Florida State hosts Duke in final regular season series
The No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (39-13, 19-8) will conclude their regular season with a three game series against the Duke Blue Devils (31-21, 15-12). All three games will be available on ESPN3 with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Seminoles, who have won 10 straight over the Blue Devils, will be looking to snap their two-game losing streak after falling to North Carolina Sunday and Central Florida on Tuesday.
The Seminoles have already wrapped up their eighth consecutive ACC Atlantic Division title thanks in large part to their ACC leading offense. Led by left fielder D.J. Stewart, the Seminoles have scored a league leading 355 runs (50 more than second place team Clemson).
In order to snap their losing streak and win the series over the Blue Devils, Florida State will need contributions from their entire line-up. The Blue Devils, who were swept by Miami last weekend, enter the series with 3.01 staff ERA which is tied for fourth in the ACC with FSU.
Stewart and first baseman John Nogowski anchor the line-up from the three and four holes, but Justin Gonzalez, John Sansone, and Danny De La Calle have struggled to contribute from the bottom of the order. Gonzalez is hitting only .250 on the season and has been dropped all the way from the number two spot in the batting order to eighth. Sansone is one of only two Seminoles to have started every game this season, but his .233 batting average is one of the worst on the team. De La Calle has struggled at the plate all season, but his prowess as a defensive catcher keeps him in the lineup.
The biggest question mark for the Seminoles as they prepare for postseason play is their pitching staff. Starters Luke Weaver and Mike Compton provide a powerful one-two punch, but with the injuries to Brandon Leibrandt and Bryant Holtmann the third and fourth spots in the rotation have been a revolving door as of late.
Dylan Silva, Taylor Blatch, and Alec Byrd have all struggled when given the chance to start putting extra stress on FSUs questionable bullpen. Outside of Gage Smith and closer Jameis Winston FSU has struggled to find consistent arms out of the pen. Former midweek starter Peter Miller and left hander Billy Strode have given the Seminoles quality appearances out of the pen, but both have struggled to perform on a consistent basis.
After Tuesdays game Coach Mike Martin said that Holtmann has a chance to return this weekend, but that there is no chance that Leibrandt will pitch. If Florida State hopes to make a deep run in the postseason the team will need both of them to return fully healthy.
Key Players: Luke Weaver, Ben DeLuzio
With the questions surrounding FSUs bullpen the team will need another strong start from ace Luke Weaver (7-3). He pitched seven shutout innings against UNC last weekend scattering five hits while striking out six and walking two. With this weeks series starting on Thursday as opposed to Friday Weaver will take the mound on only six days rest instead of seven. He said after Tuesdays game that the changes in his routine would be minimal. The junior right hander has a 2.65 ERA in 13 starts and he has struck out 71 batters while only walking 17. Weaver will need to pitch deep into the game Thursday as the Seminoles work to preserve their bullpen for the Johnny Whole-Staff approach they have been using in the third game of weekend series.
Stewart and Nogowski are the top two hitters on FSUs roster, but they one with the most potential to quickly change the game may be freshman centerfielder Ben DeLuzio. His speed on the base paths has been an x-factor for FSU during the season as he leads the team with 16 stolen bases and five triples. DeLuzio spent most of the season hitting eighth, but recently he has moved up to the number six spot in the lineup. His speed creates problems for opposing teams and makes him one of the most valuable players in FSU lineup.