Canes Set to Take On ACC-Best Seminoles

I don't think I'm overstating the importance of this weekend's Miami/Florida State series by saying that it's a pivotal series for both clubs, albeit for different reasons.

FSU will be trying to prove they are worthy of being ranked so highly. The statistics and talent, on paper at least, show that the Seminoles are about as good as it gets in the country.

But there are those that doubt the Seminoles place as an elite team because, they argue, their spot was more about teams around them losing and not because of big wins on their part. Critics would also point to a recent blowout loss to Boston College as reason for alarm.

The Hurricanes, on the other hand, are looking to do two things. First, they are trying to keep themselves in the postseason hosting conversation. Right now, they are right in the thick of it, but a sweep or even just another series loss would greatly damage those hopes. Second, they are going to be trying to show that they can win games without Peter O'Brien, their offensive star.

Needless to say, it's going to be difficult for the Hurricanes to accomplish those goals. As it often is, offense is a strong suit of this Seminoles team. I will, however, grant you that this team is not nearly as prolific as other recent FSU teams.

James Ramsey sets the tone for the offense, without a doubt. The senior outfielder is hitting .391 with nine home runs and 36 RBI. Jayce Boyd doesn't have Ramsey's power, but at .393, he is actually hitting for a better average and with 39, has more RBI.

Devon Travis is the third offensive star for FSU. The second baseman is hitting .347 with three home runs and 23 RBI.

Those three hitters are among the best in the ACC, but as I alluded to, the rest of the lineup is quite a bit weaker. Catcher Stephen McGee has the next highest batting average on the team at just .252.

The averages of Sherman Johnson, Seth Miller, Justin Gonzalez, John Nogowski and Jose Brizuela, all players receiving regular at-bats, are .246, .245, .242, .240 and .237, respectively. I don't have to tell you that that's not very good. I will admit that Sherman Johnson's .441 on-base percentage is quite impressive, though.

In any normal year, those numbers might spell disaster for an offensive-minded program like FSU. But this year has been quite different. The Seminoles pitching staff, which was expected to take a step back after losing Sean Gilmartin and several other good arms, has been very good. The weekend rotation of Brandon Leibrandt (3-1, 2.68), Mike Compton (6-0, 3.09) and Peter Miller (5-1, 4.05) has made FSU tough to beat in weekend series, even if they aren't households names.

The biggest star on the pitching staff, however, is closer Robert Benincasa. Coming into the 2012 season, Benincasa was a solid, if unspectacular, reliever that also made spot starts here and there. This year, he has been about as dominant as one can be as a closer. In 18 appearances, he has thrown 22.2 innings, giving up only 12 hits and two earned runs. He has struck out 32 in those innings, has ten saves and batters are hitting a paltry .152 against him.

Benincasa isn't alone out there, though. Hunter Scantling, a converted starter, and Scott Sitz, a flexible pitcher who can start and relieve, have also come up big. Scantling has struck out 28 in 29.2 innings with a 2.73 ERA. Sitz has a 2.86 ERA between six starts and four relief appearances. Mark Waugh (3-1, 2.91) and Kyle Bird (3.52, 18 K in 15.1 IP) are also more than serviceable out of the bullpen.

The task ahead of Miami is great. There is no doubting that. The FSU pitching staff is not a staff that you want to be facing when you are struggling and without your star. Also, because of Ramsey, Boyd and Travis, it's also not a lineup you can sleepwalk through as a pitcher.

The series being in Tallahassee is also a big part of this equation. FSU has one of the biggest home-field advantages in all of college baseball. Given how big this series is, the fans will be in rare form, I'm sure.

Predicting what this Miami team will do is a tough thing to do, but I'm thinking they will drop two of three to the Seminoles. Without O'Brien, I can see them struggling mightily to score runs and while the pitching has been really good, I don't see them shutting down FSU long enough for the offense to come through.

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