The Southeastern Conference baseball regular season is in its third weekend of league play, and already, there are plenty of developing storylines. Chris Lee catches us up on those and plenty of other stuff.
Texas A&M’s torrid start. Okay, we figured the Aggies would be good—they went to a regional last year and were picked by many to go to one this year—but nobody knew they’d be this good. Coach Rob Childress’s club was the country’s last undefeated team before losing a game to Alabama last week, and is now America’s only one-loss team. Right now, the Aggies do just about everything well; they get on base and hit for power, have three excellent weekend starters and a deep, dominant bullpen, and the only real question is on defense, where they’re just average. The one caveat: A&M’s early schedule has been suspect, as BoydsWorld.com rates it 175th-toughest of the country’s 301 teams, but they do have wins over ranked teams in Houston and Nebraska, as well as a sweep of Auburn.
- Missouri’s surprising emergence. The Tigers’ entrance into the league has been met with a collective yawn as Mizzou went 16-44 in league play in its first two SEC seasons. So, it was no surprise when Mizzou was picked last in the West by a mile. Mizzou’s hot start may not have raised eyebrows, but when the Tigers took two of three from South Carolina last weekend, that did. The Tigers won’t hit much, but their 69 runs allowed is the fewest in the league by far, so this team could be competitive deeper into conference play.
Mixed messages on the league’s strength. Everybody knows the league is the country’s preeminent baseball power; Vanderbilt won last year’s national title, Mississippi State was 2013’s runner-up, and Carolina won it the two years prior to that. Of course, the league isn’t just top-heavy, it sends about eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in a given year, and sent 10 last season. According to the pollsters, the league has a consensus four of the top six in the country (A&M, LSU, Florida and Vandy) and Carolina is in the top eight of two others. But the RPI, at least according to WarrenNolan.com, has the Atlantic Coast Conference as the top league right now, and while the SEC has five top-20 RPI teams right now, it has five ranked 80 or higher (including Missouri). Compounding matters, Boyd’s World has four teams in his top 10 as of Friday night (A&M, Florida, LSU, Vandy) but nobody else even inside the top 40. There’s little doubt that the league is top-heavy, but whether it has the overall depth it normally does is up for debate.
Vanderbilt (6-1): When it’s close, stick with the defending national champs.
- Texas A&M (6-1)
- LSU (4-3): Freshman Alex Lange (1.42 ERA, 45 Ks in 38 IP) has become one of America’s top freshmen.
- Florida (4-4): The Gators may not have a true pitching stud, but few can match their depth.
- South Carolina (4-2): The Gamecocks uncharacteristically dropped four of five coming into the weekend series vs. Georgia. Friday’s game with the Bulldogs was suspended, so they’ll play two on Saturday.
- Alabama (4-4): Shortstop Mikey White (.391/.473/.663) gets lost behind a pair of SEC All-Americans in Vandy’s Dansby Swanson and LSU’s Alex Bregman, but he’s one of America’s best.
- Auburn (2-5): Don’t let the conference record fool you, it opened vs. A&M and Vandy, and has an NCAA Tournament-worthy RPI (25) entering Saturday.
- Ole Miss (3-4): Same story with the Rebels here… they’re just 14-13 overall, but the county’s toughest schedule by RPI measures translates to a tourney-worthy 15 RPI.
- Kentucky (3-4): Wildcats need more out of potential first-rounder Kyle Cody (4.88, 31.1 IP, 30 Ks, 7 BBs).
- Missouri (5-2)
- Mississippi State (2-5): Watch the next three weekends closely vs. Auburn, Carolina and A&M; the Bulldogs (119 RPI) need big wins to make the NCAAs and that’ll be their best chance with the first two at home. Friday’s loss to Auburn was a step in the wrong direction.
- Georgia (3-3): Streaky Bulldogs may be the league’s most unpredictable team, but the early-season series win over Florida State shows there’s plenty of upside.
- Arkansas (2-5): The last time the Razorbacks missed the NCAAs was 2001, but a lack of pitching depth and an early elbow injury to Trey Killian (who’s pitching now) have put that in serious jeopardy.
- Tennessee (1-6): The Vols have a legitimate ace in Friday starter Bret Marks, whose splitter is one of the league’s nastiest pitches. Unfortunately, he’s getting zero help from his defense.