The LSU Tigers travel to Ole Miss this weekend for a pivotal SEC-west showdown. In honor of the Derby this weekend, I’ll use a horse racing term. Ole Miss finds themselves one-furlong behind the Tigers heading into the weekend, but with the SEC season on the back stretch they can make up some serious group.
The Rebels head into the weekend with a 29-16 overall record and 10-11 SEC mark. Ole Miss is currently four games out of first in the SEC west, but after LSU they have winnable series against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. So even if these two teams weren’t rivals, there is a lot on the line for Ole Miss.
Last time the two teams met in Oxford, Ole Miss swept LSU. The Rebels are continuing their home dominance with a 20-6 record at home this year (four of those losses are to SEC foes).
Looking at the stats the series is simple. For LSU to win they need to limit Ole Miss to under six runs and score more than two. Why? When Ole Miss scored six or more runs they are 21-1 on the season and when they hold opponents to two runs or less they are 16-0. It would also help if LSU could score the first run as the Rebels are 17-1 when they scratch out the first run.
Ole Miss’s offense has been a head scratcher in SEC play. They lead the league in fewest strikeouts (120). They are second in the conference in batting average (.291), slugging percentage (.413), hits (214) and third in doubles (38). But with all that success they have only scored 92 runs in 21 SEC games (4.6 RPG). One reason they have struggled to score runs is that Ole Miss has hit into 18 double plays for third worst in the conference.
The Rebel offense starts and ends wit Alex Yarbrough. Yarbrough was selected earlier this week to the 60-man Golden Spikes award watch. If not for Raph Rhymes .503 batting average, his .409 average in SEC play would merit a lot more attention than what he is getting. He has a very impressive 21.0 runs created average and had a 22-game hitting streak at one point of the season.
With Yarbrough out of the way let me introduce you to the rest of the Ole Miss lineup. Below is going to be the projected players expected to see at least some playing time throughout the weekend against the Tigers.
After looking at the individual stats it is clear to why the Rebels rank so high in most SEC offensive categories. Four starters are batting over .300 and seven regulars have a RC of 8.0 or more. It is also clear as too why the offense at times struggles. Half of the Ole Miss starters have a higher RC than actual runs scored, meaning that the players are getting on base, but are not coming around to score with the same efficiency.
The biggest factor of their struggles has to be their lead-off batter Tanner Mathis. Mathis is only batting .267 in the SEC and has only scored 10 runs in 21 games. Mathis leads the teams in walks earned, but his inability to consistently reach base is limiting the middle of the line-up’s production.
The pitching staff is much more erratic than the offense. As a whole Ole Miss ranks eighth in the conference in ERA (4.19), fifth in opponents batting average (.255), third in strikeouts (172), second in hits allowed (176) and seventh in runs allowed (97). They strikeout a lot of batters and limit hits, but somehow allow a lot of runs to score.
Don’t be fooled by these stats, the Rebels have a sneaky-good staff. The arms that LSU will see this weekend average a low 1.21 WH/IP. Friday night starter Bobby Wahl joins Yarbrough on the Golden Spikes list and is as dominate as a pitcher as there is in the conference. Following Wahl is Mike Mayers on Saturday who has the lowest WH/IP of the starters at 1.17.
The biggest question heading into the weekend is who’s the third starter? RJ Hivley started the season starting on Saturday then switched with Mayer moving to Sundays, but because of a 1-3 record is now in the bullpen. Ole Miss first gave Sam Smith a chance as the Sunday starter, but he only made it through one innings. Tanner Bailey was promoted last week against Mississippi State, but he struggled. So will the Rebels go back to Hivley, try Smith or Bailey again, or something different? Just in case I added all these players to the starters stats chart.
Like the starters, the bullpen has solid numbers but not much to wow you. Perhaps it’s the fact that Ole Miss is 1-11 when trailing after the sixth and 1-10 when trailing after the seventh. Some of that has to do with the offense, but it doesn’t bring a good light to the pen.
Let’s take a look at the potential arms coming out of the pen. (These four pitchers plus two of the last three in the starters chart should make up the bullpen).
(Brett Huber and RJ Hivley are the listed closers on the team).
LSU has a winnable series in front of them and plenty of motivation. Not only can the Tigers seek revenge from being swept by their rivals last time they were in Oxford, but they can all but shut the door to another SEC west championship. With Kentucky hosting Florida and South Carolina playing at Arkansas, If LSU can win or even sweep they could find themselves in the outright lead in the SEC.
Game times are set for 6:30pm on Friday, 2:00pm on Saturday and 1:00pm on Sunday. Unless you are willing shell out some dough for Rebelvision, only Saturday’s game will be eligible for viewing on Sportssouth.