Because we wrapped up last weekend's important results in a couple of slightly mistaken posts (you try writing about the results on a cell phone), this edition of Around the Bases will focus largely on the matchups in this week's SEC tournament, which begins Wednesday and continues through a sometimes-epic series of games (four a day on Wednesday and Thursday) that end in Sunday's championship game.
First, your bracket-ish round up of the first round games:
|SEC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT, ROUND ONE|
|BRACKET ONE||BRACKET TWO|
|7 Alabama||8 LSU|
|2 Auburn||1 Florida|
|6 Ole Miss||5 Vanderbilt|
|3 South Carolina||4 Arkansas|
"Bracket-ish" because, as a double-elimination tournament, things get more complicated from there. We'll deal with that when the time comes.
A couple of observations before we break down the match-ups:
- Bracket One is stronger than Bracket Two, with two of the three most complete teams in the league and a pretty good (if lucky) one in Ole Miss. The only one with slim odds of winning the tournament is Alabama. That could mean one of two things: If Auburn or South Carolina coast through the bracket, it could be trouble for the Bracket Two winner; if they end up in a no-holds-barred clash of the titans, it could leave the winner exhausted when Sunday comes around.
- LSU is probably your sleeper in the tournament. Vanderbilt rallied from a No. 8 seed last year to play in the championship game, and LSU this year is probably better than 2009 Vanderbilt. (No. 8 Ole Miss also played LSU for the title in 2008.)
GAME 1: Wednesday, 9:30 a.m., SportsSouth (TV) and ESPN3.com (Internet)
No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 2 Auburn
What better way to start the tournament than with a rivalry game? The Tide is in the field largely thanks to the inexplicable collapse of Kentucky while facing possibly the worst team in the league, while Auburn was in meaningful games through Friday as they wrapped up the Western Division. The Tigers come in with the league's highest OPS -- an eye-popping 1.004 (all statistics SEC games only) -- but just-above-average pitching. That said, Alabama's offense is in the bottom half of the league and its pitching has been awful against the SEC.
GAME 2: Wednesday, TBA, SportsSouth (TV) and ESPN3.com (Internet)
No. 6 Ole Miss vs. No. 3 South Carolina
Ole Miss wasn't the best team in the league down the stretch, in part due to a lackluster offense, which finished the season with an SEC-worst .741 OPS. The Gamecocks come in with the kind of team you might expect from Ray Tanner: a lot of pop (.481 slugging) but not as good at getting on base (.375 OBP). South Carolina's pitching, though, is better than Ole Miss in opponents' batting average (a league-best .243) and almost two full runs better in ERA.
GAME 3: Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., CSS (TV) and ESPN3.com (Internet)
No. 8 LSU vs. No. 1 Florida
The Bengals can hit the ball, with their .858 OPS making them arguably the second-best offense in the tournament. What they can't do so well is pitch. They have the worst ERA in the tournament (6.72), and the SEC has only fared better than Alabama among tournament teams in terms of batting average. (And even then, it's not by much; LSU is at .302 and Alabama is at .306.) Florida is a team that wins more with pitching than by producing runs, though its relatively high opponents' batting average could be cause for concern.
GAME 4: Wednesday, TBA, CSS (TV) and ESPN3.com (Internet)
No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 4 Arkansas
Don't look for a high-scoring match-up in this one; Vanderbilt and Arkansas both rely on solid pitching to win games. The Commodores lead the league in ERA with a 3.76 and are No. 2 in opponents' batting average with a .256 mark. The Razorbacks are, respectively, No. 4 and No. 3 in those categories. Arkansas is No. 5 in OPS -- not terrible, but nothing to get too excited about -- while Vanderbilt is No. 9. Both teams can get on base, but Vanderbilt is particularly good at getting two outs with one swing of the bat, grounding into an SEC-high 38 double plays in league games -- the highest number in the SEC by 14, despite having played two fewer games than most teams.