The NC State baseball team will make its last road trip of the regular season to take on the No. 16 Pittsburgh Panthers in a three-game series. The Pack is coming off of a 9-1 home win against UNC Wilmington on Tuesday, May 11, its first game in nine days, while the Panthers are trying to find their rhythm after some schedule changes.
Pittsburgh (22-13, 16-11 ACC) are getting back into the swing of things against NC State (23-14, 14-13 ACC) after positive COVID-19 tests in the Panthers’ program put a halt to its schedule. Pitt’s series against then-No. 4 Louisville and Northern Kentucky were canceled, and the Panthers’ first game back in action resulted in an 8-2 loss to West Virginia. Pitt built up some steam with a series win over Boston College this past weekend, giving the Panthers some momentum heading into its series with NC State.
Speaking of building up steam, Pitt infielder Sky Duff is a player the Pack will have to watch out for, as he has notched a hit in 12 of his last 13 games. Duff is the team’s leader in batting average and on-base percentage, posting .343 and .447 in those categories respectively.
Duff is not the biggest bat in Pitt’s lineup however, as that distinction goes to infielder David Yanni, the team’s leader in home runs and OPS with 11 and 1.041 respectively. Yanni also cracks the top-10 in the conference in slugging percentage with a .628. Despite his power swing, Yanni is also relatively disciplined at the plate, as he is tied for sixth on the Panthers in strikeouts.
The top of the Panthers’ batting order isn’t free from trouble in paradise, however, as outfielder Nico Popa, the last of the team’s three hitters with an OPS over .900, is having a rough go of it from the batter’s box. Since the beginning of his team’s series against North Carolina, Popa has gone 6-for-28 from the plate, a far cry from his .336 batting average on the season.
Popa is capable of getting on base via a knock, logging nine hits in the four games prior to the UNC series, but the Wolfpack pitching staff will have an opportunity to keep one of Pitt’s top hitters quiet if Popa is unable to get himself out of this slump.
The rest of the Panthers lineup leaves much to be desired, as the squad ranks in the bottom three in the ACC in runs per game and home runs per game while placing dead last in the conference in strikeouts per game. Pitt’s pitching staff makes up for this lack of production however, as it clocks in at fifth in the ACC in ERA, and it will have to be up to snuff to stifle a Wolfpack team that has won 14 of its last 17 games.
The rotation is headlined by right-handers Mitch Myers and Matt Gilbertson, two starters that have ERAs of 2.92 and 3.51 respectively. Myers and Gilbertson each sport a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) under 1.20 as well, proving that they can prevent themselves from getting into tough situations by putting many runners on base. NC State will have to capitalize on any and every opportunity it gets from these two pitchers.
The Pittsburgh bullpen is bolstered by another pair of righties, Jordan McCrum and Chris Gomez. McCrum and right-hander David Ferguson hold the lowest ERAs on Pitt’s staff at 1.82 and 0.00 respectively, while McCrum and Gomez have the two lowest WHIPs. Ferguson falters in the WHIP stat by walking 11 batters in only 8.0 IP all season, but his struggles are not the only problem plaguing the Panthers’ pen.
Right-handed pitcher Chase Smith has the most appearances among Pitt pitchers with 21, but his ERA of 6.00 and WHIP of 1.86 will have the Wolfpack licking its chops should Smith take the mound. Outside of McCrum and Gomez, the Panthers relievers are largely hit or miss. The Pack could get shut down by an in-control Ferguson or it could have a field day with a guy like Smith.
The series will get underway with a 6 p.m. first pitch on Friday, May 14 in Pittsburgh, with a 3 p.m. and 1 p.m. start on Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16 respectively. All three games will be available for viewing on ACC Network Extra.