Around the Bases: SEC Baseball Races Take Shape in the East and West

Aroundthebases2010_medium

The division races are starting to heat up despite a sweep here and there. In fact, we have a very clear picture emerging in the East. Things are a bit more muddled in the West, but we're used to the Western division being a free-for-all in most everything by now.

SEC EAST SEC WEST
Overall SEC GB Overall SEC GB
Florida 21-4 4-2 -- Alabama 18-7 5-1 --
South Carolina 18-5 4-2 -- Mississippi State 18-6 4-2 1.0
Vanderbilt 22-3 4-2 -- Mississippi 18-7 3-3 2.0
Georgia 11-13 3-3 1.0 Arkansas 18-6 2-4 3.0
Kentucky 14-11 2-4 2.0 Auburn 14-10 2-4 3.0
Tennessee 18-6 2-4 2.0 LSU 17-7 1-5 4.0

It's important to note that no one is out of the running this early in the season, but we have a pretty good idea of who's got a reasonable shot at winning and who's got a lot of catching up to do.

How did we get there? Let's take a look at last weekend. 

South Carolina at Florida
South Carolina 9, Florida 2 Florida 2, South Carolina 1 South Carolina 4, Florida 3

When the No. 1 team (as in, the reining national champions) meets the No. 1 team (as in, ranked by the pollsters and such), there's only one thing you can be sure of: The No. 1 team is going to win. In this case, it was South Carolina, which reminded Florida that in order to be the team you have to beat the team. The Gamecocks reintroduced that cliche to the Gators with a nine-run outburst on Friday -- which also featured Florida scoring two runs on 10 hits -- before the two teams did what you might expect two national title contenders to do: Play a couple that featured few notable mistakes. Which is probably how the SEC East race is going to play out this year, given that South Carolina and Florida are now two of three teams tied for the lead in the division right now.

NEXT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA: The Citadel (Wednesday); Kentucky (Weekend)
NEXT FOR FLORIDA: vs. Florida State (Tuesday); Tennessee (Weekend)

Vanderbilt at Arkansas
Arkansas 2, Vanderbilt 1 Vanderbilt 4, Arkansas 1 Vanderbilt 2, Arkansas 1

Speaking of No. 1s, the team taking over the top spot in at least some of the polls spent the weekend holding Arkansas to four runs in three games. To give you an idea of just how good a pitching performance that was on the part of Vanderbilt, Arkansas had only been held to four or fewer runs in a single game three times this year before they played the Commodores. The only reason Vanderbilt didn't win all three games: An offensive slump that saw the Dores plate just seven runs all weekend long. In any case, Vanderbilt is the other team in the SEC East race, and we only say "other" because we've mentioned the first two above. It's going to be nothing but fun watching them slug it out with the Gamecocks and the Gators over the next few weeks. As for Arkansas in the West -- at least they're not LSU.

NEXT FOR VANDERBILT: Tennessee-Martin (Tuesday); at Auburn (Weekend)
NEXT FOR ARKANSAS: Oklahoma (Tuesday); at Alabama (Weekend)

LSU at Georgia
LSU 7, Georgia 3 Georgia 9, LSU 5 (7 inn) Georgia 3, LSU 2 (7 inn)

Yes, it's kind of inviting being proven wrong to say this so early in the season, so we might even do more inviting by looking at this question at length later. But it is time to ask the question: Is LSU this year's answer to 2010 Georgia? You know, the quality baseball program that suddenly implodes with very little warning? There are some reasons to believe that's not the case: We're just two series into the conference seasons, neither of those sets were againts slouches, and LSU had some impressive wins in the nonconference slate. But the Bayou Bengals now find themselves four games out of the division lead before things have really gotten started. Then again, it's not every weekend that your team is going to commit four errors in a seven-inning game that you lose by one run. On the flip side, Georgia's pitching might actually have turned the corner as the SEC season starts -- which is about as good a time as any for it to do so.

NEXT FOR LSU: McNeese State (Wednesday); Ole Miss (Weekend)
NEXT FOR GEORGIA: at Clemson (Tuesday); Mississippi State (Weekend)

Ole Miss at Tennessee
Ole Miss 6, Tennessee 1 Tennessee 6, Ole Miss 4 Ole Miss 8, Tennessee 0

No, when it comes to committing four errors, Ole Miss has it right: Do so in a nine-inning game, and then lose the game by two runs. But don't forget to win both the other games, including a 14-hit shellacking Sunday that left Knoxville looking like a Libyan army unit outside of Benghazi. Don't forget the eight walks in that game as seven Vols pitchers tried anything they could to stop the runs from scoring. Of course, walking eight men is not the optimal way to do that. In any case, Ole Miss has now re-established itself as a contender in a divsion that is led by the teams everyone expected to be in first and second. Wait a minute -- are you sure that's right? Okay. Alabama and Mississippi State. Hmm.

NEXT FOR OLE MISS: at Southern Miss (Wednesday); at LSU (Weekend)
NEXT FOR TENNESSEE: UNC Asheville (Wednesday); at Florida (Weekend)

Auburn at Mississippi State
Mississippi State 7, Auburn 6 Mississippi State 15, Auburn 8 Mississippi State 5, Auburn 0

Yes, Mississippi State, which pounded out 43 hits in a weekend waxing of Auburn  That's almost two hits per inning. That helped Auburn fall to last place among all SEC teams in ERA. A fitting follow-up to a nearly magical 2010 season, this has not exactly been. The Tigers are now tied for fourth in the West, while the Western Division Bulldogs are an early division contender. I'll say that again in case you don't believe it: It is not laughable to think that Mississippi State might win the West in baseball this year. The showdown with Georgia this weekend might be one of the surprise important series of the early season.

NEXT FOR AUBURN: Troy (Tuesday); Vanderbilt (Weekend)
NEXT FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE: Alabama A&M (Tuesday); at Georgia (Weekend)

Kentucky at Alabama
Alabama 4, Kentucky 0 Alabama 6, Kentucky 5 Alabama 8, Kentucky 3

Only one Kentucky pitcher lasted more than five innings this weekend. Every one of Alabama's starters made that mark before exiting. That should give you an idea of how this one went. It's hard to say too much about this series, because it is essentially what you would expect from a game that matched a division leader against Kentucky. It doesn't prove that Alabama is "for real" this season, but at least it didn't prove the opposite.

NEXT FOR ALABAMA: at UAB (Tuesday); South Alabama (Wednesday); Arkansas (Weekend)
NEXT FOR KENTUCKY: Tennessee Tech (Tuesday); at South Carolina (Weekend)

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