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No. 15 FSU baseball midweek preview: at No. 1 UF, vs. Illinois State

‘Noles looking for first win over Gators since 2016. / Haylee Blitch

FSU has played five games against top-10 teams the last two weeks. And the schedule isn’t getting any easier this week, as Florida State takes on a top-ranked Florida squad, an Illinois State team that was a three-seed last season, and a Georgia Tech team that was a top-four national seed last season.

After fifteen games, FSU ranks third in the nation in walks and 13th in runs per game. As a team, the ‘Noles are hitting .249 with a .811 OPS. The pitching staff is fourteenth in the nation with a 11.8 K/9 and 16th with a 6.37 hits/9. Jimmy Belanger’s staff has posted a 2.63 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Florida State’s porous .943 fielding percentage ranks 285th in the nation.

UF is the last remaining unbeaten, standing at 16-0 heading into tonight’s matchup. Florida is also the consensus No 1. The Gators have done it with big hits, flawless fielding, and dominant pitching. Florida is 10th in the nation with 21 home runs. The offense is hitting .294 with a .858 OPS. On the hill, UF’s 2.43 ERA and 1.05 WHIP are both top-20 in the nation. The Gators are also 12th in the nation with a .983 FLD%.

Illinois State isn’t a team FSU can overlook. The Redbirds pushed Louisville all the way to the brink last year, as it took seven games to decide the regional. ISU has had a tough start to the year with a 6-8 record (going into Tuesday), but have taken games from Arkansas and Oklahoma. So far this year, the Redbirds have posted a .241 average, 5.93 ERA, and .961 FLD%.

Tuesday, 6:30 PM at. UF

Probable Starters: LHP Antonio Velez vs. RHP Nick Pogue

How to watch: SEC Network Extra

Antonio Velez will make his fourth career FSU start tonight. The lefty has dominated to start 2020, posting a 0.79 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, and 11.35 K/9. He’s shown the ability to come into any situation and perform. Last season, Velez threw just 0.2 innings against the Gators. The senior will likely use his slurve and changeup early and often to keep the Gators off-balance. With a righty-heavy lineup, expect a lot of back foot breaking balls and low and away changeups from Velez.

Nick Pogue will make his fourth career start for the Gators. The sophomore is a hard-throwing RHP out of Melbourne, FL. Pogue posted a 4.15 ERA over 34.2 innings in his freshman season. This season, he’s compiled a 6.14 ERA, but hasn’t given up a run in his last five outings. He’s also posted a 13.9 K/9. Pogue can be an overpowering pitcher when he’s finding the zone.

Wednesday, 6:00 PM vs. Illinois State

Probable Starters: RHP Jack Anderson vs. FSU TBD

How to watch: ACC Network

Don’t get confused here like I did at first. FSU has yet to announce an official starter, while a different Jack Anderson will start for the Redbirds. The Seminoles’ decision will likely come down to who they use tonight. FSU’s Jack Anderson is likely the first option to start tomorrow, but Bryce Hubbart may also be an option depending on Tuesday’s outcome.

Illinois State’s Anderson is also a RHP, but a 6’6 junior out of Pulaski, Wisconsin. Through two starts and 6.2 innings, he’s posted a 6.75 ERA and a .240 average against.

UF top performers

Jacob Young has gotten off to a ridiculous start in his sophomore campaign. Young is hitting .448 with a team-high 26 hits. The sophomore has reached base in 50.7% of his plate appearances. He also leads the team with six stolen bases.

Jud Fabian is a real contender to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. The sophomore is hitting .313 with a 1.070 OPS. Fabian leads the team with six doubles and five homers. He’s also driven in a team-high 13 runs.

Nathan Hickey has been on a tear, having homered in four straight games. The freshman is hitting .333 this season and reaching base in 46.3 of his plate appearances.

ISU top performers (all numbers entering 3/10)

Joe Butler leads the Redbirds with three home runs and three doubles. He’s hitting .278 and has a team-high 15 hits.

Jordan Libman is hitting .292 with a .393 OBP. He also has a .396 SLG with two doubles and a homer.

Aidan Huggins leads qualified ISU hitters with a .293 average. He’s also tied for the team lead with eight runs.

FSU headlines to watch for

Can Florida State get the job done at UF?

FSU has lost 11 straight games to the Gators, not having beat UF since game one of the 2016 super regional. The Seminoles are also 5-24 since 2012 against UF. Last season, FSU had a chance to win all three games, but handed the games away. Since taking over in Gainesville, Kevin O’Sullivan has owned the ‘Noles with a 29-16 record. This will be Mike Martin Jr.’s first opportunity to show off his program against O’Sullivan. One of Junior’s main goals should be competing better with UF not only on the field, but also on the recruiting trail.

Will Nander De Sedas find it at the plate?

Saying it’s been a struggle for Nander De Sedas at the plate is an understatement. In 54 at-bats, he has just eight hits for a .148 batting average. He’s yet to produce an extra base hit and has an OPS of just .461. He’s also striking out in 35% of his AB’s. The sophomore is 0-for-his-last-23 (no hits in six games). Luckily for FSU, his fielding has been stellar as of late, making just one error in the last eight games. Florida State has to have his bat producing or the bottom of the lineup will be a black hole. Last season, De Sedas had a HR in Gainesville, so maybe he’ll get going at UF.

Does FSU’s pitching depth hold up?

Florida State’s bullpen has been as good as expected and even more. The bullpen has picked up the starters and won multiple games for the ‘Noles. With one day off after a three-game weekend, the depth will be tested these next two days. I’d expect FSU to try to get 4-6 innings out of Velez, before going to Tyler Ahearn or Davis Hare for RHH and Jonah Scolaro and Clayton Kwiatkowski against LHH. Parker Messick and Chase Haney will likely be the arms at the very end if FSU has the lead. Despite the three-game weekend, Jack Anderson will likely be the only bullpen arm unavailable at UF.