Entering the season, the Georgia baseball team had some lofty expectations. Due to the recent success of the team, including six consecutive NCAA appearances, Georgia entered the season ranked in the top 10.
The expectations have been lowered considerably since the season started. Prior to opening day, Georgia fans found out that they would be without their excellent closer Tyler Maloof. Maloof collected 18 saves last year and his absence has plagued the bullpen all season. A few weeks ago the injury bug struck again, but this time in the Georgia line-up. Their best hitter, Hunter Cole, was sidelined for the past six games and Georgia has lost four of those. Cole was leading hitter for the Dawgs in SEC play with a .370 average, three homeruns and a 20.36 runs created average.
The absence of those two has helped Georgia enter this weekend’s series with a 24-18 overall record and a 8-10 conference mark. Unlike LSU, Georgia has played a strong out-of-conference schedule. Georgia was swept at home by 12th ranked UCLA, defeated Georgia Tech and split two games against Clemson.
Four of Georgia’s six conference series came against ranked opponents. Georgia opened SEC play with a series win over Tennessee (2-1), but have only won one series since. They lost on the road at Vanderbilt (1-2), then to Kentucky (1-2), at Arkansas (1-2) and at Florida (1-2). Georgia did win their series against Ole Miss (2-1).
When comparing LSU and Georgia, the two offenses are very similar in SEC play, but you can see a different story when comparing the pitching. Lets take a look.
Like I stated earlier, the batting stats are almost interchangeable with exception to strikeouts. I can’t even use the argument that either team has played a more difficult SEC schedule. Both teams have play Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas, and while Georgia’s remaining three opponents were Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Tennessee; LSU played Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State. I might give a slight edge to LSU only because I thing LSU’s two weakest teams, Alabama and Mississippi State, are better than Georgia’s two, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
There is an obvious difference in production between the two staffs. Georgia ranks eight or worse in the following categories: ERA (9), hits (12), earned runs (9) and strikeouts (8).
You can’t say that Georgia’s pitching numbers are miss-leading because of fielding. The Dawgs are second in the conference in fielding percentage and turned 20 double plays in SEC games (LSU has 14).
The problem with the pitching staff is a two-fold issue. First, after Alex Woods, Georgia has struggled to find consistency with their starting pitching. Michael Palazzone (Saturday starter) struggled out of the gate in conference play losing his first three games, but since has rebounded to record two straight victories (Florida and Ole Miss). After those two Georgia has tried three different arms on Sunday hoping to find their third pitching but have struggled in filling the void. It appears that Georgia will use Luke Crumley to face Aaron Nola on Sunday. Even though they do not have a set three like LSU, when you look below its clear that Georgia will send out three guy easily capable of winning their game.
After looking at those numbers how great if the Friday pitching duel between Woods and Kevin Gausman going to be? The second issue I mentioned earlier is about the Georgia bullpen…the whole bullpen. I usually try to pull a few positive and negative numbers before throwing out the staff’s numbers, but it is mostly all bad. After looking at these numbers, it is clear why Georgia is at or near the bottom of the SEC in pitching.
If those numbers are confusing focus on the last two columns. The Georgia bullpen has a WHIP average of 2.03 and a batting average of .328. Those number just will not get it done in this conference. Because of their bullpen woes Georgia is 7-6 in one run games (LSU is 11-4).
The bullpen struggles has put an added pressure on its offense. Georgia’s record when they score 3-5 runs in 11-11 (LSU’s record is 13-1) and when scoring four runs or more runs, Georgia only has a 19-6 mark (LSU 30-1).
Like LSU earlier this season, Georgia has struggled to find its identity at the plate. The offense isn’t terrible, they just struggle turning hits into runs. The obvious state to prove this is that Georgia is 8-15 when opponents score four or more runs. In SEC play, the Dawgs rank fourth in batting average, second in hits and fifth in homeruns. Where they struggle is with plate discipline. Georgia is 11th in the SEC in strikeouts and ninth in walks earned. With the talent in SEC pitching staff to have success against them you have to take advantage of their mistakes, and Georgia hasn’t done this.
Without Cole in the lineup, Georgia has had to go deep on their bench to try to find a hot stick. To prepare you for the potential batter this weekend, here is a look at the SEC stats from the 13 players used in the last two SEC series’ for Georgia.
Even with Cole out of the line-up, Georgia still has a nice core of five hitters. The problem is that after those five the talent drops off dramatically. If Georgia can get some production out of just two more hitters, they will have a good chance of winning the series.
I just don’t see that happening. LSU has been too good at home. The Tigers are 10-2 at home in SEC play this year and as long as the starters can return back to form following last weekend, they should be able to prevail Saturday and Sunday. Out of respect to Alex Wood’s numbers, I am calling Friday nights game a toss-up. Here is to a great weekend at the Box.