One weekend in baseball can often be an aberration. Even two is a little shaky as far as any long-term projections. But after a couple of SEC series for all of the conference's teams, we can begin to take guesses as to who will be in the picture for the top seeds when the tournaments come around in May. One notable thing: Only five SEC teams are above .500 in the conference right now.
|SEC EAST||SEC WEST|
|Missouri Tigers||18-6||5-1||--||Texas A&M Aggies||24-1||5-1||--|
|Vanderbilt Commodores||19-5||5-1||--||LSU Tigers||21-3||4-2||1.0|
|South Carolina Gamecocks||18-6||4-2||1.0||Alabama Crimson Tide||13-9||3-3||2.0|
|Florida Gators||20-5||3-3||2.0||Ole Miss Rebels||13-10||3-3||2.0|
|Georgia Bulldogs||15-9||3-3||2.0||Mississippi St. Bulldogs||18-8||2-4||3.0|
|Kentucky Wildcats||15-8||2-4||3.0||Arkansas Razorbacks||11-11||1-5||4.0|
|Tennessee Volunteers||9-11||1-5||4.0||Auburn Tigers||15-9||1-5||4.0|
Missouri was riding high last week after a sweep of Georgia and a share of the division lead -- but that wasn't going to last, right? Perennial SEC power South Carolina was coming to town, and Georgia was still Georgia. One weekend would show the interlopers what they were in for, and order would be restored to the SEC East. So much for that narrative. Not only did the Tigers beat the Gamecocks, but Georgia swept Tennessee to show that while the Dawgs might not be the class of the division, they also aren't the dregs.
And while no one is ever out of a division race by March 23 in college baseball, things are certainly starting to look dire for Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn. If the SEC tournament started tomorrow, two of those three teams wouldn't get to go to Hoover. Kentucky and Mississippi State would also be hard-pressed to make a case to go to the NCAA playoff. Still, it's early yet.
Nobody's Perfect: Texas A&M at Alabama
As we touched on Saturday, Texas A&M took the series with Alabama and extended their record winning streak to 24 games by winning the opening two games of the series. Alabama busted that streak Saturday evening (the series finale was moved up due to impending weather) with a 6-2 win.
Alabama had the opportunity to make something of the series opener, as an unearned run got them within two runs with two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth. A&M induced a ground out to end the game with a pair of runners left on base and escape with a 4-2 win. The game was a pitchers' duel, with both starting pitchers, Grayson Long and Taylor Guilbeau, earning quality starts. The Aggies broke the tie after chasing Gulibeau in the seventh inning, as the Crimson Tide reliever Ray Castillo gave up a pair of runs of his own and an inherited runner from Guilbeau to give the Aggies a 4-1 lead.
A&M came back from trailing 5-3 in the seventh inning of the first game of Saturday's doubleheader to win 10-5. The Aggies had 16 hits, but left 13 runners on base. A&M had a balanced offensive output as eight different hitters got RBIs, led by Ryne Birk with two. Alabama's early lead chased the Texas A&M starter, but reliever Kyle Simonds went five scoreless innings to pick up the win.
Alabama opened Saturday's nightcap with four runs in the bottom of the first as the Crimson Tide chased A&M starter Turner Larkins after 0.2 innings. A&M responded with a run in each of the second and third innings, but were unable to make up any more of the early deficit. Geoffrey Bramblett went seven innings for the Tide, giving up one earned run and seven hits.
After a Tuesday trip to Texas-San Antonio, Texas A&M hosts Missouri next weekend in a battle of division leaders while Alabama travels to South Alabama on Tuesday and to Florida for the weekend.
Tigers Still on Top: South Carolina at Missouri
The series that might mark Missouri's emergence as a true contender came down mostly -- mostly -- to the bullpen's. The first game of the series featured solid performances from Missouri starter Reggie McClain (8.1 innings, two earned runs, five hits and three strikeouts) and South Carolina's Wil Crowe (8.0 innings -- Mizzou didn't bat in the ninth -- three runs, two earned, six hits, six strikeouts, two walks), and the winning run was unearned. But the relievers took over the weekend from there.
On Saturday, both Tanner Houck for Missouri and Jack Wynkoop for South Carolina left with the lead or a tie, only to watch their bullpens give the other team the lead in the 10th. But the Gamecocks' Taylor Widener allowed two runs in the bottom of the inning to give the Tigers the 4-3 win and the series.
On Sunday, it was South Carolina's Clarke Schmidt getting his team in trouble, allowing three (unearned) runs in the first inning and issuing four walks in1.2 innings before the bullpen contained the damage. Missouri's relievers, meanwhile, gave up five runs in four innings to blow a lead and allow the Gamecocks to salvage with a 7-5 win.
The bullpen woes should worry both teams to some extent, though maybe Missouri a little more. (The Tigers' relievers did give up runs in two crucial late-game situations, compared to one for South Carolina.) What will be interesting to watch going forward is which team this series tells us more about. Intuition and history suggest that it might be more about Missouri -- South Carolina is still the SEC team with the longest active streak of consecutive regional invitations, and there's not enough evidence to conclude that the Gamecocks are a bad team.
We should gain even more insight into the Tigers soon; a midweek two-game series against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday and Wednesday is followed by a tough trip to Texas A&M. The Gamecocks have a Tuesday trip to Coastal Carolina followed by a weekend home stand against Georgia.
The Commodores Keep Pace: Vanderbilt at Auburn
At some point, Auburn was going to win an SEC game. Well, there's no law of gravity requiring it -- but historical experience points strongly to the idea that the Tigers were going to win one. But they came darn close to winning two, and that's probably not something that they should be able to do against an SEC East contender.
Not that their win was exactly conventional. Auburn took the lead for good during Friday's game with a five-run sixth inning that featured three hits, two errors, three walks and a wild pitch. In a "other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" kind of way, Carson Fulmer only allowed one earned run and struck out eight in 5.2 innings for Vanderbilt. Auburn's Keegan Thompson also fanned eight and walked three, allowing seven hits and three runs over 6.2 innings.
The 2-3-4 combination of Damon Haecker, Jordan Ebert and Daniel Robert actually had a great day in a Saturday doubleheader, going a combined 13-for-25 at the plate with four walks. Alas, the Auburn pitching staff gave up 17 runs over those two games, making those heroics a moot point. Meanwhile, at least four batters had two hits a piece for Vanderbilt in both of the Saturday games. The note of concern for the Commodores about the two games on Saturday was Ben Bowden allowing three runs in the ninth to tie things up, though he bounced back nicely for a perfect tenth inning and the "win."
Vanderbilt goes to Murfreesboro on Tuesday for a game against Middle Tennessee State before facing off with the Volunteers over the weekend; Auburn begins a five-game road trip with a game at Georgia Tech and the weekend series in Starkville against a reeling Mississippi State team.
Picking up Poche': LSU at Arkansas
We've reached the time of the year when one SEC series begins on Thursday night for broadcasts. So maybe Jared Poche' was just confused by the shortened week, which would explain why the normally reliable starter gave up five earned runs on 10 hits in 3.2 innings in LSU's first game against Arkansas. To give you an idea of how out of character that was for the Bengals' starter, his ERA jumped from 2.32 to 3.37 in the course of that one performance, which turned into a 5-1 win for the Hogs.
No matter. The LSU offense took matters into its own hands over the next two games, pounding out 23 runs on 36 hits. Four Tigers batters ended up batting at least .500 on the weekend, including Mark Laird (7-for-14), Kade Scivicque (7-for-13), Andrew Stevenson (8-for-15, including going 7-for-11 in the last two games) and Chris Sciambra (5-for-10). Six Tigers had multi-hit games ... on Friday. Eight Arkansas pitchers tried to bring the Friday and Saturday assault to an end; all but one managed allowed at least two earned runs.
When it was over, LSU had a 16-3 victory and a 7-4 win to take the series and remain just a game behind the Aggies. Other teams might not allow the Tigers to bludgeon them like LSU clubbed Arkansas, but you have to figure that Poche' will only have so many truly bad outings -- which means LSU is still poised to win far more series than it loses. The Tigers still look like the best bet to catch up with Texas A&M.
In the meantime, LSU will travel to Tulane on Tuesday and then host Kentucky for the weekend series. The Hogs have a busy week, facing Memphis in Little Rock on Tuesday and Memphis on Wednesday before hosting Ole Miss for a weekend series that begins Thursday.
So Close to a Sweep: Florida at Ole Miss
Through six SEC games, it appears Ole Miss will go as its starting pitching goes. As such, the Rebels got a pair of outstanding starts and a poor one to take the series two games to one over the visiting Florida Gators.
Christian Trent and Brady Bramlett combined for 12.1 innings and gave up two earned runs to earn the pair of wins for the Rebels. Add in 5.2 innings of combined relief pitching with zero earned runs, and home runs for the Ole Miss offense in the first inning of each of the first two games, and Rebels did not trail in either game.
For the third straight series finale, however, the wheels came off for the Rebels. After Ole Miss game up 34 runs the past two Sundays, Will Stokes started for the Rebels over Sam Smith in Saturday's second game, but Stokes failed to make it out of the third inning before giving up five runs en route to a 8-4 Florida victory. The final scoreline is generous to the Rebels, as a three-run rally for Ole Miss in the bottom of the ninth makes the game not appear as lopsided as it was when the Gators led 8-1.
Florida entered the series hitting .310 for the season and .293 in SEC play, but was held to a batting average of .225 for the weekend. Harrison Bader led the Gators with a .419 batting average and .903 slugging percentage with an SEC leading seven home runs entering the series, but ended the weekend with his average taking a 59-point hit after a 1-for-13 weekend at the plate. Bader's lone hit came in the series-ending game to plate the first run, but the weekend as a whole was a struggle for the Florida bats.
Next weekend, Ole Miss hosts UAB for a Tuesday doubleheader, then travels to Fayetteville to meet Arkansas. Florida travels to Stetson on Tuesday before hosting Alabama for the weekend series.
Rocky Top Pick-Me-Up: Georgia at Tennessee
Consider Georgia's last four games coming into this weekend. The Dawgs had been swept by Missouri before we had another indication that the Tigers were any good, then followed that up by getting blasted, 16-4, at Mercer in a midweek game. So a sweep of Tennessee might not be anything to celebrate with Seinfeld GIFs, but it's better than things were just a few days ago.
In fact, Georgia appeared to spend the weekend taking out all of its frustrations on the Vols. After a 2-1 win on Friday, the Bulldogs cranked out 22 runs on 19 hits -- more on how that's even possible in a moment -- to inject a bit of life into what was shaping up to be a moribund season. Again, this isn't the stuff to make anyone pencil UGA into a trip to Omaha, but it is how you begin to bring a season back from the brink.
As for Tennessee -- oh, Volunteers. Committing ten errors in the last two games of a series is generally not going to work out well for you, particularly if seven of them happen in the same game. Even more so if three of them occur in a nightmarish seven-run ninth inning of a 12-7 game on Saturday. Good news: Tennessee pitchers gave up just three earned runs on Saturday. Bad news: The nine unearned runs. Things were only mildly better on Sunday, when three errors contributed to four unearned runs, which arguably didn't make much of a difference in the 10-4 final.
Georgia has a Tuesday game against Mercer (gulp), though this time in Athens, and hosts Kennesaw State on Wednesday before the weekend series at South Carolina. Tennessee hosts Cincinnati on Wednesday before going to Vanderbilt for the weekend.
Wild-Bats: Mississippi State at Kentucky
Last week, it was the bullpen that let Mississippi State down. This week, the starting pitching offered no help, as Kentucky plated 19 runs in 16 innings against the Bulldog starters (and that number is skewed by Sunday starter Vince Tatum going a complete game but giving up five runs) for Kentucky to take the series two games to one in Lexington.
Kentucky took the first two games in the series with offensive outbursts, including a seven-run second inning in Friday's series opener and three innings with two or more runs in Saturday's game. Friday's 10-2 win for the Wildcats only had a solitary one-run homer by Kentucky's leadoff hitter, Kyle Barrett, but the Wildcats hit four doubles, a triple, and still left 10 runners on base in the dominating win. Storm Wilson had a double and a triple for Kentucky for his only hits in a 2-for-4 day. Zack Brown went 7.1 innings for the Wildcats and only gave up one earned run despite five walks.
Saturday's game clinched the series for the Wildcats with a 9-7 win, but the Bulldogs hit a pair of homers and plated four runs in the bottom of the ninth to rally before a pitching change and a ground-out ended the game. Barrett continued his hot weekend with a 4-for-5 day, including an RBI. Mississippi State's bats came alive, particularly late in the game, and the Bulldogs pounded out four doubles and three home runs, including Matt Britton's 2-for-2 day with a double and a homer.
The Bulldogs salvaged a 12-5 win in Sunday's game behind a six-run fifth inning and four Kentucky errors, leading to three unearned runs plated for the Bulldogs. Reid Humphreys led the Bulldogs with a pair of home runs and five RBIs, while leadoff hitter Jacob Robson went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and a stolen base.
After being swept by South Carolina last weekend, this series got Kentucky on the board with a series win that was needed for the Wildcats as they face LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, in the next two weekends. UK takes on Western Kentucky in Bowling Green on Tuesday and hosts Morehead State on Wednesday before the trip to LSU. Mississippi State, similarly, faces a practically must-win home series this weekend against Auburn to attempt to get close to .500 before facing South Carolina and A&M. The Bulldogs also have a Tuesday game against Southern Miss in Pearl.