View From Section B

FSU relied on its pitching staff to take two of three over North Carolina last weekend at Dick Howser Stadium. Sunday's 2-1 victory over the 23rd-ranked Tar Heels Sunday helped FSU avoid losing its first ACC series at home since North Carolina won two in Dick Howser Stadium in 1995. While FSU continues its winning ways, this is a team with some problems, according to Drew, who takes a hard look at the Seminoles. Click here to read his midseason report card.

So Florida State went 3-1 for the week and took two out of three games from a ranked opponent - Yippee. Sorry if I don't break out the champagne yet to celebrate another ACC championship and College World Series berth. There are some major problems going on with this team right now, and while there's plenty of time to straighten things out, the problems haven't been improving.

Junior pitcher Trent Peterson was one of three starting pitchers to earn a win last week.
The hitting simply isn't there. Everyone keeps saying 'it'll come around,' well - they've been saying it since January 31st, and we're still waiting. Sure, the team batting average was up around .320 for a few weeks while the Noles were playing little-sisters-of-the-poor, but now that it's ACC time, I believe the true colors of this team's offense are showing through. FSU is now hitting a very mediocre .300 through thirty-three games of the season, and that's without even facing the trials of Hell known as April when the Seminoles play three games against No. 19 Wake Forest, three games against No. 10 Clemson, six games against No. 13 Miami, followed by three games against No. 2 Georgia Tech in early May.

The pitching staff remained the star of the team this week, with starters Glen Simon, Trent Peterson, and Daniel Davidson all having very solid outings and earned wins. Daniel Hodges picked up his seventh save of the year and extended his scoreless inning streak to 33.1, dating back to last season which includes twenty-three appearances.

Sophomore shortstop Stephen Drew remains the most feared batter in the lineup.
But beneath that gem of a staff lies the undercurrents of some very bad trends which are about to boil over. Rhett James continues to be the iron man of the staff, at the expense of several other capable relievers. I know I've been harping on this for a few weeks now, but Kevin Lynch, who pitched 33 innings for FSU in 2002, has been limited to only 10.2 innings so far this season. In the last thirteen games, Lynch has thrown exactly one pitch while James has seen action in nearly every one of those games.

What was a very deep pitching has now turned into three weekend starters, five middle-relievers, and one closer. So far, FSU's bullpen hasn't truly been tested in a three-game series, Stanford Sunday not withstanding. What's going to happen when the Noles need an arm against Miami on Sunday afternoon and have to turn to Lynch or Matt DiBlasi, who haven't seen any meaningful time on the mound for months? Trust me; I've seen enough college baseball to tell you that it won't be pretty.

Junior Matt Sauls has speed to burn, both on the basepath and in the outfield.
As an example, just look at last Wednesday's game against The Citadel. Glen Simon pitched 5.0 innings - good. Mark Sauls got in some much needed work and went 3.0 innings, and then with a 10-2 lead, Daniel Hodges was called upon to finish the game. Huh? There was no reason whatsoever why Lynch or DiBlasi couldn't have been given that inning. Hodges sure doesn't need to throw in that kind of a game.

I'm going to steal a gimmick from Steve Ellis of the Tallahassee Democrat, and give out grades for portions of the team:

Catching: A-

Tony Richie is having an excellent season defensively, and is hitting .331 so far. When Richie gets the day off, Aaron Cheesman is a very capable backup who has a very good arm but needs to work on his receiving skills a little. While beginning to cool off, Cheesman's bat has been one of the big surprises this year.

Senior second baseman Chris Hart is easily the year's most improved player.
First Base: B+

Jerrod Brown is about as solid of a firstbaseman as we can ask for. His bat has begun to cool as well, but the potential is there. There's also no one I'd rather have up with the bases loaded than JB.

Second Base: A-

Chris Hart has played secondbase so well this season; it's hard to believe that it took until his senior season to become the everyday starter. Combine that with his .337 batting average, and he's easily the most improved player of the year.

Shortstop: A

I asked the question earlier in the year whether Drew was in a sophomore slump or not. The following week, he put up some gaudy numbers that seemed to answer that question. Now, a few weeks later with his average up to .331, it looks like that slump was only temporary. While he may not hit sixteen homeruns this season like in 2002, Drew remains the most feared batter in the lineup and runner on the basepaths. Drew's defense is still worth the price of admission.

Third Base: B- (Hitting: A, Fielding C-)

Eddy Martinez-Esteve is now leading the team in batting average (.371) and homeruns (6). He's cut down on his strikeouts and has become much more patient at the plate. We can't ask for much more than that. Eddy's fielding however is another story. His .829 fielding average is the lowest for a Seminole third baseman that I can find in at least the last seven years, and has to improve if FSU is going to do well against the tougher ACC and postseason competition.

Outfielders: B

Junior outfielder Blake Balkcom is coming back strong after missing several weeks with an injury.
Blake Balkcom seems to finally be coming around after missing several weeks due to injury. The arm that I've told everyone about since pre-season is starting to show itself, and with his first homerun during Saturday's game, it looks like his bat is waking up as well. Matt Sauls turned it around at just the right time, and is now coming into his own as a hitter. His speed on the basepaths makes him a threat to bunt for a base hit, steal and take extra bases. He's also beginning to show some outstanding range in centerfield, I'd say at least as good as Karl Jernigan had. Tony McQuade continues to be a fairly streaky hitter and needs to hit for power better. Before the season, I was predicting he'd hit about 15 home runs, but so far, Tony's only got three. On the bright side, he's second on the team in stolen bases and can easily take an extra base if an opponent isn't careful. Add Derrick Smith and Danny Wardell into that mix of outfielders, and you can't be anything but pretty pleased with the outfield play both in the field and at the plate.

Starting Pitchers: A

The loss of Marc LaMacchia has obviously hurt the cause, but Daniel Davidson stepping up has taken up a good portion of the slack. Add in Trent Peterson and the surprise emergence of Glen Simon as a mid-week starter, and the future looks bright, as long as the Seminoles can hit the ball. Despite taking a loss in his last two outings, Matt Lynch has pitched well and is still among the better pitchers in college baseball.

Relief Pitchers: B

This is such a mixed bag, and it's hard to give a grade based on everyone. Eddie Cannon and Mark Sauls have turned in some solid performances this year, and can easily be counted on for long-relief should a starter falter. Rhett James is off-and-on; although he's also gotten more opportunities than anyone else, save for Daniel Hodges. Hunter Jones is still coming along, and is a work in progress, while Kevin Lynch and Matt DiBlasi have to get incompletes as they've pretty much been forgotten by the coaches. Hodges obviously earns an A+ with very little room for improvement. Hog has done exactly what has been asked of him every single time he's put out there on the mound.

Overall grade: B+

Much room for improvement from both the hitting and the defense, while more consistency from the middle-relief pitching is needed.

And as a side note...

Fans: A+

During the series with North Carolina this past weekend, I stepped back a few times and just observed the crowd at Dick Howser Stadium. What really stood out was the noise level from the Animals which infects the rest of the crowd and makes them louder as well. I stood there and listened for a little while and compared it to just about any other college baseball game that I've seen on TV or been to (at tournaments and Regionals). There's nothing that comes remotely close to the noise and cheering that come from FSU baseball fans. Sure, fans of all teams cheer when something good happens on the field, but almost no other fans cheer proactively on a constant basis like Seminole fans do.

Good job, my hat is off to you.

Nole Digest Top Stories