The Florida State baseball team is making NCAA history this weekend, competing in its 44th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
The Seminoles are the No. 3 seed in the Auburn Regional hosted by No. 14 overall seed Auburn, which is hosting for the first time since 2010. FSU opens the tournament against No. 2 seed UCLA Friday at noon on ESPN2 from Plainsman Park in Auburn, Ala. Southeastern Louisiana is the No. 4 seed in the regional and will open against the Tigers at 7 p.m. Friday.
The winner of this double-elimination regional will take on the winner of the Corvallis Regional, which is hosted by No. 3 overall seed Oregon State, in a super regional the following weekend.
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FSU, UCLA and Auburn all enter this weekend’s event having had somewhat recent success in the NCAA Tournament. FSU and Auburn both made underdog runs to the 2019 College World Series while the Bruins won the 2013 NCAA Championship, but haven’t been back to the CWS since then.
SLU is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017 and has made the CWS one time back in 1975.
How do the four teams heading to Auburn this weekend measure up? What are each of their strengths and weaknesses, and what do they tell us about who could advance?
Here’s a breakdown of the teams playing in the Auburn Regional.
1. Auburn (37-19, 16-13 in SEC)
Offense: .285 batting average (101st out of 293 D-I teams), .384 on-base percentage (94th), .438 slugging percentage (127th), 1.05 home runs per game (110th), 261 walks (79th), 6.82 runs per game (112th).
Batting average: Sonny DiChiara (.379)
On-base percentage: Sonny DiChiara (.556)
Home runs: Sonny DiChiara (18)
RBIs: Sonny DiChiara (48)
Pitching/Defense: 4.43 earned run average (46th), 2.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio (47th), .980 fielding percentage (11th)
Starter Joseph Gonzalez (6-2, 2.74 ERA)
Starter pitcher Mason Burnett (2-2, 4.54 ERA)
Starter pitcher Trace Bright (3-4, 4.63 ERA)
Closer Blake Burkhalter (4-2, 13 saves, 3.76 ERA)
Analysis: Auburn was probably the most heavily-criticized of the 16 teams picked to host regionals. College baseball analysts largely believe the Tigers’ hosting responsibilities should have gone to Notre Dame.
That being said, it’s easy to see what made the Tigers successful this season and lined them up to host as the No. 14 overall seed. They do everything pretty well across the board, as their statistical profile shows.
Auburn slugger Sonny DiChiara was named SEC Player of the Year last week. His .556 on-base percentage this season is the second-best in the country and the best among players competing in the NCAA Tournament. He’s tied for the national lead with 62 walks and also is in the top 10 nationally in slugging percentage, with 18 home runs this season.
The Tigers don’t have one dominant starter they can turn to, but their pitching staff as a whole is impressive. With 13 saves and 56 strikeouts over 38.1 innings, closer Blake Burkhalter earned a second-team All-SEC honor.
2. UCLA (38-22, 19-11 in Pac-12)
Offense: .278 batting average (133rd), .390 on-base percentage (70th), .407 slugging percentage (195th), 0.68 home runs per game (237th), 299 walks (18th), 6.4 runs per game (146th).
Batting average: Michael Curialle (.326)
On-base percentage: Jake Palmer (.450)
Home runs: Cody Schrier (9)
RBIs: Ethan Gourson (42)
Pitching/Defense: 3.99 earned run average (16th), 3.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio (11th), .974 fielding percentage (55th)
Starter Max Rajcic (8-4, 3.08 ERA)
Starter Kelly Austin (4-3, 4.33 ERA)
Closer Alonzo Tredwell (3-1, 6 saves, 1.98 ERA)
Analysis: The Bruins are a tough No. 2 seed. They were in the hosting conversation for much of the season before dropping seven of their final 12 regular-season games. They won three of five games they played against No. 3 overall seed Oregon State this season, including a wild comeback to win 25-22 in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Offensively, the Bruins don’t have a ton of pop, with only one player who has more than five home runs this season. However, players up and down the lineup reach base frequently as seven Bruins are hitting .280 or better this season and six UCLA batters have on-base percentages of at least .395.
On the mound, UCLA has managed to maintain impressive metrics despite a few key losses. The Bruins’ 3.99 ERA is the best in the Auburn Regional, even with midseason injuries to a pair of weekend starters in Jake Brooks and Thatcher Hurd. Friday starter Max Rajcic missed last week’s Pac-12 Tournament due to an oblique injury, but he is expected to be able to return this week, likely setting up quite a pitching matchup Friday against FSU’s Parker Messick.
3. Florida State (33-23, 15-15 in ACC)
Offense: .263 batting average (221st), .362 on-base percentage (195th), .417 slugging percentage (176th), 1.02 home runs per game (120th), 228 walks (157th), 5.71 runs per game (209th).
Batting average: Jaime Ferrer (.319)
On-base percentage: Jaime Ferrer (.441)
Home runs: Alex Toral (14)
RBIs: Alex Toral (47)
Pitching/Defense: 4.08 earned run average (20th), 3.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio (3rd), .968 fielding percentage (160th)
Starter Parker Messick (6-5, 3.36 ERA)
Starter Bryce Hubbart (8-2, 3.18 ERA)
Reliever Wyatt Crowell (6-1, 2.27 ERA)
Reliever Jonah Scolaro (2-3, 3 saves, 3.35 ERA)
Analysis: Like UCLA, this FSU team was in contention to host a regional for the majority of the season, boosting its resume with sweeps of Louisville and TCU and a series win over Miami. A 1-5 finish over the last two weeks, however, sent the Seminoles plummeting far closer to the bubble than they probably expected to be.
The Seminoles are 7-15 away from Dick Howser Stadium this season and have had some offensive struggles, failing to measure up with the other competitors in this regional in quite a few categories.
But FSU also has the best 1-2 starting pitching punch in the regional in Parker Messick and Bryce Hubbart. Anchored by this pair, the Seminoles’ 12 strikeouts per nine innings as a staff are nearly one strikeout more than the next most nationally.
These junior pitchers, who are likely in the final stretch of their FSU careers, have not been at their absolute best of late. They’ve shown throughout their careers, though, that they can turn it on at a moment’s notice and deliver lights-out showings on the mound when the spotlight is at its brightest.
FSU likely needs that from them this weekend to stifle some tough lineups that bring different things to the table. That paired with the hot-and-cold FSU lineup finding its footing once more is the recipe for the Seminoles surviving this weekend.
4. Southeastern Louisiana (30-29, 14-10 in Southland Conference)
Offense: .251 batting average (259th), .372 on-base percentage (149th), .422 slugging percentage (167th), 1.17 home runs per game (88th), 261 walks (79th), 5.98 runs per game (181st).
Batting average: Preston Faulkner (.343)
On-base percentage: Rhett Rosevear (.466)
Home runs: Preston Faulkner (17)
RBIs: Preston Faulkner (70)
Pitching/Defense: 5.99 earned run average (180th), 1.66 strikeout-to-walk ratio (201st), .978 fielding percentage (22nd)
Starter Will Kinzeler (4-2, 3.60 ERA)
Starter Adam Guth (4-1, 5.13 ERA)
Closer Gage Trahan (4-4, 11 saves, 4.15 ERA)
Analysis: The Lions are the No. 4 seed in the regional after coming out of the loser’s bracket of the Southland Tournament. They dropped their first game to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and then won six of their final seven games to beat McNeese for the conference’s automatic bid.
Overall, Southeastern Louisiana has won 13 of its last 18 games dating back to the end of April. They may not have the hitting or pitching to measure up to the other teams in the Auburn Regional on paper, but the Lions’ great equalizer could be their ferocious baserunning.
SLU stole 113 bases this season on 147 attempts (76.9%), tied for 13th nationally. None of the other three teams in the regional are especially susceptible to allowing stolen bases this season, but it remains the type of aggressive approach that can sometimes level out a talent disparity.
Reach Curt Weiler at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Auburn Regional: What are the strengths, weaknesses of the teams?