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Around the Bases: The East Has a Favorite; But the West ...


In our last installment two weeks ago -- sorry about that -- Alabama was running away with the SEC West and there was no clear leader in the East. Since then, things have changed.

The East is still close, though South Carolina's one-game lead is more impressive than it looks in the standings, built in part on winning the team's series against both Vanderbilt and Florida. There will be no easy catching up for either of the Gamecocks' rivals, especially considering that two of South Carolina's five remaining conference series are against opponents who are below .500. And the rest of those games are against West teams that are above .500, which is almost as bad.

Overall SEC GB Overall SEC GB
South Carolina
28-7 12-3 -- Alabama 24-15 8-7 --
Florida 28-9 11-4 1.0 Arkansas 26-9 8-7 --
32-5 11-4 1.0 Mississippi 23-14 8-7 --
Georgia 19-18 9-6 3.0 Auburn 20-15 7-8 1.0
Tennessee 21-15 4-11 8.0 Mississippi State
22-14 6-9 2.0
Kentucky 17-20 2-13 10.0 LSU
23-14 4-11 4.0

Speaking of ... the West is a bit of a mess right now. Part of this is because Alabama got swept in a doubleheader against Tennessee -- at home. Whatever you think of Tennessee and Vanderbilt in football, swap that around for baseball, which gives you an idea of how bad being swept in a doubleheader at home by Tennessee is. The Tide did win the first game of the series in the Thursday Night Baseball game this week.

We are now at the halfway point of the baseball conference season, so what does all of this mean?

Vanderbilt at South Carolina
South Carolina 3, Vanderbilt 1
Vanderbilt 6, South Carolina 4
South Carolina 5, Vanderbilt 3

South Carolina long ago showed that, if the Gamecocks are going to repeat as national champions this year, it's going to be based on their pitching. So in what might be the most important SEC series of the year to this point, it was the guys throwing the ball who once again played the most important roles. Michael Roth spun a beautiful 7.2 innings Friday, fanning eight and walking two while allowing just three hits. Both teams' bullpens actually pitched pretty well Saturday, with the starters being charged with all the earned runs -- though, in fairness, South Carolina reliever Bryan Harper contributed to some of those runs scoring in his brief appearance. On Sunday, the Vanderbilt bullpen did not pitch quite so well. Two separate relievers were charged with an earned run each despite not recording an out as part of a four-run seventh inning that swung the game and the series. South Carolina closer Matt Price pitched three shutout innings to sew up the win.

NEXT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA: at College of Charleston (Tuesday); at Mississippi State (Weekend)

Tennessee at Alabama
Alabama 8, Tennessee 2
Tennessee 2, Alabama 1 (7)
Tennessee 1, Alabama 0 (7)

Having scored eight runs in a rout of Tennessee on Thursday, the Alabama defense decided to go into hibernation on Saturday. The Tide got nine hits in 14 innings Saturday, making it unnecessary for Tennessee to score -- and the Vols obliged by avoiding putting runs on the board. If Alabama goes on to collapse out of serious division contention, this could be remembered as the weekend it started. As for Tennessee, all this weekend proved is that they are in the wrong division. With the same record as LSU, they are twice as far out of the division lead -- after winning a series against the SEC West co-leader on the road.

NEXT FOR TENNESSEE: Western Carolina (Wednesday); Georgia (Weekend)
NEXT FOR ALABAMA: at Samford (Tuesday); at Florida (Weekend)

Florida at Georgia
Florida 5, Georgia 4
Georgia 7, Florida 2
Florida 14, Georgia 7

Everybody's on-base percentage took a jump after this series, which featured 75 hits and 17 walks in three games. The final game along featured 33 knocks of some variety, including 17 from Florida on Sunday as Georgia burned through eight pitchers in a fruitless attempt to stop the onslaught. None of Florida's starters pitched particularly poorly, but the bullpen obviously had a disastrous day on Saturday, when a six-run inning gave the Dawgs the win. Georgia, meanwhile, continues to bump along. But the Dawgs still have enough relatively easy series ahead that they could finish up the season strong.

NEXT FOR FLORIDA: at UCF (Wednesday); Alabama (Weekend)
NEXT FOR GEORGIA: Clemson (Wednesday); at Tennessee (Weekend)

Auburn at LSU
Auburn 8, LSU 7
Auburn 3, LSU 1
LSU 3, Auburn 2

If starter Ben Alsup had coughed up the LSU lead on Sunday before Matty Ott came in for the easiest possible save -- needing one out ... But the coughing-up never happened, Ott slammed the door shut in a hair-raising third of an inning, and LSU avoided a sweep against an Auburn team that just a few weeks ago had been left for dead. (Anyone voting to keep LSU in the rankings this week should have to either give their reasons or be summarily thrown out of whatever poll they're voting in.) There was reason for nervousness on Sunday for LSU; Auburn scored the winning runs in the final inning on Friday and Saturday. The question about Saturday is why LSU waited to bring Ott in until it was too late.

NEXT FOR AUBURN: South Alabama (Tuesday); Ole Miss (Weekend)
NEXT FOR LSU: vs.Southern Miss (Wednesday); at Vanderbilt (Weekend)

Kentucky at Ole Miss
Ole Miss 3, Kentucky 2
Ole Miss 12, Kentucky 10
Ole Miss 6, Kentucky 5

Ole Miss has put itself back in the center of the race for the SEC West. A series against Kentucky will do that for you. Saturday was the barn-burner, with 28 combined hits and seven total errors fueling the 22-run slugfest. (The seven walks didn't help.) Aside from that, a decent team hosted Kentucky and swept the Wildcats. There's really not much news in that.

NEXT FOR KENTUCKY: at Western Kentucky (Tuesday); Arkansas (Weekend)
NEXT FOR OLE MISS: vs. Mississippi State (non-conference game) (Tuesday); at Auburn (Weekend)

Mississippi State at Arkansas
Arkansas 6, Mississippi State 5
Arkansas 6, Mississippi State 1
Mississippi State 5, Arkansas 3

Neither of the bullpens gave up a run in this series until Sunday, when Luis Pollorena gave up a run in three innings of work after coming in with two outs. In the first. (He actually got the win, while Caleb Reed got the save for 5.1 scoreless innings. Your lesson here, of course, is that the win has always been a completely worthless statistic.) In any case, Arkansas appears to have joined some of its division rivals in finally waking up in the race for the SEC West. This could be an entertaining race down the stretch.

NEXT FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE: vs. Ole Miss (non-conference game) (Tuesday); South Carolina (Weekend)
NEXT FOR ARKANSAS: at Oral Roberts (Tuesday); at Kentucky (Weekend)