SEC Baseball Roundup: Division Races Taking Shape and Missouri Wins a Series

USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, LSU takes a plunge along with its offensive numbers and Tennessee is headed back to the bottom of the SEC East

Division Standings

TEAM SEC OVERALL GB TEAM SEC OVERALL GB
Florida Gators 6-3 19-9 -- Alabama Crimson Tide
6-3 19-8 --
South Carolina Gamecocks
6-3 24-3 -- Mississippi St. Bulldogs
6-3 20-10 --
Vanderbilt Commodores
5-4 23-6 1.0 Auburn Tigers
5-4 19-10 1.0
Kentucky Wildcats
4-5 19-9 2.0 Arkansas Razorbacks
4-5 17-10 2.0
Georgia Bulldogs
3-5-1 16-12-1 2.5 Ole Miss Rebels
4-5 21-8 2.0
Tennessee Volunteers
3-6 19-7 3.0 Texas A&M Aggies
4-5 18-11 2.0
Missouri Tigers 3-6 13-13 3.0 LSU Tigers
3-5-1 20-8-1 2.5

Well, this is a bit different than what we had last week. The East and West both seem to be sorting themselves out a bit, with a top tier of two or three teams in each division and a few more teams that are by no means out of the race. It's still early, of course; teams have gotten off to starts right along the lines of 3-6 and bounced back to capture the division, but it's a long road when you've fallen that far behind.

The label of "surprise team of the season" goes this week (because it seems to change every week) to Alabama, which is tied with Mississippi State for the division lead in the West. Past contenders for the title, including Tennessee, are all now back to below .500 on the season and starting to face questions about just how good their hot starts really were.

Order Restored

Whenever a team rides walk-off home runs to win both halves of a double-header (technically a 1.5-header, since the first game Saturday was finishing up a delayed game from Friday), you have to wonder if what they're doing is sustainable or just lucky. But for now, South Carolina is once again one of the leaders of the pack in the SEC East after sweeping Tennessee in a series that deepened the questions about the Vols' hot start.

Things certainly look to be back in order for South Carolina. Jordan Montgomery pitched seven solid innings on Friday, allowing two runs (one unearned) on four hits while striking out six. Grayson Greiner had seen hits on the weekend, including the walk-off, two-out grand slam that capped off a six-run ninth inning in the second game on Saturday. That got him player of the week honors from the SEC, as you might imagine.

Whether the Gamecocks are lucky or not, though, this points to a recurring issue for Tennessee: A bullpen that has struggled at times to lock down a lead. That's one reason -- but not the only one -- that the Volunteers have lost five of their last six games, all SEC contests, and are now returning to a much more familiar place near the bottom of the SEC East.

Tigers Offense Tamed

For years, LSU baseball has been almost synonymous with offense: Baton Rouge was where the term "Gorilla ball" got its start, and some of the most vigorous opponents of the new bats that I've encountered on Twitter are LSU fans. The Bayou Bengals' fans expect runs.

And right now, the Tigers aren't obliging. LSU currently ranks dead last in batting average (.212) and on-base percentage (.282) in SEC games and ranks 13th in slugging percentage (.280). The Bengals have scored more than three runs in three of their nine SEC games, with their seven runs Sunday -- in the last of three straight losses to Florida -- marking the most LSU has scored in a conference contest this year.

So Aaron Nola pitched 8.2 innings of beautiful baseball Friday, making maybe two mistakes -- both of them solo home runs, and between the two of them enough for the Gators to win. When the staff ace pitches that well against a team that ends the weekend in a tie for the lead in the SEC East, you have to win those games.

Meanwhile, Florida seems to be regaining its balance after a rocky start to the season. The Gators have now won four straight, including a midweek game against Florida State, but face a pair of potential make-or-break series over the next two weeks: at Kentucky and at South Carolina.

Tide Rolls Into First Place

Alabama's roller-coaster of a season kept going this weekend. The Tide started the conference schedule taking two of three from an average-to-solid Kentucky team, then lost of two of three to an average Arkansas team, and has now swept Ole Miss when the Rebels look -- or at least looked -- like legit contenders for the SEC West.

It wasn't all good times for Alabama this weekend. Spencer Turnbull got knocked around for six runs over 6.2 innings Friday, and the Tide committed four errors Saturday. On the other hand, Jon Keller allowed one run in a complete game Sunday.

For its part, Ole Miss has now lost four straight and six of its last 10. After having benefited from some good fortune in close early-season games, the Rebels are now going through a wicked regression to the mean: Three of its five SEC losses were by one run each, and the other two losses came in a pair of two-run games.

Beede Luck

Tyler Beede can't catch a break. In his first conference outing for Vanderbilt, against LSU, he allowed just two runs -- neither earned -- in 7.1 innings of work. His team didn't provide much in the way of run support, and Beede lost the game. In his second SEC game, Beede did allow 11 runs -- but six of those were unearned, the result of four errors in Beede's 2.2 innings. (Beede also got little run support, but it doesn't quite matter as much when you lose 17-2.)

And on this past Friday, Beede pitched five solid innings, allowed three earned runs -- and ended up losing a game in which his own team scored twice. Sure, his last two performances have not been sterling, but the Commodores seem to have trouble scoring at all when Beede is on the mound.

No trouble for the Commodores, though; Vanderbilt cranked out 15 runs in the last two games to easily win the series. Beating Kentucky -- a team that just last week took two out of three from South Carolina -- is as clear a sign as Vanderbilt could send that the SEC East is going to be at least a three-team race this year.

MISSOURI WINS A SERIES

Auburn, let's talk. You started out so well. A respectable 4-2 record in the SEC. Sure, there were some stumbles in the nonconference slate, but that happens. You were looking like a surefire NCAA tournament team -- and I don't mean to discourage you, because you still might get there.

But losing two to Missouri? Losing a series -- to Missouri? At home? That's not something that should be happening to a potential NCAA tournament team. Your four errors on Thursday -- the ones that basically allowed Missouri to win that game -- brought you to 43 on the season, the most in the SEC. (Fortunately, until now, the vast majority of those errors had occurred in non-SEC games.)

Then, on Saturday, you managed two runs -- against a team that has an ERA of 4.68 in SEC games, dead last in the conference. In that game, you batted .194 -- rounding up -- against a pitching staff that has allowed conference opponents to hit at a .289 clip. At least you won the Sunday game, 7-3 -- after committing three errors.

And congratulations to Missouri for winning an SEC series before just about anyone thought you would. And with Georgia coming to Columbia (MO) next week, it's not out of the question for the other other Tigers to win two SEC series in a row.

Back to Form

If LSU is looking for company in the offensively-challenged category, they have it in Arkansas. The Razorbacks' four runs in their Friday win was the third-most runs they've scored in their nine SEC games -- and the Hogs promptly returned to familiar category after that, scoring one run each in the last two games of the series against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs won both of those games, as you might imagine.

All of which continues Mississippi State's resurgence from early-season punching bag -- a projected national title contender that split its series with Holy Cross -- back to SEC West contender. Ross Mitchell continues to do Ross Mitchell things, throwing nine innings of four-hit ball in the second game of a Saturday double-header to get the shutout. There are some potentially challenging series ahead -- including the home tilt with Ole Miss in two weeks and the season-ender in Tuscaloosa -- but State is looking for the moment to be a lot closer to the team everyone thought they'd be.

Georgia Passes Tennessee

Hey, Georgia won a series as well. What do you know? They were likely helped by the fact that Texas A&M committed two errors in each of the three games that the two teams played, but when you're Georgia, you take the wins any way you can get them. The Dawgs now actually have a better record than Tennessee, which no one saw coming after about the third week of the nonconference season.

As far as Texas A&M goes, they still have Daniel Mengden pitching well and losing. In this case, he went 7.1 innings, gave up just two runs on three hits while striking out 10 -- and lost when Georgia pushed across the winning run in the ninth.

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