NC State advanced to the Super Regionals on Monday night in dramatic fashion, putting together a ninth-inning comeback to down Vanderbilt and move on. The Pack now faces its toughest challenge of the season, a series with No. 1 overall seed Florida at the Gators home park in Gainesville.
Here’s a quick look at how the two teams stack up both at the plate and on the rubber.
.281 AVG, .360 OB%, .448 SLG%, 5.8 runs per game, 60-of-86 steals
NC State Offense
.298 AVG, .377 OB%, .439 SLG%, 7 runs per game, 100-of-121 steals
.240 AVG, .298 OB%, .333 SLG%, 3.2 runs per game, 7.4 strikeouts per game
NC State Pitching/Defense
.231 AVG, .326 OB%, .326 SLG%, 4 runs per game, 8.6 strikeouts per game
It’s important to remember, as we look at these numbers, that Florida played the toughest schedule in all of baseball this season.
This is a Florida team absolutely stacked with talent, evidenced by the sheer number of Florida players taken in this week’s MLB draft. The Gators had two players taken in the first round, two more in the second round and a fifth player taken in the third round. Overall, Florida had nine current players taken in the draft (eight of which were taken in the first nine rounds) compared to just two players from the Pack.
The Gators might have the best one-two punch in all of college baseball in their lineup in the form of Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino. The two have combined for 33 home runs on the season and both have slugged north of .550 for the year.
Zunino, a catcher who was taken No. 3 overall on Monday by the Mariners, was named one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes award earlier in the week and Sunday's match-up between him and Rodon will be a showdown between two of the three finalists for that award.
In the regional the Pack faced a lot of teams that liked to get on base and create havoc, but Florida will simply try to bludgeon the Pack pitching staff to death with its power. That makes limiting base runners an even bigger key for State than it was last weekend. Florida is going to get extra-base hits in this series, but the Pack can limit the damage those hits do by keeping the walks to a minimum and playing defense.
The good news is that in a three-game series, the Pack can start off by throwing Ethan Ogburn and Carlos Rodon. Neither pitcher walks very many batters, which should aid in keeping the Florida offense from putting together big innings.
While Florida has superior power to NC State, the Pack has managed to get on base at a slightly higher clip and is more dangerous on the base paths. The pitching staff is the real strength of this Florida team – they’ve kept opposing teams under a .300 on-base percentage and are allowing just a shade above three runs a game. The Pack will probably see some combination of Jonathan Crawford, Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson as the starters for the Gators.
If any of the starters struggle, expect a quick hook because the Gators have a deep, talented bullpen. Their top three relievers have combined to allow just 37 runs in 161 innings pitched while striking out more than a batter per inning. While a short series might keep NC State’s shallow bullpen from getting exposed, it also means that the Pack probably won’t face a pitcher with an ERA over three unless the series goes to three games.
The Pack’s best chance of getting to these pitchers is by getting some of its speedier players on base and disrupting their rhythm. Trea Turner has been the catalyst for this team all season and he needs to be the catalyst this weekend – if he can cause problems on the base paths he can spark some productive innings for the NC State offense.
To a lesser extent guys further down the line-up like Jake Fincher or Brett Austin can cause the same problems if they get on base. But that’s where it starts, by getting its best players on base and scoring runs from its speed – apart from Ryan Mathews the Pack does not have a lot of big home run threats in the line-up that are going to change the game with one swing of the bat.
The Pack survived last weekend with its bats and will need to continue it’s hot-hitting into this weekend in order to advance to its first College World Series since 1968. They’ve gotten this far though, and they just need two more good days to keep this remarkable season alive.