Sports, Thrill of Victory

Around the SEC: Baseball postseason race is heating up

Vanderbilt baseball action against Xavier at Hawkins Field.(John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

We’re into the stretch run of the season in SEC baseball, and our Chris Lee has dissected all the numbers to find out how things could shake out heading into the postseason.

Let’s jump right into this week’s Around the SEC.

Who’s going to host?

With the last three weekends of the regular season upon us, one thing is clear: the Southeastern Conference is at or near the top of the college baseball landscape. 

Another thing is also clear: that could create some unusual problems for its league teams as some look to host NCAA Tournament regionals. 

Bryan Reynolds has put Vanderbilt potentially in position to host a regional. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

Bryan Reynolds has put Vanderbilt potentially in position to host a regional. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

Here’s the problem: the top nine teams in the RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com as of Thursday, are all from either the SEC or the Atlantic Coast Conference. Taking it a step further, of the top 19 RPI teams, only four—UC Santa Barbara (10), Texas Tech (12), Louisiana-Lafayette (16) and Coastal Carolina (17)—come from leagues other than those two.

The NCAA likes to achieve geographical balance, so what that means is that team not in those two leagues could get preferential treatment.

For instance, Texas Tech has a very borderline resumé for a national seed, but both D1Baseball and Baseball America have the Red Raiders as one this week. Both services have Southern Miss (20), Minnesota (24) and Washington (35) hosting this week, though the last two in particular have weaker resumés than seven SEC teams, including LSU, which wasn’t listed as a host by either site. 

BA lists Rice (25), Oklahoma State (21) and Coastal Carolina as hosts, though again, LSU and Vanderbilt (BA didn’t have either as a host) seem to have accomplished more. 

D1 did grant Vanderbilt its last hosting spot in its projections this week, along with UCSB and Virginia, which didn’t garner merit from BA

Both had Florida, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Mississippi State as national seeds, and each had Ole Miss hosting.

This is all a snapshot in time that will change within days. So with that said, let’s look at what the seven SEC schools stand with three regular-season weekends remaining.

Florida (No. 1 RPI) is not only the country’s most talented team, but it has the best NCAA Tournament résumé, hands-down. UF’s 10-4 mark against RPI top 25 teams is the nation’s best, and, its 15 wins against top-50 RPI teams is also tops. The Gators swept what seems to be the consensus two-seed (Miami) on the road, and would have to stumble mightily down the road not to be the top national seed. 

Texas A&M's Blue Bell Park should play host to a regional this June, at a minimum. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

Texas A&M’s Blue Bell Park should play host to a regional this June, at a minimum. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

Texas A&M (5) has a case as the No. 3 national seed at the moment, though that’s precarious, as A&M’s five wins against top-25 RPI teams is a bit lower than some teams in its vicinity. The Aggies have three huge series with Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Ole Miss remaining (the first and third at home). Posting a winning record in those games probably secures a national seed; anything less, and the A&M may be hosting, but perhaps hitting the road for a super regional.

Mississippi State (11) has the most interesting résumé among hosting candidates. Nobody in the country has a stronger record in terms of series wins than do the Aggies, who have beaten Florida, Ole Miss (7), Vanderbilt (13), LSU (15), Georgia (28), Alabama (53) and Oregon (96), with the Florida, Vandy, LSU and Alabama series all coming on the road. Right now, that should be good enough for a national seed. 

But there are potential trouble spots here. As outstanding as those series wins were, the Bulldogs swept just Oregon, which helps explain MSU’s 14-loss total. Teams outside the top 13 in the RPI usually don’t get a national seed, and with Missouri (90), Auburn (116) and Arkansas (84) coming up, MSU can’t afford to falter down the stretch. 

Sunday pitching has also been an issue for this team, and the fact that the Bulldogs have been out-scored in SEC play (115-114) is indicative of a team that should be more like 10-11 in the SEC rather than the current 12-9. When I’ve seen MSU play, it’s looked like a national seed to me, and I’d I’d rank the Bulldogs fourth in the national pecking order right now—but those things indicate a slip-up is possible.

South Carolina (4) is solid at the moment. However, Carolina’s best series win is an impressive road sweep of Ole Miss, but after that, a sweep Tennessee (77) is its next-best weekend feat. It could be imperative that the Gamecocks beat Texas A&M in Columbia two weekends from now to keep a national seed. 

Ole Miss has a pair of series wins against Louisville and LSU that stack up favorably with most teams’ top two, and the RPI suggests the Rebels are a national seed. On merit, I think the Rebels have the eighth-best resumé, and I’d give them a national seed based on that. 

Right now, though, the Rebels could be the SEC’s first victim of geography and be knocked out of the national seeding picture based on the top-heaviness of those two leagues. But if the Rebels can just finish above .500 in their remaining conference series (at Georgia, Kentucky, at A&M), they should at least host.

Vanderbilt should host as of now based on merit, but that’s precarious for reasons expressed already. The only really impressive feat that the ‘Dores have pulled off so far is taking a series from Carolina, but with VU’s next two series on the road vs. A&M and Florida, with a mid-week game with Louisville thrown in, a win of either series, the ‘Dores have plenty of chances for marquee wins. If it doesn’t falter anywhere else, winning one of those two big series should keep VU on its home field for at least a weekend.  

Carolina's Clarke Schmidt has been the league's best pitcher to date. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

Carolina’s Clarke Schmidt has been the league’s best pitcher to date. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

LSU (18), which beat Vandy at home two games out of three, seems to be out the outside looking in at hosting right now thanks to its next-best RPI series win being over Missouri (89). Beating Arkansas and Tennessee probably won’t move the needle, but if the Tigers could somehow do that and take the season-ending series over Florida, it might be hard to deny LSU a home-field advantage for the first weekend. 

Alabama (52) and Kentucky (53) are in the NCAA field of 64 according to both services, but precariously so, and neither has a prayer of hosting. The Crimson Tide (10-11) and Wildcats (11-10) would probably get NCAA bids by virtue of finishing .500 in the league; UK’s path, which includes South Carolina and a road trip to Ole Miss, is particularly tough. 

POWER RANKINGS (Who I think is best; not to be confused with NCAA Tournament resumes)

  1. Florida
  2. Texas A&M
  3. South Carolina
  4. Vanderbilt
  5. Ole Miss
  6. Mississippi State
  7. LSU
  8. Kentucky
  9. Alabama
  10. Tennessee
  11. Arkansas
  12. Georgia
  13. Auburn
  14. Missouri

PLAYER OF THE YEAR (pitchers not included; estimated runs created per 27 outs in parenthesis)

  1. Boomer White, 3B, TAMU (12.20)
  2. Bryan Reynolds, CF, Vanderbilt (10.81)
  3. Anfernee Grier, CF, Auburn (11.55)
  4. Nick Senzel, 3B/SS, Tennessee (10.17)
  5. Gene Cone, CF/RF, South Carolina (11.03)

PITCHER OF THE YEAR (IP-BB-K-ERA)

  1. Clarke Schmidt, South Carolina (77-14-91-1.99)
  2. Jordan Sheffield, Vanderbilt (70.1-26-87-2.29)
  3. Jake Walters, Alabama (63.1-23-62-1.99)
  4. Dakota Hudson, MSU (72-26-74-3.00)
  5. Logan Shore, Florida (67.1-11-68-2.41)