Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Michael Woods

SEC Baseball Weekend Preview

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With the regular season winding down, attention for most teams is turning to positioning in the SEC Tournament. The top two seeds are awarded a bye in the first round of games and are given to the top team from each division.

Currently, South Carolina and LSU are tied for the best conference record and would be awarded the top seeds. LSU is in the strongest position to maintain their position atop the Western Division with a four game lead over Arkansas and Mississippi State. South Carolina has only a single game lead over Kentucky. The Gamecocks lost to the Wildcats earlier in the year which could come back to hurt the Columbians should the two teams end the season tied for the Eastern Division lead.

At the bottom of the conference standings, Alabama and Tennessee would be left at home if things remain as they are currently. But Auburn, who have turned ice cold in recent weeks, are only two games ahead of Tennessee as the last team in the tournament. Things will get very interesting over the next two weekends as the regular season draws to a close.

Mississippi State at Florida

The Bulldogs have been surging lately. At the midway point of the conference schedule, Mississippi State was sitting in 11th place in the league. Over the last three weekends, though, the Bulldogs have gone 7-2 to put them in a tie for second place in the Western Division with Arkansas. Mississippi State has used strong pitching and defense to make it difficult for opposing teams to score runs during their recent run. The opposition has only scored more than two runs once in the last nine league games. Through the first 15 games of SEC play, Mississippi State allowed the other team to score four or more runs 14 times.

In 14 conference wins, Florida has won only three games when scoring less than five runs. The Gator pitching staff has been hit with an injury bug which has heaped pressure on the offense to produce. Luckily for Florida, its lineup is deep, and the Gator hitters have met the challenge for the most part. The big question this weekend is whether Florida can continue its offensive success against a resurgent Mississippi State pitching staff.

Alabama at Kentucky

After having not lost a weekend series all year, Kentucky suffered two consecutive setbacks dropping back-to-back series to Vanderbilt and Florida. The Wildcats have a good chance of rebounding this weekend as they host the Crimson Tide who are saddled with the league’s worst record. Kentucky’s starting pitching has been mediocre at best through the majority of the season. Two of their weekend starters have posted ERAs above 4.00. The staff ERA sits at 3.63, good enough for seventh in the league. Kentucky’s success this year has come at the plate. As a team the Wildcats are hitting .304 for third-best in the conference.

Alabama is at the bottom of the league in every major team category:  11th in batting average at .253, 12th in ERA at 5.13, and 10th in fielding percentage at .968. If Kentucky takes two of three from the Tide, Alabama will be the first team to be mathematically excluded from contention for a berth in the SEC Tournament.

Auburn at Arkansas

After suffering its third SEC series sweep this past weekend, Auburn occupies 10th place in the league, the last position to earn a berth in the conference tournament. After starting conference play with three consecutive series victories, the Tigers lost four of the next five weekend series. Auburn leads the league in team hitting with an eye-popping .314 batting average, but also boasts a 3.83 team ERA and the worst fielding percentage in the league. In 24 league games, the Tigers have given up five or more runs in 14 of them. For the Tigers to be successful, they will have to get on base. Once on base, they turn into a major threat as they have more steals and steal attempts (85-116) than any other team. Auburn hitters are aggressive on the bases having hit 94 doubles and a league-best 17 triples. Keeping the Tigers off base is the key to shutting them down.

Arkansas should have as good a chance as any team in the league of doing this. The Razorbacks led the league in pitching for much of the season before being knocked around last weekend by South Carolina. Arkansas pitchers boast a 2.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio and one of only three staffs to post an ERA below 3.00 (2.93) to this point in the season. Arkansas will have to get back their form on the mound if they hope to contain a potent Auburn offense.

Tennessee at Ole Miss

If Arkansas can handle the Auburn bats in Fayetteville, Tennessee could have a chance to sneak into Hoover. The Vols are only two games back of the Plainsmen for the last spot in the tournament. To do that, though, they’ll have to beat the second best offense in the league. Ole Miss is hitting at .306 on the year and also touts a .978 fielding percentage, good enough for second in the league. This series will come down to defense. Tennessee has the second most stolen bases on the year with 61 on 94 attempts, while the Rebels have allowed the second fewest at 31.

Tennessee has been outscored by opponents this year 238-208, and they are better when scoring 4 or more runs. If the Vols get on base, they will try to run. That will be difficult, though, against this Ole Miss team.

South Carolina at Georgia

After dropping its two opening series to Kentucky and Florida, South Carolina has torn through the rest of its schedule winning six consecutive weekend series. The Gamecocks now hold a one game lead over Kentucky for the lead in the East. They will need to take advantage of the opportunity to face an average Bulldog team if they hope to maintain their lead over the Wildcats.

The Bulldogs come into the weekend with some confidence having swept hapless Auburn last weekend. Georgia has played well against top-flight conference opponents, but has had difficulty closing out the best teams in the league. The Bulldogs have played in 11 games decided by two runs or less compiling a record of 6-5 in those games. This will not be an easy series for the Gamecocks, but they have to win it heading into a crucial series against LSU in the final weekend of the season.

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Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Arkansas Razorbacks Auburn Tigers College Baseball Florida Gators Georgia Bulldogs Kentucky Wildcats Mississippi State Bulldogs Ole Miss Rebels SEC Baseball SEC Tournament South Carolina Gamecocks Tennessee Volunteers

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