Series to Watch: No. 12 Florida State at No. 9 Virginia
As Florida State goes to Virginia for a three-game ACC series this weekend, the two teams find themselves in different spots. Virginia has dropped from the top line in the NCBWA poll to No. 9 following a three-game sweep at the hands of Virginia Tech. The Seminoles have moved up to No. 12 as winners in 13 of their past 15 games.
It has been a bit of a tumultuous season for the Cavaliers, who were runners up in last year’s College World Series. After returning a significant part of their core, they spent much the first month on the season unexpectedly on the road. Cold temperatures and snow forced them to move series that were supposed to be played at Davenport Field to different sites around the Southeast. They played in Greenville, North Carolina. They played in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They even started ACC play against Pittsburgh in Cary, North Carolina.Even through all that, Virginia was still ranked No. 1 with a 12-1 record. Then came a road trip to Virginia Tech, where head coach Brian O’Connor made contact with an umpire and was suspended four games. The Hoos lost all three games and fell eight spots in the poll.
Meanwhile, Florida State has moved up to its highest ranking of the season. The Seminoles dropped into the 20s after two losses to Georgia on Feb. 21, but have lost just twice since then, including Tuesday’s dropped 14-8 slugfest against No. 3 Florida. If the Seminoles are going to take Game 1 of the series against Virginia, they will have to do so without their ace. Mike Compton, who has a 1.19 ERA in four starts, will miss his turn for the second consecutive week with a strained oblique. Right-hander Boomer Biegalski (2-1, 2.94) will take his place.
On the other side, Virginia puts out one of the top weekend rotations in the country. Nathan Kirby has given up just three runs in five starts while striking out 43 in 32.2 innings. Connor Jones’ ERA is at 1.57 and Brandon Waddell’s is 2.42, both through five starts. All four bullpen pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched are sub-3.00. Runs could be hard to come for Taylor Walls, Dylan Busby and the rest of the Noles.
An early look at the standings reveals that Florida State is tied for first in the Atlantic Division, while Virginia is tied for last in the Coastal. While the Cavaliers are trying to reverse their fortunes, the Seminoles are hoping theirs don’t change.
On the Hill: Cole Irvin (Oregon) vs. Seth Martinez (Arizona State)
It will be a big March matchup in the Pac-12 this weekend as No. 19 Arizona State travels to No. 11 Oregon. Eyes will be on Friday’s pitching matchup between Cole Irvin and Seth Martinez as both squads look to avoid falling the in Game 1 for the second consecutive weekend.
Irvin, a redshirt sophomore left-hander, has returned from Tommy John surgery with a strong start to 2015. Two seasons ago, he racked up several freshman All-America accolades, but missed the entire 2014 season. Due to his return from injury, he hasn’t been going deep into games, with 18 innings pitched in five starts. But he has yielded three earned runs in the season (a 1.50 ERA) and struck out 11 while walking two. If and when he exits after four or five innings, he hands the ball off to a bullpen that has been up to the task. Four relievers have ERAs below 3.00 with at least five appearances. Closer Garrett Cleavinger has two runs, three saves and 12 strikeouts in 9.0 innings.
Leading the Sun Devils, who are playing away from Phoenix for the first time this season, is Seth Martinez. A sophomore right-hander, he became Arizona State’s Friday started just two weeks ago against Long Beach State. He picked up the win in that game, and shut down Oregon State’s potent offense in eight scoreless innings last weekend before the Beavers won 1-0 in the ninth. On the season, hitters are batting .156 against Martinez. He has a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings with 25 strikeouts.
In the Box: Luke Lowery, East CarolinaForget about hit streaks. Luke Lowery has a 13-game RBI streak. Last weekend, he put together a three-game home run streak. Since returning from missing five games due to a back injury, he has a hit in seven of eight games and at least two hits six times. Last weekend, Lowery led East Carolina to a sweep of Elon, and it scored 10, 11 and 20 runs in the three games.
The Pirates’ slugger, who has put in time at catcher, first base and designated hitter, appears across the board on national top hitting lists. He leads the country in home runs (eight) and slugging percentage (1.000), is second in on-base percentage (.582), third in batting average (.480), and tied for ninth in RBI (26).
It has been a big jump from last season for Lowery, a junior. In 2014, he made 40 starts and batted .288 while hitting four home runs. He has already doubled that power output 16 games into the season. His production has led East Carolina to a 15-6 record and the Pirates have won 10 of their past 11. They have averaged 8.6 runs per game in that stretch.
Up next for the Pirates and Lowery is a three-game series at home against VCU, which has had an inconsistent season to work its way to 9-9. East Carolina is currently riding a six-game win streak.