Monday, March 31, 2014

Getting Swept Is Getting Monotonous

This is not the way the season was supposed to unfold. At 15-11 overall and 3-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, NC State, a preseason favorite to advance to the College World Series, is on a nine-game ACC losing streak and in danger of not even qualifying for the ACC Tournament in May.

Miami came to Raleigh this past weekend and swept the Wolfpack by scores of 2-1, 2-1 and 12-5, handing NC State its third conference sweep in a row and knocking the Pack into 12th place in the ACC’s 14-team overall standings. Only the top 10 teams qualify for the conference tournament.

“This league is so tough that you know it could happen, but you never think it as a player,” center fielder Jake Fincher said. “I never even thought about not making the ACC Tournament.. It’s kind of crazy to think that we have to battle back now and move up in the conference just to get in there.”

During the Wolfpack’s nine-game conference losing streak, which is one loss shy of the school record of 10 set in 2002, NC State has struggled in every facet of the game. The Miami series was a classic example of not hitting to back good pitching and not pitching to back good hitting.

The pitching staff allowed four runs on 12 hits in 18 innings the first two games of the series, but lost as the offense managed just two runs. In the series finale, the Wolfpack overcame a 4-0 deficit and took a 5-4 lead after six innings, thanks in large part to long sixth-inning home runs by Jake Knizner and Jake Armstrong, only to watch as Miami scored eight runs in the final three innings to win going away.

“It’s very, very frustrating,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “Being down 4-0 and on a losing streak is a concern, but the guys battled back. When Jake [Armstrong] hit that home run to make it 5-4, especially the way he hit it, and with Knizner having hit one just before that, it lifted the level of confidence in the dugout and you felt really good. But the pitching just could not hold the lead.”

During the nine-game losing streak, NC State is batting .227 and averaging 2.7 runs per game. The pitching staff has allowed a 5.65 ERA, given up 89 hits and walked 46 in 79 ⅔ innings, while unloading six wild pitches and hitting 18 batters.

“It’s a tough league and you can get into a bit of a rut,” Avent said. “It’s about when you play teams, too. You play somebody in this league when you’ve got a couple of injuries or when you’re down, or you play them when they’re hot, it makes a difference. Then you lose a couple and you start doubting yourself. Confidence becomes an issue. But it’s more than that. It might not be through a lack of confidence, but we’re not getting some things done, on the mound, defensively or at the plate.”

Getting Back To Basics
After setting school records for stolen bases each of the last two seasons and generally creating havoc with its speed on the basepaths, NC State veered away from the running game much of 2014, especially during the recent nine-game ACC losing skid.

The Wolfpack stole 21 bases in 25 attempts the first eight games of the season, then somehow started playing station-to-station baseball. In the 15 games leading up to the Miami series, NC State attempted only nine stolen bases, and was successful just five times. Trea Turner, who obliterated the Wolfpack single-season record with 57 steals as a freshman in 2012 and then swiped 30 more a year ago despite playing on a fractured fibula, did not attempt a steal for 16 consecutive games before stealing second in the middle game of the Miami series. Turner never went more than five games without a stolen base his first two seasons in Raleigh.

Turner was not alone, however. Jake Fincher, arguably the second fastest player on the team, has two steals in three attempts in the last 17 games, and did not attempt a steal in eight of the first nine ACC games. Brett Austin, who stole 13 bases a year ago, has just one steal in the last 17 games. Logan Ratledge stole 11 bases in 2013, but has just two in as many attempts the entire 2014 campaign, none since March 5 vs. North Carolina A&T.

The lost emphasis on the running game may well be indicative of a larger problem beguiling the Wolfpack — trying too hard, especially trying too hard to make too many things happen at once.

“You can’t go big picture at all,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “You have to go one day at a time. We have to go back to doing what we can do. We run pretty well. We need to execute stuff like that. It’s not about the big picture. It’s about the small picture and not trying to do too much.”

“We don’t need to be thinking about anything other than winning the game we’re playing right now,” Fincher said. “I think that’s all we can do at this point, just keep going out and playing hard, keep practicing hard. It’ll come together eventually.”

• Austin’s 14-Game Hitting Streak Snapped: Brett Austin’s 14-game hitting streak went by the boards with an 0-for-5 game in the final game of the Miami series. Austin batted .429 (24-for-56) with three doubles, a triple, a home run and 13 runs scored during the streak, the longest by an NC State hitter since Bryan Adametz had a 15-game streak a year ago.

• Start Me Up: Some have questioned why head coach Elliott Avent has used catcher Brett Austin as his primary leadoff hitter this season, but Avent knows his hitters. Through 22 games batting in the top spot of the lineup, Austin is hitting .407 (35-for-86) with four doubles, a triple, a home run and 22 runs scored. In his other three games, Austin is 1-for-12 with six strikeouts.

• Crowded At The Top: While Brett Austin has been excellent batting leadoff, shortstop Trea Turner, the Wolfpack’s leadoff hitter most of the last two seasons, has struggled hitting third, but has flourished from the top two spots in the order. Turner has batted third in 16 games with a .250 average (16-for-64) and two extra-base hits. Hitting first or second in the order, Turner is 17-for-41 (.415) with three doubles and three home runs.

• More of The Same For Rodon: Weather stopped play in the sixth inning of the first game of the Miami series, limiting Carlos Rodon’s workload for the weekend to six innings. The game was suspended. As has been the case all season, Rodon pitched well but got next to no offensive support. He allowed one run on four hits, walking four and striking out six. He did not figure in the decision, a 2-1 loss that the bullpen gave up in the eighth inning the following afternoon.

For the season, Rodon is 2-4 with a 2.09 ERA, but that won-lost record belies how well he’s pitched. State has lost five of Rodon’s seven starts, but in those five games, his ERA is 1.48 and he has 39 strikeouts in 30 ⅓ innings. He’s allowed five earned runs in the five games while his teammates scored him a grand total of two runs in support.

Rodon has allowed three earned runs and struck out 25 in his last three starts, covering 17 ⅓ innings.

For the record, after seven starts in 2013, Rodon was 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA. He turned his season around in mid-April, going 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA his last two starts that month. He was 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA in May and June.

• Milestones: With five strikeouts in his March 28 start vs. Miami, Carlos Rodon raised his season total to 55 and his career total to 374. He will enter play this weekend at Clemson needing 12 more K’s to tie Terry Harvey for the school record of 386, set from 1992-95. Rodon is averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings for his career.

Rodon has 47 ⅓ innings pitched this season, giving his 294 ⅓ for his career, moving him past Matt Donahue, who tossed 294 innings in 1991 and ’92, and into fourth place in school history. The start against Miami was the 42nd of Rodon’s career, tying him with Craig Rapp (1989-91) and Jeff Hartsock (1986-88) for seventh in the NC State record book.

Harvey holds the NC State career records for innings pitched (426) and starts (60).

Trea Turner’s stolen base March 29 against Miami was his eighth of the season, giving him 95 for his career. Turner passed Tom Sergio as the NC State career stolen-base leader a year ago. Sergio stole 73 bases from 1994-97. With five more steals, Turner will become just the seventh player in ACC history with 100 or more stolen bases in a career. The ACC’s career leader in steals is Ty Griffin of Georgia Tech, who stole 127 from 1986-88.

• Holes In Lineup: During the Miami series, the two, three, five, six, seven and nine spots in the NC State lineup batted a collective .100 (6-for-60). The leadoff hitters batted .462 (6-for-13), but the second and third hitters in the order were a combined 2-for-25 and failed to drive in a run. The five, six and seven hitters went 3-for-26, but two of the three hits were a double and a homer, accounting for two runs. The nine-hole hitters checked in at 1-for-9.

This continues a year-long trend for the Pack, which has gotten excellent performances from the top two spots in the lineup and little production elsewhere. The leadoff hitters are hitting .405 with a .468 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage. The number two hitters are at .305/.427/.442.

The rest of the lineup is batting .236 (159-for-673) with a .335 on-base percentage and a .318 slugging percentage.

• Consecutive Sweeps, A Brief And Unhappy History: NC State’s current streak of three consecutive ACC series sweeps ties the school record, set in 2002. The ’02 team also lost the last game of the series prior to the back-to-back-to-back sweeps, giving it a school record of 10 consecutive ACC defeats. The 2002 squad also set a school record by getting swept in four different conference series over the course of the season.

Since the ACC went to its current scheduling format of three-game weekend series in 1990, NC State has been swept 31 times, counting the three sweeps this season. That’s an average of less than one sweep per season. Prior to 2014, only the 1995, 2002 and 2009 teams had been swept as many as three series, and no NC State team ever has been swept four consecutive times.

With a trip to Clemson on the docket this weekend, however, the Wolfpack is in danger of setting some serious negative history. Of the 31 ACC sweeps NC State has absorbed, seven each came at the hands of Georgia Tech, Florida State and — you guessed it — Clemson. Those three have swept the Pack twice in Raleigh and five times each in their home ballparks.

Clemson has been a death march for NC State. The Tigers swept the Wolfpack three of the last five series played between the two at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The Tigers are 18-5 against NC State in Death Valley since Elliott Avent became NC State’s head coach in 1997. The Wolfpack took two of three at Clemson two years ago, winning the final two games of the series. Prior to those two wins, however, Clemson won 13 of 14 from NC State in Death Valley.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is Turner Turning It Around?

After going 2-for-5 with a homer, a double and five RBIs on Wednesday at UNC Wilmington, Trea Turner is 5-for-12 (.417) with a double, three home runs, five runs scored and seven RBIs in his last three games. He’s homered in each of the three games.

This is a small sample size, no doubt, but the trend is clear. Turner is starting to make solid contact and drive the ball. If that continues, it can only mean good things for NC State baseball.

There is a misconception out there that Turner is a tippy-tappy hitter who draws a lot of walks, bunts, beats out infield singles with his speed, rolls 15-hop singles through the infield, and occasionally bloops a ball into no-man’s land behind the second baseman or shortstop. He does all those things, sure, but he’s not just a Punch-and-Judy hitter. When he’s right he also bashes the ball. When he’s right, in fact, Trea Turner is one of college baseball’s most dynamic offensive players.

For exhibit A, we take a look at the first 13 games of 2013, when it seemed that every time Turner swung the bat he hit the ball right on the screws and drove it somewhere the defense wasn’t positioned. In those 13 games, he batted .490 (25-for-51) with five doubles, two triples, four home runs, 25 runs scored, 17 RBIs and eight steals in as many attempts. Thanks to eight walks, his on-base percentage was .547. His slugging percentage was an other-worldly .902. At that point, he was generally considered the early front-runner for the Golden Spikes Award. The last ACC shortstop to hit like that was Georgia Tech’s Nomar Garciaparra in 1994.

With Turner on fire, Clemson came to town for the first ACC series of season, and it didn’t go so well. Turner went 1-for-5 and fractured his left fibula on the final play of the opening game of the series. The injury sidelined him for most of the next two weeks and made him a one-legged hitter much of the rest of the season. He still batted .337 with eight doubles, two triples, two homers, 40 runs, 24 RBIs and 22 steals in 42 games the rest of the way. He deservedly earned All-America honors but he was not the same player, not even close.

Through the first six weeks of 2014, Turner still was not the same player. He didn’t get his first extra-base hit, a double, until Feb. 25 vs. Davidson, the eighth game of the year. And that was his only extra-base hit until he doubled again in the middle game of the Florida State series two weeks ago. At that point, through 18 games, Turner was hitting .333 with two doubles, 17 runs scored and nine RBIs. His on-base percentage was a respectable but still modest (by his standards) .407 and his slugging percentage was puny .362. He had a 10-game hitting streak at one point and had just 11 hits during the streak. What he’s done the last five games marks a sudden and, for the Wolfpack, very timely reversal of form.

Before we get carried away here, let’s inject a cautionary note: This is still a tiny sample size we’re talking about here, 14 plate appearances to be exact. Also, Turner hasn’t even attempted a stolen base since the Davidson game, a span of 15 games (his previous longest stretch with an SBA was five games late in 2013). But cautionary note or not, for a team that’s heard far too many discouraging words the last two weeks, Trea Turner finding his stroke is like home, home on the range.

Austin And Turner 1-2 Atop The Lineup
In another admittedly tiny sample size — five games — Brett Austin and Trea Turner appear to be forming a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the NC State batting order. In the five games that Austin and Turner batted 1-2, they combined to reach base 17 times in 46 plate appearances, a .370 on-base percentage, and scored 13 runs with 13 RBIs between them. That total includes the loss to UCLA, when they combined to reach base twice in eight plate appearances; and the middle game of the Maryland series, when they reached three times in nine appearances. They reached 12 times in 29 plate appearances (.414 OBP) the other three games, which is a better OBP and an even tinier sample size. But it’s something.

Turner’s recent power surge coincides with his move from the three spot in the lineup to the No. 2 spot. He batted .250 average (15-for-60) with a .319 on-base percentage and a .317 slugging percentage in 15 games batting third. After his 2-for-5 performance in the UNCW game, he is hitting .389 (7-for-18) with a .944 slugging percentage and a .522 on-base percentage and nine RBIs in five games batting second.

Austin, meanwhile, continues to flourish as the team’s leadoff hitter, batting .397 (31-for-78) with a .478 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage from the top spot. He went 1-for-3 against UNCW to extend his current hitting streak to a career-best 12 games. He is batting .417 (20-for-48) with three doubles, a triple and 12 runs scored during the streak. Austin had an 11-game hitting streak as a freshman two years ago, and a 10-game streak in 2013.

Austin has reached base 20 times in 45 plate appearances leading off an inning. No other Wolfpack hitter has led off an inning more than 26 times (Logan Ratledge has reached base 7 times in 26 opportunities), and only Turner (11 times in 23 opportunities) has a better percentage of reaching base in those situations than Austin.

• The Rest Of The Lineup: For the season, Wolfpack leadoff hitters are batting .398 (39-for-98) with a .468 on-base percentage, a .480 slugging percentage, six doubles, a triple, and 26 runs scored. State’s No. 2 hitters are batting .337 (28-for-83) with a .462 on-base percentage, a .494 slugging percentage, four doubles, three home runs, 21 runs scored and 18 RBIs. The one and two spots in the lineup have been far and away the most productive. No other spot in the batting order has an on-base percentage higher than .385, and the third-best slugging percentage is .415 from the eight spot.

• A Six-Game Skid, By The Numbers: During NC State’s six-game losing streak, Wolfpack hitters batted .247 (24-for-97) with runners on base, .152 (10-for-66) with two out, and .194 (12-for-62) in RBI opportunities. NC State had 20 leadoff hitters reach base in 58 innings, including eight in 27 innings during the Maryland series. Florida State and Maryland hitters, meanwhile, combined to bat .289 (37-for-128) with runners on base and .279 (19-for-68) with two out.

• Jernigan Hits A Speed Bump: After posting a 3-0 record with a 0.73 ERA in his first four starts, junior righthander Logan Jernigan is 1-2 with a 9.35 ERA in his last three starts, two of which didn’t last three innings and none of which didn’t last five, although Wednesday’s start at UNC Wilmington was designed as a short appearance. Jernigan worked 8 ⅔ innings in those three starts, allowing 11 hits, walking seven and striking out eight.

Jernigan has allowed more than one hit in an inning just six times all season, but three times in his last four innings pitched. He faced 137 batters this season before allowing back-to-back hits, but UNCW’s Corey Dick and Luke Dunlap hit back-to-back doubles off Jernigan in the second inning Wednesday night to end that streak. Jernigan has averaged more than a strikeout per inning pitched four times in seven starts.

• Crooked Numbers: NC State scored multiple runs in four different innings Wednesday night at UNC Wilmington, matching a season high set March 2 in a 16-1 bombing of Youngstown State. The last time the Wolfpack had more than than four multiple-run innings in a game was Feb. 24, 2013, when it put five crooked numbers on the board in a 25-4 rout of Wagner at Doak Field at Dail Park. The last time NC State had four multiple-run innings in a game away from home was March 15, 2013, in a 12-6 victory at Wake Forest.

• College Park, A Not-So-Fond Farewell: Historically, there is ample reason to lament Maryland’s departure from the ACC as the Terps head for the Big Ten in 2014-15. This is especially true in basketball, where Maryland has several storied rivalries with other teams in the conference. The ACC will not miss Maryland in baseball, however, despite the Terps’ long history as one of the league’s softer touches.

Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, formerly Shipley Field, is, to be perfectly candid, one of the dumpiest and homely ballparks in college baseball. Boston College’s Eddie Pellagrini Diamond at Commander Shea Field (now there’s a hifalutin name for you) may be a worse ballpark, but at least Chestnut Hill is a short train ride from downtown Boston and Cambridge.

NC State split its last 24 games at Smith Stadium, but lost six of its last seven, and the Wolfpack’s farewell appearance has to rank on the short list of NC State’s most frustrating games. The Wolfpack belted out five extra-base hits that afternoon — three doubles and two home runs — and had 18 total bases. The five extra-base hits matched the team’s season high for 2014, and the 18 total bases ranks third.

Despite that, the Pack scored just two runs, both on solo homers, in a 5-2 defeat. NC State left 12 runners on base, eight of them in scoring position, and five of those eight reached scoring position with less than two out and still got stranded.

Here’s the kicker: The last time NC State had as many as five extra-base hits or 18 total bases without scoring more than two runs was at least 16 years ago, before NC State and the ACC went to its current computerized scoring system in 1999. The Wolfpack has played 942 games and counting in that time and bettered 18 total bases and/or five extra-base hits plenty of times, the point being that the Pack did last Sunday in College Park is hard to do and shouldn’t ever happen. But it did.

• Rodon Getting ABs And Hits At Designated Hitter: While lefty All-America Carlos Rodon battles bad luck and spotty command on the mound, a lack of consistent at-bats in his two-plus seasons at NC State has not hindered him at the plate. In four games as the Wolfpack’s starting designated hitter, Rodon is 6-for-14 with four walks, five runs scored and two RBIs. In addition, he’s 1-for-2 with an RBI and was hit by a pitch in four appearances as a pinch-hitter. For the season, he’s hitting .417 (7-for-17).

• Bullpen Looking For Bounceback Weekend: The Florida State and Maryland series put a world of hurt on the NC State bullpen — 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA, a .305 opponents’ batting average in six games — but the pen rallied to hurl 6 ⅔ shutout innings Wednesday night at UNC Wilmington. For the season, Wolfpack relievers are 5-1 with a 2.71 ERA and five saves.

Head coach Elliott Avent has called on his bullpen 55 times, and relievers have pitched 89 ⅔ innings. Opponents are batting .227 against NC State relief pitchers. Three different State relievers have recorded wins and four have saved games. Four have pitched at least eight innings with an ERA of less than 3.00. Wolfpack relievers have inherited 46 baserunners and stranded 28 of them. Eric Peterson has inherited eight runners and stranded them all. D.J. Thomas has stranded four of six.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Swept Back-To-Back And The Damage Done

A week ago, several members of NC State’s traveling party rationalized the Wolfpack’s sweep at the hands of Florida State in Tallahassee, essentially saying, “Hey, it was Florida State. They may be the best team in the country. We [hardly ever] win down there, anyway.” All of that is true, of course, but none of it changes the fact that the Wolfpack played like 10 pounds of crap in a five-pound bag at FSU.

Fast forward one week and no rationalizations are necessary. Or even conceivable. With this past weekend’s sweep at Maryland now etched into the record books, we can only hope that any leftover rationalizations from FSU have been buried at the bottom of a dark closet and forgotten for the duration.

No disrespect to Maryland. Terps coach John Szefc and his predecessor, current Michigan coach Erik Bakich, have built up the talent base in College Park to the point where the Terrapins are a competitive team, far removed from the perennial pushovers they once were. They’ve won 15 of their last 19 games and have a five-game winning streak thanks to the sweep this weekend.

Still, let’s not confuse the Terps with Florida State just yet. Maryland has had winning records in four of the last six seasons, but just seven times in the last 32. They’ve won 30 games in a season just four times in their history, with a school-record 34 wins in 2002. More indicative of the overall strength of the program, the Terps haven’t posted even a .400 winning percentage in Atlantic Coast Conference action since 1989. ’Nuff said. They’re better, much better in fact, but that’s not setting the bar especially high. This sweep can’t be rationalized away quite so easily.

We’ve spent enough time and space discussing all that ails NC State. The only thing that’s changed from last week to this is that another week has come off the schedule. Time is no longer the Wolfpack’s ally. We’re now 40 percent of the way through the regular season. NC State has 33 games left and a lot of ground to make up in a short time.

The Wolfpack players made no secret of their lofty preseason goals, which is a return to the College World Series. Well, if NC State is going back to Omaha, it is going to have to start winning games, lots of them, in a hurry. If history has taught us anything it’s that the easiest way to Omaha is by hosting — hosting regionals and hosting Super Regionals — and right now NC State isn’t even in that conversation.

The good news is that Elliott Avent’s teams have, by and large, played their best baseball later in the season, especially in April, and especially when their backs are against the wall. A half-dozen Avent-coached NC State teams have tip-toed out of the starting gate the way this one has, only to recover in April and play their way back into the postseason picture.

• 1997. Avent’s first team at NC State got off to a 4-5 start in conference play, 20-11 overall, then won 19 of its next 20 games heading into the exam break. That team went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., as the No. 2 seed, finishing 43-20 overall.

• 2005. Featuring what may have been Avent’s best everyday lineup, the 2005 Wolfpack was 3-6 in the conference and 15-8 overall after getting swept at Georgia Tech the third weekend of the ACC season. That team responded by winning 14 of its next 17 games and 24 of 31 overall to wrap up the regular season. The No. 2 seed at Lincoln, Neb., the 2005 Wolfpack finished 41-19.

• 2008. The 2008 Wolfpack was 4-5 in the conference and 13-7 overall after three ACC series with April looming just around the corner. That club lost two of its next three games and was 14-9 overall before winning 23 of its final 32 regular-season contests. At 37-18 at the conclusion of the ACC Tournament, the Wolfpack earned a No. 1 seed and hosted an NCAA Regional on campus for the first time. The Pack swept the regional, which included two pulsating victories over South Carolina, but was sent to Athens, Ga., for the Super Regional and lost in three games to eventual national runner-up Georgia, finishing the season 42-22.

• 2010. Two years after hosting its first regional on campus, the Wolfpack found itself in familiar territory, running in place after a 3-6 start in ACC play, 15-9 overall. That team never exactly caught fire, but it did stabilize itself, winning 21 of its final 32 regular-season games, which was enough to earn the No. 2 seed at Myrtle Beach. After season-ending losses to College of Charleston and Stony Brook, the Pack went home from the beach with a lousy t-shirt and a 38-24.

• 2011. In a virtual replay of 2010, the 2011 Wolfpack lost six of its first nine ACC games and was 14-11 overall before winning 19 of its final 31 regular-season games — including 15 of 22 at one point — to earn the No. 2 seed at Columbia, S.C. A 1-2 finish in Columbia left NC State with a final tally of 35-27 for 2011.

• 2013. Lest we forget, the Wolfpack got off to a flying standstill a year ago, 3-6 in the ACC after a sweep at Virginia, and 16-9 overall. The Wolfpack caught fire at that point, winning 26 of its final 30 regular-season games — including a school-record three consecutive ACC series sweeps — to earn a No. 1 seed and host a regional. NC State narrowly missed a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, but when Rice upset No. 8 national seed Oregon in the Eugene Regional, the Wolfpack hosted the Owls in the first-ever Super Regional played on the NC State campus. A combined 5-0 record in the regional and Super Regional resulted in the Pack’s first College World Series appearance in 45 years, including a 50-16 final record.

Those six teams certainly offer this NC State squad some hope, but also one critical imperative — the urgent need to start winning games, right away. Spin your wheels two more weeks and there’ll be just 24 regular-season games left. At that point you can kiss hosting a regional goodbye and start looking forward to a long weekend in early June as a No. 2 seed in, say, Columbia or Nashville, or maybe a return engagement with Rice, only this time in Houston. Not only could that happen, but at this point it’s more likely than not.

• Another Miserable Weekend: There is literally no way to spin the Maryland series as anything but a completely lost weekend. As a team, NC State batted .200 (21-for-105). The Pack did manage six extra-base hits, but the team went 7-for-43 with runners on base, and all six extra-base hits came with the bases empty. The team managed just six walks in three games and did not attempt a stolen base. Brett Austin continued to lead the team offensively, going 4-for-13 with two doubles, but the rest of the team batted a collective .185.

The pitching was an issue as well, racking up a staff ERA of 5.25 and allowing 26 hits and 16 walks in 24 innings. Lefty starter Carlos Rodon and relievers Andrew Woeck and Patrick Peterson combined to allow three earned runs in 13 innings. The remainder of the staff was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in 11 innings.

• ACC Series Sweeps And Losing Streaks: NC State’s current six-game ACC losing streak is the Wolfpack’s longest since a seven-game conference losing streak in April and May of 2009. In that streak, the Pack lost the final two games of a series at Duke, dropped all three games at home vs. Florida State, then lost the first two games the following weekend at Virginia.

The past two weekends mark just the fourth time since the ACC went to its current format of three-game weekend series in 1991 that NC State has been swept in back-to-back conference series.

The first was in 1994 in series at Florida State and at Clemson. In 2002, NC State was swept in three consecutive ACC series, at North Carolina, at Florida State and at Maryland, meaning that team was swept in back-to-back series twice in three weeks. That team also lost the last game of a series vs. Clemson right before the series at UNC, making for a 10-game ACC losing streak, the longest ever by an NC State team.

• If Not For Bad Luck, He’d Have No Luck At All: All-America lefthander Carlos Rodon is 2-4 with a 2.18 ERA this season. If that sounds like he’s pitched in bad luck, it’s because he has. In those four losses, Rodon has allowed just four earned runs while striking out 34 in 24 ⅓ innings. He has a 1.48 ERA in the four losses, but his teammates scored him a grand total of one run.

Rodon was 0-2 with a 1.59 ERA and 20 strikeouts combined in his last two starts, at Florida State and at Maryland, although he didn’t help matters by walking eight, hitting three batters and unloading two wild pitches in 11 ⅓ innings. His defense imploded on him in College Park, committing four errors and a passed ball that led to eight unearned runs in 4 ⅔ innings.

While lack of run support hasn’t always been an issue for Rodon, this is not the first time he’s had to pitch with no margin for error. In Rodon’s two-plus seasons at NC State, the Wolfpack has been shut out six times. Rodon started five of those games. In addition to the three this year, he started against North Carolina in the third round of last year’s College World Series, a 7-0 loss; and against the Tar Heels at the 2012 ACC Tournament in Greensboro, a 4-0 setback. The only other shutout in that time was a 4-0 loss at Maryland in 2012. Ethan Ogburn started that one.

In his first two seasons, Rodon absorbed just three losses. He’s been tagged with L’s in four of his first six starts of 2014.

Despite the bad luck and all the mitigating circumstances, Rodon is still well ahead of where he was 12 months ago, when he was 2-2 with a 4.75 ERA after six starts. The concern, however, is that he’s nowhere near where he was 10 months ago, when he turned his season around and went 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA in May and June.

• Austin Riding An 11-Game Hitting Streak: After a 4-for-13 weekend at Maryland, junior catcher Brett Austin now has an 11-game hitting streak, dating back to March 2 vs. Youngstown State. Austin is hitting .422 (19-for-45) with three doubles, a triple and 10 runs scored during the streak, lifting his batting average from .324 to .378.

• WHIPped: Statheads can make your head spin with all the esoteric statistics they have and acronyms they use to identify them. One of the more simple and useful of those Sabermetric stats is WHIP, which is walks plus hits allowed per inning. A WHIP of a little more than 1.00 is considered excellent. When the WHIP climbs past 1.50 or so, there is usually a problem. A WHIP approaching 2.00 is a five-alarm fire.

In its current six-game losing streak, NC State pitchers have a combined WHIP of 1.90 (63 hits and 37 walks in 52 ⅔ innings). State pitchers walked five or more in four of the six games, including games of eight and seven walks in the first two games at Florida State, and seven walks in the finale at Maryland.

• Top Of The Lineup: Despite NC State’s struggle to score runs, juniors Brett Austin and Trea Turner have continued to get on base from their spots at the top of the Wolfpack lineup.

Austin has emerged as the team’s leadoff hitter and is hitting .400 with a .471 on-base percentage and a .480 slugging percentage in 19 games batting atop the lineup. Turner, who led off most of the last two seasons and batted third earlier this year, appears to be settling into the two spot, where he is hitting .385 with a .556 on-base percentage and an .846 slugging percentage in four games.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Logan Jernigan Dazzles Opponents

Even after absorbing his first loss of the season March 15 at Florida State, junior righthander Logan Jernigan is still having a season worthy of All-America consideration for NC State.

Jernigan is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA through five starts, and those numbers don’t do justice to how well he’s pitched. He was 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA heading into the Florida State series this past weekend, and despite struggling with his command against FSU — he walked five in 4 ⅓ innings — he still held the damage to a minimum, yielding three runs on three hits while striking out five. Head coach Elliott Avent yanked Jernigan after back-to-back one-out walks in the fifth, and the Wolfpack bullpen did the equivalent of throwing a drowning man an anvil by allowing both inherited runners to score.

Despite the loss to the No. 2-ranked Seminoles — they may be college baseball’s best and most complete team — Jernigan’s season still ranks as one of the best stories of the 2014 campaign. In five starts, he’s allowed 16 hits in 29 innings for an opponents’ batting average of .167. Opposing hitters are 2-for-36 (.056) against Jernigan with runners on base, 1-for-20 (.050) with runners in scoring position, 1-for-17 (.059) with runners on base and two out, and 1-for-13 (.077) with runners in scoring position and two out.

Ben DeLuzio’s solo homer leading off the bottom of the third inning for the Seminoles snapped Jernigan’s string of 23 consecutive scoreless innings.

Jernigan allowed three hits and walked three prior to the consecutive walks in the fifth inning at Tallahassee, and those were the first fifth-inning runs he allowed all season. Even with those runs crossing home, Jernigan’s ERA through the first five innings this year is still 1.93. He has yet to allow a run after the fifth inning in any game.

Jernigan has allowed more than one hit in an inning just once all season, and has faced 120 batters thus far without allowing back-to-back hits. He’s allowed back-to-back batters to reach base 11 times, but only three of those scored, two of them in Tallahassee after Jernigan had left the game.