#4 Florida State visits North Carolina

USA TODAY Sports

The fourth-ranked Florida State Seminoles (37-11, 17-7) head to Chapel Hill to battle the North Carolina Tar Heels (29-19, 13-11) in an important conference series for both teams.

The Seminoles are coming of a series sweep against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Florida State is in fantastic shape to earning a coveted national seed and this weekend could help solidify their position as one of the Top 8 seeds. The Noles lead the Atlantic Division of the conference by 4.5 games over Clemson and could actually lock up the division crown this weekend. Meanwhile, UNC is playing great baseball of their own, winners of six of their last seven. With an RPI of 44 and and a SOS of 33 the Heels are in good shape to make the NCAA Regionals. A series win against a top five RPI team like FSU will lock their spot up as a tournament team. In other words this is an important weekend for both teams.

OFFENSE

Florida State heads into this match-up with the offensive advantage scoring nearly two more runs per game than UNC and leading the conference in team on-base percentage as well as team slugging percentage. The Noles once again have a fantastic offense that puts runners on base in a multitude of ways and still brings them in at a solid clip.

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The Tar Heels interestingly have a better team batting average than FSU in conference play, but the numbers indicate the Heels haven't quite been able to put runners on or bring them in like the Seminoles have. The Heels have just two players with OBPs above .400 (compared to FSU's five). Regardless, UNC does have a solid offense, led by the conference's top hitter in Michael Russell (.361/.442/.525). Tom Zengel (.284/.346/.474) and Tyler Ramirez (.289/.376/.401) have been solid for the Heels as well.

Florida State has the best offense in the ACC and one of the best in the entire country. The Noles lead the conference in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, runs batted in, doubles, and walks. They're also in the top five of many other offensive categories. DJ Stewart (.351/.462/.578) will play with Team USA this summer and is the conference's best overall offensive player. John Nogowski (.329/.466/.485) and Jose Brizuela (.324/.417/.474) have had great seasons thus far, giving FSU arguably the best 3-4-5 hitting combo in the ACC.

PITCHING

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The Tar Heels have been fantastic on the mound this season with a team ERA of of just 2.80, good for second best in the ACC behind Virginia. With a low number of hits allowed per game coupled with a high strikeout rate, UNC has largely been able to keep offenses at bay all season. The one alarming stat, one that could prove costly against a patient Seminole offense, is the number of walks issued by the Tar Heel staff. Four walks per nine innings is too high of a number to give up, let alone against the conference's walks leader. This will be an interesting area to keep an eye on this weekend as free passes fuel the Seminole offense.

The Seminoles have also pitched at a high level this season with a strong team ERA and a low walk rate per nine innings. The weekend rotation has been great, despite losing Brandon Leibrandt (who hopes to return next weekend) to a leg injury. Luke Weaver has been a great ace and Mike Compton has begun to find his strong form again giving FSU a very good 1-2 punch. Coupled with a fantastic bullpen, the Seminole pitchers have done their part on the mound.

Friday

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This ought to be a fantastic match-up between two of the ACC's best pitchers. Trent Thornton was UNC's closer last season and his transition into the Friday ace role has been seamless. Thornton has been superb, with a sterling ERA under two and a low hit rate coupled with a high strikeout rate. Thornton pitches deep into games having gone at least six innings in every start this season. What's even more impressive about Thornton is that he has given up just five extra base hits all season.

Luke Weaver has been very good for Florida State this year, pitching deep into ball games and limiting the walks. However, Weaver has had a string of inconsistent performances of dominant starts followed by less than fantastic starts. He's never been "bad" in any start, but for the pitcher of caliber Weaver is, his dominant starts usually guarantee a win for FSU on Friday nights. Luke Weaver will need to be on his "A" game going up against Trent Thornton.

Saturday

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Benton Moss has been solid for North Carolina in 2014 pitching deep into games in his eleven starts. Moss relies on throwing strikes and letting his defense work behind him. He does have a bit of a high walk rate and that will be interesting to watch against the Noles.

Mike Compton has had another great year for FSU after missing last season due to an arm injury. The Sophomore relies on controlling the plate, limiting his walks, and getting ground balls. Sometimes he is unlucky to give up the amount of hits he does due to his pitch-to-contact approach. Compton has seemed to find his groove the last few starts allowing just two earned runs in his last 14 innings pitched. Compton will again need to limit walks as he has all season and limit the hits to just singles.

Sunday

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Zac Gallen has had a serviceable year for UNC, logging a good amount innings as the Sunday starter. His numbers don't jump off the page and at first glance indicate the Seminoles offense should have a good shot to score runs against him. With an ERA above four, a low strikeout rate, and batters hitting near .300 against him, one would imagine the FSU offense has a major advantage. Interestingly, Gallen just pitched this week on Tuesday in a fine effort, giving up no runs in six innings of work. Gallen will be on short rest after throwing 87 pitches as well, which will be something to keep an eye on. UNC does have a quality bullpen that can pick up the slack should Gallen have short outing.

For FSU this is where not having Brandon Leibrandt available hurts. With a healthy Leibrandt, FSU has a major advantage on the hill most Sundays with Compton pitching. His absence, plus his fill-in (Bryant Holtmann) being injured as well, has thrown the rotation into limbo. I imagine the start will go to either LHP Billy Strode or RHP Peter Miller. Both have excelled in their late season roles, with Strode as a mid-week starter and Miller as a long relief bullpen arm. Strode has since been used in the pen as well due to the midweek games coming down to a close. My pick would be Strode as he's only allowed one earned run in his last 17 innings pitched. Then again we all thought it would be Strode last weekend, if not Peter Miller, and it ended up being Taylor Blatch. Stay tuned for Sunday's starter.

COVERAGE

Friday's game will be on ESPN3 while Saturday's game will be televised on your Regional Sports Network (usually FS Florida, FS South, etc.). Sunday has no TV listed but will be available for pay via UNC's athletic's website.

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This is an important series for both ball clubs. Each team is trying to secure a spot as either a national seed or in the tourney altogether in UNC's case. Traveling to Chapel Hill is never easy and the Heels have a good ball-club with fantastic pitching. The Seminoles will need to pitch at a high level all weekend and continue to put runners on base, bringing them in when the opportunities present themselves. North Carolina will throw three RHPs that will allow FSU to play its best offensive line-up with Casey Smit in it. I imagine UNC will try and play small ball and rely on its pitching staff to win close, low scoring games. That being said, even with the injuries, Florida State is the better team and should win at least 2 of 3. See you at 7 PM tonight.

Go Noles!

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