SEC baseball is a little bit harder to follow than SEC football in one respect: It's harder to know what the stakes are. But as we go into this weekend, there are a few teams with a lot on the line -- only LSU has locked up a bye in the SEC tournament -- and others who will at least be fighting for seeding.
Below is our attempt to highlight the biggest battles of the weekend, with all series beginning today and running through Saturday. The schedule is: Arkansas at Tennessee, Florida at Auburn, LSU at South Carolina, Georgia at Alabama, Kentucky at Mississippi State and Ole Miss at Vanderbilt. But the most interesting contests might be the ones that will play out between teams that aren't playing each other.
Your humble correspondent will keep this site updated throughout the weekend and also be tweeting quite a bit (@TeamSpeedKills) as the results start to roll in. If there's one weekend to watch SEC baseball, it's this one; we hope this viewer guide will help.
THE BATTLE FOR THE SEC: Kentucky (18-9), South Carolina (17-9), LSU (17-10), Florida (16-11)
The team with the simplest formula here is Kentucky: Win out and they claim their first outright SEC regular-season title. Period. (The Wildcats did share one with Alabama in 2006.) Anything less than a sweep and things get complicated.
For South Carolina, simply winning one more game than Kentucky (and LSU) will do the trick. That's because of the quirk of having played one fewer game than the Wildcats; it's essentially a half-game lead if South Carolina wins one more than Kentucky. It also cuts the other way if South Carolina wins the same number of games as Kentucky; if the Gamecocks had won that other game against Georgia, they could have divided the title with the Cats by winning the same number of games. And South Carolina can't tie for the title at all because of that lost game; it's either win the title out right or don't.
LSU is in a bit more interesting situation. Winning one more game than the Wildcats will give them a share of the title but guarantees nothing more. It could, indeed, end up with a three-way tie between the Tigers, the Cats and Florida if all three end up with 19. LSU either needs Kentucky to get swept, or to just win one while the Tigers sweep the Gamecocks.
Florida is the only team out of the four that, barring yet another rain-out of a South Carolina game, has no path to an undivided regular-season SEC title, and the reason is simple math: Someone is going to win two of the three games played between the Gamecocks and LSU. It's in the rules of baseball and everything. That means that even if Kentucky gets swept by Mississippi State and Florida sweeps Auburn, a South Carolina win in two of three games gives the Gamecocks the title and LSU winning two in the series would split the honors with Florida.
BATTLE FOR THE EASTERN DIVISION: Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida
This is the race within the race for the SEC title. The winner of this race can do no worse than a No. 2 seed in Hoover next week -- and the top two seeds now come with byes. Because each division winner gets one of the top two seeds, the best that either of the losers can hope for is the No. 3 seed, which has no game off attached to it. That's a huge difference in a baseball double-elimination tournament, when a fresh pitching staff can be the deciding factor.
Again, for Kentucky, the formula is relatively simple: Win. South Carolina still has the same goal as before, that being to win at least one more game than Kentucky.
Florida's situation is a bit more complicated. First of all, they have to win at least two more games than Kentucky -- they hold the tiebreaker, so simply evening the series with Kentucky would give them a share of the Eastern Division title and the bye via the tiebreaker. But that's not enough on its own. Florida also has to win at least two more games than South Carolina, so a win or sweep by LSU this weekend would be a huge help.
BATTLE FOR THE NO. 1 SEED: Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU
Unless I'm getting something wrong in the convoluted SEC tiebreaker process, Florida has been eliminated from getting the No. 1 seed no matter what happens. The formula for Kentucky is largely the same: If the Cats sweep the Western Division Bulldogs, they'll be the No. 1 seed in Hoover. (This is not as important as having one of the top two seeds, but it's also not nothing.)
South Carolina still needs the same thing, to win one more game than Kentucky and LSU.
LSU needs to win at least two more games than Kentucky, because the Wildcats have the tiebreaker thanks to winning the regular season. If the Bayou Bengals win just one more, they end up getting the No. 2 seed -- which is the worst LSU can do at this point.
A FEW OTHER NOTES:
- Kentucky and South Carolina are guaranteed the No. 3 and No. 4 seed no matter what happens, because none of the teams below them can catch up. The closest is Ole Miss at 14-13, and it can't catch up to Kentucky because it is mathematically impossible to win four games out of three, while South Carolina can do no worse than 17-12 and so would beat Ole Miss even if the Rebel Black Bears weep Vanderbilt and end up 17-13.
- Florida could end up all the way down in seventh place, though that's an unlikely scenario that involves them getting swept while Ole Miss, Georgia and Arkansas all sweep. But, yeah, No. 2 is the ceiling and No. 7 is the floor -- that's a pretty wide range.
- Georgia, interestingly enough, actually has a chance to get a decent seed out of this if everything falls their way because of the auto-tiebreaker they get from having played just 29 games. (Again, this could cut both ways, but we're trying to not get into calculus here.) If Ole Miss and Florida end up 16-14 or worse and Georgia sweeps Alabama -- a very distinct possibility -- Georgia would be 16-13 and would end up the No. 4 seed.
- Also still alive for the No. 4 seed are Ole Miss, Georgia and Arkansas. Mississippi State and Vanderbilt would lose out to Florida either in head-to-head tiebreakers or a three-team tie, so No. 5 is the best either can hope for. At 12-15, Auburn can do no better than the No. 6 seed.
- There are almost too many scenarios to calculate all the ways that the knot at the bottom of the tournament between Ole Miss (14-13), Georgia (13-13), Arkansas (13-14), Mississippi State (13-14), Vanderbilt (13-14) and Auburn (12-15) might turn out, especially if Florida ends up joining the mayhem. Suffice it to say that it could be a long night for folks in Birmingham trying to figure out who gets what seed.