Top Ranked Virginia Visits Florida State

Ryan Syrkus

In a showdown of top five ball clubs the Florida State Seminoles (32-9, 16-5) host the Virginia Cavaliers (35-7, 16-5) for the top spot in the ACC.

At the beginning of the year this series is one that many had pegged as one of the best in the country this season and two months into the season it should live up to the hype. Both teams are highly ranked, both teams are in the top three in RPI and both teams are tied atop the ACC. Virginia is the hotter team at the moment winning 8 of their last 10 games and have yet to lose a weekend series all season, they have no bad losses on their schedule and are pretty much a lock to be a national seed.

Florida State is not playing the caliber of baseball that was seen from this team the first six or seven weeks of the season. They are only 6-4 in their last 10 games with their normally potent offense struggling which is not ideal as they face the best pitching staff in the nation.

OFFENSE

As you will see below the Seminoles offense is really having a tough time scoring runs (numbers below do not include game two against Stetson when they scored 13). I was asked what is behind the slump and here are some of the reasons: certain players playing above their heads in the first half of the season, players recovering from injuries, lineup changes, bad luck and travel all have some role. I am still confident that this offense will return to form before the season is up and the postseason starts, they have the history, talent and coaching to do so.

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The Cavaliers offense isn't in the same category as the Noles, they are nowhere near the level they were in 2013 and are really only slightly above average in the conference overall. Since the offense is down this season, -.35/-.27/-.82 across the board and scoring is down two full runs, they have turned into a small ball, one run at a time type of team. They have six more sac bunts this season than they did all of last year, but one aspect that they excel at is not striking out. Putting the ball in play continuously puts pressure on opposing defenses, an aspect they could take advantage of against the Noles.

If you are a Florida State fan and you are unhappy with the offense the Noles have played over the last two weeks imagine that offense in every ACC series, that is what you have with the Virginia offense. In conference play they are inexplicably one of the worst, when your conference numbers are not discernible from teams like Pitt, BC and Notre Dame there might be a cause for concern. But we will leave that to Virginia fans as the Noles have been solid throughout the ACC scoring more than six runs per game, leading the conference in OBP by a vast margin and are third in slugging to UNC and Clemson.

For the Noles to be successful they obviously need to be on base, which they have been at league average even while slumping. They also need to take advantage of those base runners, their Rsco% which just measures the runners on base who came across to score has been great all season but has seen a percent change of 35% over the last 10 games. Florida State needs those timely hits to defeat Virginia and return to their potent offense form that we are used to seeing.

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The Virginia offense will get better with the return of Derek Fisher who missed a month with a broken bone in his hand. He has already had an impact as he has homered in each game this week for and reached base in 5 of his 10 plate appearances. While he is not nearly having the season he had in 2013 Mike Papi is the best bat in the Cavs lineup, he leads the team in on-base percentage (.465) and slugging (.495) which includes 7 homeruns. Second baseman Branden Cogswell (.301/.412/.340) is an excellent leadoff hitter for Virginia and exercises tremendous plate discipline as he has struck out only 11 times this season while walking 27 times.

Florida State needs a big weekend out of DJ Stewart (.359/.467/.618) because as he goes so does this offense. His performance will be assisted by the guys in front and behind him, Casey Smit (.330/.467/383/) needs to never attempt a bunt regardless of the circumstance and John Nogowski (.310/.452/.486) needs to continue his hot hitting. The bottom of the lineup has to show some signs of early season form as Sansone and Gonzalez have dropped in the order and account for 27% of the team's strikeouts this season which is unacceptable for players who hit for as little power as they do.

PITCHING

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One way to account for an anemic offense is to not allow your opponent to score and that is basically what Virginia has done all season, especially in conference play. The pitching and defense has allowed only 2.3 runs per game this season in ACC play and teams have managed to score more than four runs only twice in 21 games. It all starts with the rotation and UVA has one of the best in the country, all together though this staff has the best strikeout to walk ratio in the league and an extremely low hits per nine.

The rotation of Florida State's would be very comparable to that of Virginia's if Brandon Leibrandt was healthy, but he is still out as he battles the pain of a bad shin contusion that occurred over a month ago. While the overall numbers are not as impressive as the Cavaliers the Noles still have a great staff, especially their bullpen which features some absolutely shut down arms.

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Rodon versus Weaver didn't disappoint earlier in the year and hopefully this matchup of starters won't either. Only a sophomore Nathan Kirby is having one of the best years in the country as a starter and he has faced some pretty legit offenses. In his last two starts against Clemson and North Carolina he pitched 13.2 innings allowing only 5 walks while striking out 18 batters, the game prior to that he struck out 18 against Pitt. In only one game this season has the left handed Kirby allowed more than 2 runs, his only loss of the season, a 7-1 Miami victory.

Luke Weaver is going to need a better start this time against Virginia as he allowed 7 runs in only 4.2 innings a year ago. The junior right hander is coming off of a beautiful game against Wake Forest in which he went the distance allowing only 3 hits striking out 7 and issuing only a single walk.

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Josh Sborz has pitched into the 7th inning only once this season and has serious control issues as the amount of walks he allows is extremely high. Florida State leads the nation and walks and this is something that they can hopefully take advantage of like Duke did earlier in the season in which the right hander issues 8 walks. The sophomore is coming off a poor start in which he was extremely lucky, against UNC he allowed 11 of the 25 batters he faced to reach base but only one run was allowed.

The redshirt sophomore for the Noles is having a season much like his freshman campaign, very effective as he gives his team a legitimate shot every time he pitches. He did a great job last weekend of limiting the Deacons to just 4 hits in 5 innings and walking only two batters, the Noles would gladly take a repeat performance and hand it over to their bullpen.

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Waddell is the third sophomore in this rotation and to have a Sunday guy average six innings per start is outstanding and to pitch as effectively as he has is even more impressive. The lefty is not a big strikeout guy but he is very stingy at issuing walks, a high hits per nine means he relies on his defense to carry him and with the way UVA plays defense that is okay.

The junior for the Noles pitched extremely well against Boston College and Notre Dame earlier this season and the Virginia offense has not been much better than either of those two schools. Florida State would be very happy with a 7 strikeout performance like he had against Wake last week, he only went 4.2 innings before he was pulled, far too early in my opinion.

I normally don't speak of the defensive matchups because defenses in college are generally not very good and the only way they are measure is by fielding percentage which is not a great measure. But I think it is important to note that Virginia plays defense extremely well, they have the second best fielding percentage in the nation which is why their pitching is so phenomenal. The Seminoles defense has its issues but the pitchers and catchers do a tremendous job of limiting stolen bases, something I am sure Virginia is well aware of.

COVERAGE

As you may have notice we have changed the format of how the baseball series are structured. Each series will consist of a "Stream". The "Stream" will contain the series preview article (the one you are reading now), a play-by-play thread for each game of the series (will post about an hour before game time) and a game recap that will be updated at the conclusion of each game. This is all done in an effort to make the ability to follow along and comment during the games more friendly for both desktop and mobile users.

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For the Seminoles to have success this weekend they are going to have to do something they haven't done in a few weeks and something that hasn't really happened all season, score runs. Virginia held Florida State to just 4 runs over 3 games in Charlottesville last season, a repeat performance would almost certainly mean another sweep for the Hoos. Virginia has won their last three series scoring 7, 5 and 7 runs in each which is why they are the best team in the nation. Their offense is something that I think Florida State can handle and it is only a matter of time before the Florida State offense gets back on track. I am not expecting a series win by FSU here but I sure hope I am wrong.

All three games are on ESPN3, Ariya and Dustin are at the park and will have the play by play. See everyone at 6PM.

Go Noles!

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