Around the Bases: Kentucky Keeps Rolling Forward, Auburn's Another Surprise and South Carolina's in Trouble // 03.26.12

Aroundthebases2010_medium

Baseball is like any other sport in at least one respect -- you expect the division races to make more sense as the season goes on. But both divisions in the SEC so far have decided to go ahead and blow up that theory this year.

SEC EAST SEC WEST
Overall SEC GB Overall SEC GB
Kentucky 24-1 5-1 -- Arkansas 22-3 5-1 --
Florida 22-2 5-1 -- Auburn 15-9 4-2 1.0
Georgia 17-8 3-3 2.0 LSU 18-6 3-3 2.0
Tennessee 13-10 2-4 3.0 Mississippi 17-7 3-3 2.0
Vanderbilt
9-15 2-4 3.0 Mississippi St. 17-8 3-3 2.0
South Carolina
17-7 1-5 4.0 Alabama 9-15 1-5 4.0

Of course, there's the surface reason that none of this makes sense -- Kentucky and Auburn are either tied for or fighting for the lead in their respective divisions, while Vanderbilt and South Carolina are locked in a spirited contest with Tennessee for the bottom of the SEC East. (Sorry, Alabama fans, but your plight was really not all that unexpected.) But really, after the top two in each division, the whole thing is a mess. South Carolina might be four out of the lead in the East, but the Gamecocks are only two games behind everyone else. The same is true for Alabama -- though, again, no one really expects Alabama to make up the ground; South Carolina has to at least be viewed as dangerous. And there are no fewer than three teams sitting at .500 even in the West.

With a ten-team tournament this year in Hoover, all it really means is that no team is yet out of the hunt for the SEC tournament. And it seems like for all but a handful of teams, that's going to have to be the goal. We just don't quite know who that handful is in the SEC West.

Florida at South Carolina
Thursday Friday Saturday
South Carolina 9, Florida 3
Florida 8, South Carolina 2
Florida 5, South Carolina 4

Going into the season, one of the strengths of South Carolina's run to a third straight national championship was supposed to be its pitching. So much for all of that. The five runs a game being given up in SEC games isn't necessarily dreadful for college baseball -- but the Gamecocks tend to give up those runs in bunches or at the worst possible times, and it cuts across the bullpen and the starters -- from the five-run first inning Friday courtesy of starter Forrest Koumas to the two-run ninth Saturday against Matt Price, who was moved back to his role as closer to try to keep South Carolina's season from imploding by early April. Already, the East is already on the verge of being out of the question for South Carolina -- winning in Hoover and making another run through the NCAAs might be the best the Gamecocks can do. As for Florida, it's another win against one of the two teams that were supposed to be in the running for the division. If only that other team hadn't cropped up along the way.

NEXT FOR FLORIDA: vs. Florida State (Jacksonville, Tuesday); at Ole Miss (Weekend)
NEXT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA: at The Citadel (Tuesday); at Vanderbilt (Weekend)

Kentucky at Tennessee
Friday Saturday-Sunday Sunday (7 inn)
Tennessee 4, Kentucky 1
Kentucky 6, Tennessee 2
Kentucky 6, Tennessee 0

The odds of Kentucky going undefeated for the entire season, of course, were so infinitesimal as to not warrant mentioning here. So the best thing possible would be to take a loss on the road and then start another winning streak by taking two in a row to win the series -- mission accomplished. The 'Cats are tearing up the diamond about as well as their more-watched basketball counterparts are rolling through the tournament. At this point, it's become almost cliched to simply admit that Kentucky is for real; it's time to start a serious discussion about just how far the Cats can go. Even the flukey nature of the last two games (because of weather delays and the SEC's travel policies) didn't keep Kentucky from taking both of them. Tennessee, meanwhile, has to get some credit for being the first team to manage to get the Wildcats into the losing column -- and giving themselves a lead in the race for Hoover for now. They have a chance to solidify that lead with the First Friday, Saturday and Sunday in April coming up.

NEXT FOR KENTUCKY: Western Kentucky (Tuesday); at Georgia (Weekend)
NEXT FOR TENNESSEE: Mississippi Valley State (Tuesday, Wednesday); Alabama (Weekend)

Georgia at Vanderbilt
Friday Saturday Sunday
Georgia 1, Vanderbilt 0
Vanderbilt 5, Georgia 4
Vanderbilt 5, Georgia 3

The bad news for Georgia is that Dawgs were swept by Vanderbilt. The good news for the Dawgs -- um, let me get back to you on that. There really isn't much of an upside to losing to the Commodores. Part of that is because Vanderbilt had yet to win an SEC game or a game of much import before facing Georgia -- now they have their first SEC series win of the year and raised questions about Georgia in the process. David Perno is sticking with his philosophy of using as many pitchers as possible; the Dawgs chalked up a total of 13 appearances over the weekend, with no game seeing fewer than four pitchers take the mound for Georgia. Given the fact that Vanderbilt scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth Saturday and four runs in the bottom of the eighth Sunday, there is reason to ask whether the strategy is working. As for Vanderbilt, the key issue is whether the wins can finally get a young but talented team headed in the right direction. The series against South Carolina this weekend could be an elimination series for both when it comes to Hoover.

NEXT FOR GEORGIA: Clemson (Tuesday); Kentucky (Weekend)
NEXT FOR VANDERBILT: Tennessee Tech (Tuesday); South Carolina (Weekend)

Arkansas at Mississippi State
Friday Saturday Sunday
Mississippi State 11, Arkansas 2
Arkansas 8, Mississippi State 0
Arkansas 8, Mississippi State 5

Chris Stratton did a great job of controlling Arkansas on Friday, allowing just two runs over seven innings of work. Nick Routt started in a similar groove Saturday, allowing no runs over the first four innings of the series' second game. And then things started to go wrong for the Bulldogs very, very quickly -- and they soon found themselves losing the series to Arkansas. Not that there's much to be ashamed of there; the Western Division Bulldogs do have the first win against Arkansas all year and are right in the thick of things in the SEC West (along with almost everyone else in the division). But things don't get much easier with the Dogs headed to Auburn this weekend.

NEXT FOR ARKANSAS: at LSU (Weekend)
NEXT FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE: Alcorn State (Tuesday); at Auburn (Weekend)

LSU at Auburn
Friday Saturday (10 inn)
Sunday
Auburn 4, LSU 3
Auburn 3, LSU 2
LSU 4, Auburn 3

If it weren't for Kentucky's near-perfect run, the surprise story of the SEC so far would be how the consensus pick for the bottom of the SEC West has now won its first two SEC series. Sure, it's early -- but it wouldn't have been surprising at the end of the season if Auburn had won just two series all year. Or even, if things had really gone south somewhere in the season, none at all. Leading the way is Ryan Tella, whose 1.120 OPS is pretty impressive as the aluminium bats become more and more like their wood counterparts. Tella added five more hits over the weekend series and drove in the winning run Friday. The team ERA of 3.14 is also pretty good for the college game -- and given that only four of this weekend's LSU runs were earned (I know, ERA is flawed), it looks like the guys on the mound are ready for SEC competition as well.

NEXT FOR LSU: Louisiana-Lafayette (Wednesday); Arkansas (Weekend)
NEXT FOR AUBURN: at Samford (Tuesday); Mississippi State (Weekend)

Ole Miss at Alabama
Friday Saturday Sunday
Ole Miss 11, Alabama 7
Alabama 3, Ole Miss 2
Ole Miss 8, Alabama 4

Friday wasn't necessary the best day for Austin Anderson, shortstop for Ole Miss. He committed three errors. But that's usually offset when the team has a seven-run inning, as Ole Miss did in the top of the seventh to break open what had been a 4-4 tie. That was part of a very bad day for Jake Hubbard, who faced five batters in the seventh inning without recording an out -- and giving up five earned runs in the process. The series as a whole had more than its share of late-game heroics; the Tide won on a two-run walk-off homer on Saturday and Ole Miss scored four in the eighth and tacked on two more in the ninth on Sunday. Um, bullpens?

NEXT FOR OLE MISS: Jackson State (Tuesday); Florida (Weekend)
NEXT FOR ALABAMA: at UAB (Tuesday); at Tennessee (Weekend)

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