• This Is Trip Is Not A Vacation, Boys: Tallahassee has not been one of the pleasure spots on NC State's travel itinerary over the years. The Wolfpack is 28-58 all-time against the Seminoles, including a 7-25 mark at Dick Howser Stadium. The Pack has never won a series at FSU, and lost 12 of the first 14 games it played against the Seminoles in Tallahassee.
NC State has split six of the last seven series at FSU, losing two of three in each. And in five of the six series splits, the Wolfpack won the opening game of the series then lost the next two, including the last three NC State-Florida State series played at Dick Howser Stadium.
• Dominant Pitching Carries Wolfpack To 14-2 Start: Sixteen games into 2014, NC State is 14-2 and living proof that a team that pitches and plays defense has a chance to win every game. The Wolfpack’s offense has been less-than-robust, but the pitching has stifled the opposition, posting a staff ERA of 1.89 and limiting opposing batters to a .193 batting average.
Led by Logan Jernigan’s 3-0 record and 0.73 ERA, the Wolfpack’s starting pitchers are 9-2 with a 2.22 ERA. State starters have allowed 67 hits, struck out 84 and walked 31 in 93 ⅓ innings. Opponents are batting .204 against Wolfpack starters. The weekend rotation of Carlos Rodon, Logan Jernigan and Brad Stone has combined to make 12 starts, working at least five innings in all but one of them. They worked at least six innings nine times.
The real story here is the bullpen, which was considered an unknown heading into the season after most of last year’s stellar relief corps graduated. Through 16 games, the Wolfpack bullpen was 5-0 with a 1.27 ERA and five saves in as many chances.
Six different relievers had ERAs of less than 3.00. Four had saved at least one game. Three had been credited with wins. Head coach Elliott Avent made 32 calls to the pen through 16 games, and his relievers rewarded him by allowing just seven runs on 29 hits in 49 ⅔ innings. They’ve struck out 63 and walked just 18. Opponents are batting an anemic .171 against NC State relief pitchers, who have stranded 13 of 18 inherited runners and have not allowed an inherited runner to score in eight consecutive games.
• Shutouts: The NC State single-season record for shutouts by the pitching staff is seven, set in 1978 and tied in 2005 and 2013. The Wolfpack’s back-to-back shutouts of Notre Dame on March 8-9 were the fourth and fifth shutouts by NC State in 2014.
The Notre Dame shutouts were the first by NC State in consecutive games against the same opponent since 6-0 and 1-0 shutouts over Virginia in Charlottesville the last two games of a weekend ACC series April 9-10, 2005.
• Pitching From The Stretch: There are numerous reasons for the success of NC State’s pitching this season, perhaps none more important than the staff’s collective success with runners on base.
Opponents are hitting just .163 (33-for-203) against the staff as a whole with runners on base. Opposing hitters are just 1-for-26 with runners on base against Logan Jernigan, including 0-for-18 in his last three starts. Brad Stone has allowed a .069 average (2-for-29) with runners on base. Staff ace Carlos Rodon is allowing a .217 average (10-for-46) with runners aboard.
Among relievers, righthander Eric Peterson and lefty D.J. Thomas each have allowed one hit in 12 at-bats (.083) with runners on base. Freshman righthander Joe O’Donnell has allowed one hit in eight at-bats (.143).
Then there is the matter of closing out innings. People are often surprised to learn that most runs in baseball score with two outs, but it only makes sense. Barring a home run earlier in the inning, one or two outs often occur in the time it takes to string together the two or three hits needed to put runs on the board. One reason NC State’s ERA is a stingy 1.89 is the Pack’s dominance with two outs. Opponents are batting just .144 against State with two away. They’re 5-for-29 against Logan Jernigan, 4-for-24 against Brad Stone, and 3-for-26 against Carlos Rodon.
• More About That Stingy Pitching Staff: Opposing hitters are batting .143 (13-for-91) in NC State’s last three contests. Wolfpack pitchers have now faced 105 batters since last allowing back-to-back hits. That’s total batters faced, not just at-bats.
State pitchers have allowed five or fewer hits in a game nine times in 16 games on the season, including each of the last three games, and have not allowed a hit in 34 at-bats with runners on base over the last three games.
• Round Numbers: Thus far in 2014, NC State pitchers have hung zeros on the scoreboard in 119 of 143 innings (83.2 percent) through 16 games. Opponents have scored in just 24 innings all season, and half of those innings occurred in the first three games of the year. In the last 13 games, State pitchers have held the opposition scoreless in 104 of 116 innings (89.7 percent).
State pitchers also have been good at limiting the damage when the opposition does score. Of the 24 innings when the opposition has scored, 17 have been one-run innings. The Pack has yielded three two-run innings, three three-run innings, and one four-run inning.
• About That Hot Start: NC State’s 14-2 start through 16 games is the second-fastest by the Wolfpack in Elliott Avent’s 16-plus seasons as head coach. The 1999 team, Avent’s third in Raleigh, opened 17-1.
• Hitting Streaks: Trea Turner and Jake Armstrong carry the Wolfpack’s longest active hitting streaks into this weekend’s series at Florida State. Turner is riding a seven-game hitting streak and is hitting .320 (8-for-25) with three RBIs and nine runs scored in his streak. Turner has hit safely in 15 of the Wolfpack’s 16 games this season. Armstrong has a six-game hitting streak and is batting .368 (7-for-19) with a double and seven RBIs in his streak, which is the longest of his career. He had a five-game streak in 2013.
Brett Austin and Jake Fincher both carry five-game hitting streaks into the FSU series. Fincher is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with five runs scored and seven RBIs in his streak. All seven hits in his streak came with runners on base. Austin, meanwhile, is batting a sizzling .471 (8-for-17) in his streak, with a double, a triple and six runs scored from the leadoff spot in the batting order.
• Austin Leading Off: Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent may have a few people scratching their heads at his decision to bat Brett Austin in the leadoff spot in the State lineup, but maybe Avent knows something the rest of us don’t. In 13 games batting leadoff, Austin has been exceptional, hitting .404 (19-for-47) with a .491 on-base percentage. He’s scored 15 runs in 13 games from the leadoff spot.
Austin not only has excelled hitting at the top of the order, but also leading off an inning. During his current five-game hitting streak, he’s 7-for-10 reaching base when leading off an inning.
• Getting The Bats Untracked: The Wolfpack’s offense has struggled much of the season. Despite erupting for 10 or more runs in five of the first 16 games, NC State hitters were struggling to score runs against the better opponents on the schedule. In the 11 games that the Wolfpack did not win by blowout, the hitters batted just .241 with a .336 on-base percentage and a .301 slugging percentage. The team averaged just 4.1 runs per game, but won nine of the 11 thanks to a staff ERA of 1.29 in those games.
Part of the problem for the Wolfpack, as it is for many teams, is the ongoing adjustment to the BBCOR bats that the NCAA adopted beginning with the 2011 season. The new bats are noticeably less active than the bats used previously, reducing offense across the board, including runs per game, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage.
NC State batted .326, scored 571 runs and hit 98 home runs in 2010, the last year the old bats were used. In the first three seasons using the BBCOR bats, NC State batted .284 (1903-for-6692) with a three-year total of 110 home runs. The 2010 team averaged 9.2 runs per game. The 2011-12-13 teams averaged 6.3.
Through 16 games, the 2014 team is batting .285 and averaging 7.3 runs per game, but against mostly weaker competition. The 2013 team hit 29 home runs, fewest by a State team in the aluminum-bat era, and nine of those came in one doubleheader against an overmatched Wagner team. This year’s club is on a pace to hit 26 home runs in a 60-game schedule (the Pack should exceed 60 games, by the way), but the most daunting portion of the schedule by far, including 27 ACC games, still remains.