SEC Baseball: Around the Bases Sees Order Being Restored

Aroundthebases2010_medium

Think back almost one month exactly. That was when this blog said that "the East is already on the verge of being out of the question for South Carolina." The Gamecocks had won a single game, though they had also faced the top two teams in the SEC East. But the chances that both Kentucky and Florida were going to lose enough -- and even a team as talented as South Carolina was going to win enough -- to get the defending national champions back into the division race were remote, at best. Not remote enough, it seems.

SEC EAST SEC WEST
Overall SEC GB Overall SEC GB
Kentucky 36-9 14-7 -- LSU 35-10 14-7 --
South Carolina
33-11 14-7 -- Arkansas 31-13 11-10 3.0
Florida 33-12 12-9 2.0 Ole Miss
28-16 10-11 4.0
Georgia 25-20 9-12 5.0 Mississippi State
27-17 10-11 4.0
Vanderbilt
21-23 9-12 5.0 Auburn 25-19 10-11 4.0
Tennessee
22-22 7-14 7.0 Alabama 17-28 6-15 8.0

The reasons for all this are pretty obvious. South Carolina's schedule had to get easier after playing Kentucky and Florida, while Kentucky was on a pace that was probably unsustainable even for a program more used to the rarefied air the Cats were in. This weekend could very well determine who will be standing for the final dances toward the division title; Kentucky plays Florida while South Carolina squares off with Arkansas.

Which -- if we can ignore the lesson we should have learned with the Gamecocks -- is increasingly unlikely to win the SEC West. LSU's three-game lead gives them at least one off series and the Razorbacks have already blown their chance in the head-to-head against the Bayou Bengals; they got swept. So they have to win the games back one at a time at this point.

There are two teams on elimination watch this week as far as the divisions go, though at this point eliminating Tennessee and Alabama from the division picture is nothing more than a formality. And unless they get very hot very quickly, it's looking like the Vols and the Tide could be the teams sitting at home when the SEC tournament gets underway almost a month from now. Then again, a lot can change in a month.

Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Friday Saturday
Sunday
Kentucky 5, Vanderbilt 2
Vanderbilt 4, Kentucky 3
Vanderbilt 6, Kentucky 1

This marks the first time that Kentucky has lost an SEC series on the year, which is a pretty remarkable achievement in and of itself. The fact that Kentucky was "surprised" by Vanderbilt in Nashville is a sign of just how upside-down the season has been for both of these teams. The loss came via an epic bullpen meltdown in the eighth inning of Sunday's game, when Alex Phillips and Trevor Gott combined to allow five runs on two hits, which is an accomplishment of its own if you think about it. (Two walks, a hit by pitch and one of the hits being a home run helped quite a bit.) The Wildcats had just tied the game in the top of the eighth when it happened. Kentucky finally finds itself on a slide, losing three of its last four games, while Vanderbilt has won four of its last five going into a critical series against the hated Vols this weekend.

NEXT FOR KENTUCKY: Florida (Weekend, Thu.-Sat.)
NEXT FOR VANDERBILT: at Tennessee (Weekend)

Georgia at LSU
Friday Saturday
Sunday
LSU 6, Georgia 5
LSU 8, Georgia 4
Georgia 5, LSU 3

Here's a noteworthy factoid from this series: In every game, the team that scored in the eighth inning won the game. Of course, LSU scored winning runs in the eighth inning on Friday and Saturday, while Georgia just tacked on an insurance run in Sunday's showdown -- details. What's astonishing is that the two-run eighth in Friday's game saved LSU from a pair of errors and the six-run eighth in Saturday's contest helped overcome three Tigers errors in that one. (New fun fact: Whoever committed the most errors in each of these three games ended up winning.) Raph Rhymes ends the weekend batting exactly .500, which as you might imagine leads the league. Pity Alex Yarbrough of Ole Miss, who's hitting.420 and has to be wondering what he has to do to win a batting title. Rhymes is also slugging .628, second in the SEC and another sign that Matt Kemp wants to be Raph Rhymes when he grows up.

NEXT FOR GEORGIA: Auburn (Weekend)
NEXT FOR LSU: Tulane (Tuesday); at Ole Miss (Weekend)

Arkansas at Florida
Friday Saturday
Sunday (10 inn.)
Florida 3, Arkansas 2
Arkansas 5, Florida 1
Arkansas 3, Florida 1

Florida is the third leading running-scoring team in the SEC -- even after this series. That should put into perspective what the Razorbacks' pitching staff did in the last two games of this series. Of course, that's not really anything new for Arkansas, whose pitchers lead the conference in ERA. Immovable object wins. For Arkansas, the series win at least keeps them within striking distance of LSU for the West. The Razorbacks have now won four of their last five games. And the loss could prove nearly fatal to Florida's division hopes, though the Gators still have the trump card of a series against Kentucky this weekend. That one's the Thursday Night Baseball series, which is fitting. It just might end up being one of the most important regular-season series played in the SEC this year. Meanwhile, the Hogs get a taste of a future SEC series with a pair of games against Missouri before the big showdown with South Carolina.

NEXT FOR ARKANSAS: Missouri (Tues.-Wed.); South Carolina (Weekend)
NEXT FOR FLORIDA: at Kentucky (Weekend, Thu.-Sat.)

Alabama at South Carolina
Thurs.-Fri. Friday
Saturday
South Carolina 1, Alabama 0
South Carolina 12, Alabama 11
South Carolina 9, Alabama 1

Spencer Turnbull had a no-hitter through seven innings on Thursday when rain in Columbia forced the game to be suspended. The first batter for South Carolina when the game resumed on Friday, Adam Matthews, promptly smacked a home run that would be the Gamecocks' only hit of the game off reliever Jon Keller. It was enough. Despite that, Alabama came back later Friday and took an 11-9 lead into the ninth when that odd creature, a walk-off error, ended a three-run comeback to give South Carolina yet another almost unlikely win to add to the lengthy list the program has compiled over the last three years. You almost can't blame Alabama for essentially folding on Saturday, giving South Carolina its third straight SEC sweep after going the first month of the season without one.

NEXT FOR ALABAMA: Mississippi State (Weekend)
NEXT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA: Davidson (Wednesday); at Arkansas (Weekend)

Ole Miss at Mississippi State
Friday Saturday
Sunday
Mississippi State 4, Ole Miss 0
Ole Miss 6, Mississippi State 2
Mississippi State 4, Ole Miss 2

Two pitchers in the bookend games of this series could not have had more different weekends. Chris Stratton put together nine beautiful innings for Mississippi State on Friday night, scattering five hits over a complete-game shutout. He struck out seven and walked just one. Were it not for Turnbull's effort, it might have been the best outing of the weekend. On the other side of the spectrum was Ole Miss' Tanner Bailey's start on Sunday, when he got just 16 pitches before being yanked. Of course, 16 pitches was all Bailey needed to allow a hit, two walks and a hit batsman. By the time the inning was over, four runs and the eventual loss were charged to Bailey. Four more Mississippi State batters, by the way, would be plunked by the Rebel Black Bears' pitching staff before the game was over.

NEXT FOR OLE MISS: vs. Southern Miss (Tuesday; Pearl, Miss.); Murray State (Wednesday); LSU (Weekend)
NEXT FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE: at Alabama (Weekend)

Tennessee at Auburn
Friday Saturday
Sunday
Auburn 12, Tennessee 5
Auburn 12, Tennessee 3
Auburn 11, Tennessee 4

It will probably not surprise you to learn that the Vols' pitching staff now sports the second-to-last ERA in the SEC. (The worst mark belongs to the rival Tide.) Allowing 35 runs in a weekend tends to inflate your ERA. At least two of the runs in Sunday's contest were unearned, which is about the only positive from having five errors this weekend. Auburn dropped at least four runs on the Vols in a single inning in each of this weekend's games: Seven in the bottom of the eighth Friday to blow open what had been a tie game; six in the bottom of the fourth on Saturday to all but end that game; and four in the bottom of the eighth (again) Sunday to put the contest out of reach. At least it looks like Tennessee, losers of 10 of its last 12 SEC games, won't have to worry about the starting pitching past the end of the regular season.

NEXT FOR TENNESSEE: Vanderbilt (Weekend)
NEXT FOR AUBURN: at Georgia (Weekend)

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