|Florida Gators||3-3||15-9||--||Auburn Tigers
|South Carolina Gamecocks||3-3||19-3||--||Mississippi St. Bulldogs||4-2||17-9||--|
|Tennessee Volunteers||3-3||19-4||--||LSU Tigers
|Vanderbilt Commodores||3-3||20-5||--||Arkansas Razorbacks
||1-4-1||14-10-1||1.5||Alabama Crimson Tide
|Missouri Tigers||1-5||11-12||2.0||Texas A&M Aggies||3-3||17-8||1.0|
The SEC East in baseball this season is starting to look like the SEC in football in 2010. Five teams are tied at 3-3, which each of them having given us reasons to think they could win it and each of them having given us reasons to think they could end up far behind. Some of this will start working itself out as the teams in the East start to play each other more, but this is where we stand for now.
Things are a little clearer in the West, but only slightly. No one is really out of the running yet, but at least there are only three teams tied for the lead. Then again, LSU's tie might end up mattering a lot more in the division than Georgia's will mean the East, given the hole the Dawgs are already starting to dig for themselves.
Kentucky Clubs Carolina
Coming into this series, South Carolina's pitching staff had allowed 31 runs in 19 games. That was a key part of the Gamecocks' 18-1 start to the season and one of the reasons that South Carolina had vaulted to the Top 3 in virtually every college baseball poll. And then they visited Lexington.
Cliff Hagan Stadium has proven to be kryptonite for South Carolina in recent seasons. Outside of Lexington, the Gamecocks are 30-12 against Kentucky. In Lexington, they're 15-22. Kentucky had won five straight games against South Carolina at home before this weekend's series. And that had reached seven straight by the time Saturday's game was over.
It started with a blowout. Kentucky cranked out 14 hits, drew three walks and benefited from four South Carolina errors in a 13-5 win on Friday. Jordan Montgomery, who was expected to be the cornerstone of the Gamecocks' rotation, now has a 13.50 ERA in two SEC starts. Not that Montgomery alone should shoulder the burden for the two-game skid against the Wildcats. The Gamecocks stranded 10 batters in a 2-1 loss on Saturday and didn't manage to capitalize on any of the three Kentucky errors. South Carolina did manage an 8-3 win on Sunday, but their status as contenders for Omaha had already taken on water by then.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats' offense continued to show that it can be high-octane -- see the 13 runs on Friday -- but also inconsistently so -- see the five runs over the final two games. If nothing else, Kentucky sent a message to the rest of the division that it doesn't plan on going anywhere. With a trip to Vanderbilt and a home series against Florida coming up over the next two weekends, we'll see whether they can keep up.
So, Is Mississippi State 'Back'?
One of the more surprising face plants of the early season was performed by Mississippi State, which failed to impress in the non-conference schedule and was 13-7 before SEC play -- not terrible, but not the look of the national title contenders that the Western Division Bulldogs were supposed to be.
But Mississippi State has turned a corner just at the right time, following up a series win against mediocre Georgia with a series win against Vanderbilt, one of the top teams in the SEC East. The Bulldogs demolished the Commodores in the first game, cranking out 14 hits, drawing nine walks and taking advantage of five Vanderbilt errors in the 17-2 victory. Tyler Beede lasted just 2.2 innings after allowing 11 runs, five of them earned.
The Commodores did rally behind a strong effort from Tyler Ferguson to get the win Sunday. But they remain stuck at .500 in the conference, like everyone else in the knot atop the SEC East. The one thing Vanderbilt has going for it is that it has played LSU and Mississippi State, which is one of the more difficult slates among the contenders so far.
There's No Tying in Baseball
There are some good things LSU can take from what amounted to a bounce-back series after the loss to Vanderbilt last week. The Bengals' pitchers allowed just three runs all weekend, even if the offense sputtered at times. And winning two out of three any weekend is (generally speaking) a pretty good outcome. But there's the 2-2 tie in Sunday's game. Yes, a 13-inning tie.
No inning could start after 3:45 p.m. [local time] due to an SEC travel curfew rule, and the Tigers left the bases loaded in the final frame.
To an extent, the rule is understandable. Sunday is a "school night," so to speak, and lengthy trips like the one between Baton Rouge and Athens -- to give just one example -- means that a drive or flight that leaves too late would detract from academics, or at least the appearance that the conference cares about academics. But the game ended around 4 p.m. CT, 5 p.m. ET. It's hard to see how another hour could have hurt. Maybe it's time to nudge the curfew back a bit.
Auburn Makes a Move
The calendar changing from February to March has coincided with a change in Auburn's fortunes. The Tigers entered this month at 4-5. The are 13-3 since. Dillon Ortman and Keegan Thompson continued to pitch well, throwing a combined 14.1 innings in Friday and Saturday starts, allowing just three runs. Ortman struck out seven Friday in seven innings.
For Tennessee, meanwhile, it's time to start asking if what appeared to be a dream season for the Volunteers might be coming unglued. Tennessee dropped its SEC opening game against Missouri last weekend before winning the series, and now they lose their second conference series of the year. The looming showdown this weekend with South Carolina is starting to look like a potential elimination series as far as the SEC East title is concerned.
Texas A&M Wins a Close One
It's going to be hard to find a closer series than Florida-Texas A&M this year. The Friday and Sunday games went to 11 innings. In between, A&M won the second game by one run. In fact, when you throw in the Tuesday game against Columbia, the Aggies played three 11-inning games in the space of a week.
Daniel Mengden, meanwhile, seems to be pitching just well enough to keep his team in it and yet not get the win. Perhaps he should just skip the first inning, having given up two runs each against Auburn and Florida in weekend-opening frames. In all, Mengden has allowed seven runs in 14.2 innings against SEC hitting -- and has gotten three runs of support, all of them coming in his no-decision this weekend.
Ole Miss Plays With Fire, Enjoys It
The good news for the cardiac health of Ole Miss fans is that the Rebels decided to stop stringing together one-run wins. The bad news is that they still seem to enjoy cutting things just as close as they absolutely can.
Two of the Ole Miss' three wins this weekend against Missouri, which we should repeat for the benefit of those still catching up with the season is a truly bad baseball team, came in very close match-ups. One was a 4-3 win. The other was an 8-3 victory. How can an 8-3 win be seen as cutting it close? When six of the eight runs come in the bottom of the eighth, a cavalcade of runs that included six hits, an error, a hit batter and an intentional walk. The Rebels are good, but when any team goes 8-1 in one-run games and finds a way to make even the blowouts interesting, you have to wonder if it will come back to haunt them at some point.
What Is This 'Offense' of Which You Speak?
Arkansas has started out as one of the least offensively powerful teams in the SEC this season by a pretty far stretch. But the Razorbacks finally scored more than four runs for the third time in the month of March on Friday -- only to lose to Alabama 17-9. The Hogs then returned to form, winning the last two games of the series by a combined margin of 3-1.
The Friday game was truly something else. The 26 runs were the product of 26 hits, 13 walks, four wild pitches, two passed balls and seven hit batters. Oh, and three errors. Seven half-innings accounted for all of the runs, including a seven-run top of the sixth by Alabama. Ten pitchers tried (and largely failed) to stop the offense. Trey Killian put a stop to that nonsense the next day by holding Alabama to just one run in a complete-game four-hitter to get Arkansas back on track.