start of the season he threw 75 pitches in just 2.1 innings including 4 walks.
Bullpen: Both relief staffs have had mixed results this season, some great long relief coupled with some terrible, short lived appearances. Jimmy Herget and Lawrence Prado have both been excellent out of the pen combining for 7.2 shutout innings. Similarly the Noles' Jameis Winston, Billy Strode and Brandon Johnson have combined for 7 shutout innings of their own walking only one and striking out seven.
The fielding by these two teams has been atrocious to start the season. Both the Bulls and Seminoles have been butchers on the diamond accounting for 9 and 11 errors respectively. Of the 25 runs allowed by USF, 19 have been earned and the Noles have had allowed only 12 earned runs of the 20 scored. Call it early season nerves, learning a new position or a just a small sample size but the defense from both sides needs to improve.
PREDICTIONS, NOTES AND COVERAGE:
In the Schedule Breakdown I said the Seminoles should be no worse than 5-4 against USF, UCF and UF. A sweep is always great but against a team of USF's caliber it might be expecting too much, while the Noles are completely capable of winning three and are favorites in each, finishing off this series win two W's would be just fine.
There is a lot going on at the Dick this weekend, Friday is ALS Awareness NIght:
Friday's series opener against the Bulls is also FSU's ALS Awareness Game. The ALS Association Florida Chapter will be represented by several people on Friday including Lizzie Danner, the Tallahassee Walk Manager.
Danner and several volunteers will be manning a table in Haggard Plaza before and during the game, where they will be providing information about ALS and also selling the popular $1 red bracelets to raise awareness. Fans interested in giving will be able to Text "ALS" to 20222 and make a $5 donation.
Also for your listening pleasure:
Saturday is Baseball Bingo, everyone in attendance receives a bingo card, numbers marked based on plays throughout the game and Sunday is Kids Day, kids in attendance are allowed to run the bases after the game.
Unfortunately there is no new "Craft Brew of the Series" this week but you can relive a past one from the USF Football game. Feel free to mention what you will be putting back this weekend.
See everyone back here at 4:00 PM and make sure you follow @rysrkus for his in-game updates and excellent live photos.