There are some big matchups this week in the SEC. The biggest pits two top ten teams against as fifth-ranked Florida makes the trek up to Lexington to face seventh-ranked Kentucky in a showdown of Eastern Division foes. Both teams have eyes on taking the top spot in the division. We’ll start our preview of the weekend’s action with the Gators and Wildcats.
Florida at Kentucky
Both teams are coming off disappointing weekends as the Gators dropped a hard-fought series to Arkansas and Kentucky suffered its first weekend setback at the hands of Vanderbilt. With the Wildcats ahead of the Gators by two games in the race for the divisional crown, Kentucky has the upper hand. If Florida can pull off a road series victory this weekend, they could close the gap and position themselves for a late season surge for the title.
Last weekend Kentucky’s bats were unable to produce the kind of timely hitting the Wildcats have grown accustomed to during their magical start to the season. Kentucky left 30 runners on base, scoring only nine runs all weekend. Vanderbilt, by contrast, scored fifteen runs over the weekend. Both teams had 22 hits with Kentucky having one more at-bat than the Commodores. All this means that the Wildcats have to find a way to pick up runs when batters get on base if they hope to win the series against the formidable Gators.
Florida, too, saw its fortunes hinge on offensive production, or lack thereof as the Gators showed this past weekend against Arkansas. Like the Wildcats, the Gators left too many men on base stranding 21 while only plating five runs. Unlike Kentucky, though, Florida pitching was outmanned in Gainesville. Arkansas batted 40 points better than the Gators who had a weekend batting average of only .200. The Razorback staff compiled a stellar 1.33 ERA over the three games. Florida pitchers ran up a 3.21 ERA of their own. On the year, Florida is 26-5 when scoring five runs or more and 7-7 when scoring less than five runs.
This weekend’s marquis conference matchup will come down to offense. Kentucky’s starting pitching is less than spectacular, but the offense has had the firepower to keep pace with opponents. The Gators’ starting rotation has been hit by the injury bug, and it has shown as Florida has found it necessary to outscore opponents over the course of the year.
South Carolina at Arkansas
Arkansas kept its hopes of catching West-leading LSU with a big series victory last weekend against Florida, but there’s still a ways to go if the Razorbacks are to overtake the Tigers atop the standings. South Carolina, after getting out to a rocky start to open conference play, has found its stride. The Gamecocks are tied with Kentucky for the lead in the East and could overtake the Wildcats for the outright lead if things fall their way this weekend.
After droppings its opening two series to Kentucky and Florida, South Carolina has gone on a tear through the SEC amassing five straight series wins, the last three coming as sweeps. The Gamecocks have not lost a game in SEC play since dropping the opening game against Tennessee back on April 6. Through the first six conference games, South Carolina managed to score more than three runs only once. Over the next 15 games, the Gamecocks have scored four or more runs in all but two games.
Arkansas’s success starts with its pitching. The Razorbacks lead the league in ERA at 2.78. The Hogs’ offense is good but nothing stellar, and the defense ranks eighth in the conference. For Arkansas to be successful, it will need a strong performance on the mound to keep the Gamecocks from scoring runs in bunches.
This weekend is shaping up to be a contest decided by the ability of the Arkansas pitching staff shutting down the South Carolina bats. The Gamecocks are 24-1 when scoring more than four runs. Arkansas is 28-8 when giving up four runs or less. If the games remain low scoring affairs, Arkansas is the favorite, but if South Carolina can get to the best pitching staff in the conference, it will be hard for the Razorbacks to find the offense to keep pace.
Auburn at Georgia
Auburn sits in a three-way tie for third place in the Western Division with Ole Miss and Mississippi State heading in to this weekend’s series with Georgia. The Bulldogs from Athens, on the other hand, are trying to stave off missing out on the SEC Tournament. Georgia is only two games ahead of the sixth place team in the East.
Auburn got out to a solid start to open conference play, winning its first three series. The Tigers dropped their next three series including sweeps by Alabama – the team with the conference record in the league – and South Carolina before rebounding to sweep Tennessee this past weekend.
The Bulldogs have only won two series all year, taking two of three from Tennessee to start the year and two of three from Ole Miss three weeks ago. With a pitching staff with the 10th best ERA in the league and an offense sitting at eighth in batting average, Georgia is having a difficult finding a bright spot to build off. Georgia play solid defense, but it may not be enough to hold off a Tiger offense that scored 35 runs last weekend.
Mississippi State at Alabama
Mississippi State has come to life over the last couple weeks. After going 5-10 through the five weeks of the SEC schedule, the Bulldogs have rebounded with a series win over rival Ole Miss and a sweep of lowly Tennessee. The Bulldogs have a good opportunity to continue their recent hot streak as they travel to Tuscaloosa.
Alabama has the worst record in SEC play having been swept four times through seven weekends. The Tide started league play by losing eight of its first nine games before notching a series sweep against rival Auburn. After sweeping the Plainsmen, Alabama went on to a 2-7 record over the next three weekends. There is just nothing going right for the Tide as they sit in last place in pitching and hitting, and are in 10th place in fielding.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Vanderbilt is coming off a huge series victory over the East leading Kentucky Wildcats. It’s been an up-and-down year for the Commodores who have notched wins in three weekend series while dropping four. Vanderbilt pitching has the second highest ERA in the conference at 4.41, which means that it’s up to the offense to supply runs if the Commodores stand a chance of winning. The team is only hitting .270, well enough for fourth worst in the league. The good news for Vanderbilt is that this weekend offers them a chance to gain some security in the race for Hoover as in-state rival Tennessee invites them to Knoxville.
Tennessee looked on its way to a respectable year in the inaugural season under Dave Serrano. Following a sweep of Alabama, the Vols were above .500 with a 5-4 record. Then the wheels seemed to come off. In the last four weekend series, Tennessee has lost 10 games. The Vols are coming off back-to-back sweeps at the hands of Auburn and Mississippi State. Their offense is anemic having scored three or fewer runs in 12 conference games this season. That means they will have to rely on the pitching staff to keep opponents from getting on the board. The problem there is the staff does not feature pitcher with an ERA under 2.25. The staff ERA sits at 3.61. Opponents are scoring on the Vols, and the Vols can’t find the offense to respond. It looks like Tennessee will join Alabama at home while everyone else moves on to Hoover.
Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi State Bulldogs, SEC Baseball, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Vanderbilt Commodores, Weekend Preview