Around the Bases Looks at the Future of SEC Baseball // 05.16.11

Aroundthebases2010_medium

It's not so much that the SEC West is an embarrassment to SEC baseball. It's that the SEC West is an embarrassment to the sport as a whole. Major-league players should be hanging their heads in shame at the thought that they share a sport with what might be the most putrid division in the history of the game. I am not exaggerating very much here. These are the kinds of numbers that make the NL West look downright respectable.

SEC EAST SEC WEST
Overall SEC GB Overall SEC GB
South Carolina
41-11 20-7 -- Alabama 31-22 13-14 --
Florida 39-13 20-7 -- Mississippi State 32-19 13-14 --
Vanderbilt
42-8 20-7 -- Auburn 28-24 13-14 --
Georgia 26-26 15-12 5.0 Arkansas 33-17 13-14 --
Kentucky 24-28 7-20 13.0 Ole Miss
28-23 12-15 1.0
Tennessee 23-27 5-22 15.0 LSU 33-19 11-16 2.0

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, not a single team in the SEC West is above .500. Georgia, who is five games out of the lead in the SEC East, and eliminated from division contention, would be two games ahead in the West and have a magic number of one. (Apparently, LSU is eliminated, which is encouraging. I guess.)

On the other hand, the East is a different sort of pennant race altogether. South Carolina, which has defeated both Florida and Vanderbilt in the season series, thus has a de facto one-game lead on the Gators and the Dores. That means South Carolina's magic number is two against both teams, which could make things interesting.

Given the chaos that surrounds the divisional standings and the fact that we've gotten a bit behind on Around the Bases, we're going to do something a little bit different this week. We're going to take a look at the matches coming up this weekend and see what it could mean for the division races.

SOUTH CAROLINA at ALABAMA TV: Sat, 1 p.m. ET, CSS

ERA OPS S. Carolina: 8-4 v West
South Carolina 2.54 .760 S. Carolina: Lowest ERA in SEC games
Alabama 4.54 .709 Bama: 4-8 v East

So of the teams remaining in the SEC West demolition derby, Alabama drew arguably the shortest straw. They get the reigning national champions and a team that bests them by two full runs in team ERA and 51 points in OPS. Best of luck to the Tide on that one. (Homerism note: Not really. And, no, "reigning national champions" does not get old.)

KENTUCKY at FLORIDA TV: Fri, 7 p.m. ET, FS-Florida

ERA OPS TV: Sat, 4 p.m. ET, FS-Florida
Kentucky 5.56 .749 Ken: Eliminated from Hoover
Florida 2.99 .826 Florida: Two home SEC losses

In fairness, Florida's home conference schedule has been weak. Then again, Kentucky is one of the few SEC East teams that makes the West appear respectable, so I guess it's a wash in the end. This is an advantage to Florida in the race for the East; yes, South Carolina is playing an SEC West team, but Kentucky is still Kentucky. That said, the Wildcats have a template for pulling off this sort of an upset: Last year's dreadful Georgia team defeated the Wildcats twice in the final weekend last year, including a 20-run win, to eliminate the Wildcats from the SEC tournament. Either way, though, the Gators go to Hoover.

GEORGIA at VANDERBILT
TV: Thurs, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

ERA OPS UGA: Clinched SEC tourney berth
Georgia 4.70 .742 UGA: 2-5 last seven games
Vanderbilt 2.68 .878 Vanderbilt: Best OPS in SEC games

We were a little bit hard on the Dawgs earlier in the year -- largely because they deserved it, though things like the sweep by Stetson doesn't look as bad now that the Hatters are No. 15 in the Baseball America poll. And there are still some things to quibble with, given that Tennessee remains the only SEC East team that Georgia has won its series against this season. Not bad, though, for what was always going to be a rebuilding year. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt needs quite a bit of help even if they sweep. Both South Carolina and Florida hold the tie-breaker against the Commodores.

OLE MISS at ARKANSAS TV: Fri, 7 p.m. ET, CSS / CST

ERA OPS TV: Sat, 3:05 p.m. ET, CST
Ole Miss
5.29 .781 Miss: 4-8 on the road in SEC
Arkansas
3.48 .683 Ark: 8-4 at home in SEC

It feels odd to call a series between two teams with a combined 25-29 record a critical showdown, but this is the West that we're talking about. It is a study in contrasting ways to mediocrity; Ole Miss has a decent offense but one of the worst pitching staffs in the conference, while the Hogs can pitch but can't hit worth a lick. Who knows how that turns out? Then again, that's what we've been saying about the SEC West as a whole. So it seems more than a little apropos.

LSU at MISSISSIPPI STATE
TV: Thurs, 7 p.m. ET, CSS

ERA OPS LSU: 4-8 v West
LSU 5.21 .736 LSU: Missed SEC tourney once since '84
Mississippi State
5.19 .720 Miss St: 7-5 v West

This could end up being a close series, and it will be played with something on the line for both teams. What will be on the line is difficult to tell, given just how big a mess the West is in right now. But the Western Division Bulldogs are the only one of the two that can actually win the division, so they probably have more to gain than the Tigers. But LSU has more to lose; the Bayou Bengals need at least a series win to have any chance of making the SEC tournament. Given their impressive pedigree, that's got to count for something.

AUBURN at TENNESSEE
No TV

ERA OPS Auburn: 5-7 v East
Auburn 5.75 .784 Tenn: 3-9 v West
Tennessee
6.67 .580 Tenn: Lost 11 straight SEC games

If the SEC West is looking for a trump card to play when the East makes fun of it, there this: Tennessee. The Vols are unquestionably the worst team in the conference, sporting the worst team ERA and OPS to go along with the worst record. So if you were wondering why this is the only series that's not getting at least one game televised somewhere, that's why. That also works to Auburn's advantage in the race for the SEC West, one that could be decisive. And the other teams would have no one to blame but themselves.

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