Extra Innings: Mississippi State's woes, Landon Sims' health headline SEC baseball week
The calendar has turned to March and conference play is now only a week and a half away. But for the SEC, the pre-conference season has featured more than its share of confusing and disappointing performances. The talent is still there, top to bottom. But the league doesn’t look dominant on the national scene like it did in 2021. But it’s early, and there’s still plenty of time for the SEC to round into form. Overall, the 2nd full week of baseball had more good than bad news for the SEC. Still, storm clouds might be the story of the week… in particular:
1. State struggles … and the news goes from bad to worse
Mississippi State sits at 6-6 after losing on Wednesday to Southern Miss in a 7-1 game and then dropping the weekend series to Tulane. Even when things are good for the Bulldogs, like Friday when they won 19-2, things are bad. Pitching ace Landon Sims departed that game in the 4th inning, apparently after hearing something pop in his elbow. Sims will undergo an MRI, and the Bulldog faithful are holding their collective breath. Because a State team without Sims looks like a middle of the SEC kind of team, not an Omaha kind of team. After winning that Friday opener, State led 10-3 after 6 innings on Saturday, only to lose 11-10 in 10 innings. That’s the kind of year it’s been in Starkville.
Tulane hits a walk-off tank to even the series. Wave trailed 10-2 earlier. Should be a great rubber game Sunday. https://t.co/AUWLIZl98H
— SEC Baseball (@SECbaseball) March 5, 2022
2. Razorbacks getting it together
Arkansas won 3 of 4 games on the week, dropping only their weekend opener 7-3 to Southeast Louisiana. But not only did the Razorbacks rally to win that series, their pitchers allowed just 3 runs on 6 hits in the final 2 games. Hagen Smith threw 7 strong innings on Saturday and Jaxon Wiggins worked into the 7th on Sunday. Strong starting pitching is about as good of a sign as the Razorbacks could have right now.
3. Rebels, Vols remain hot
Ole Miss lost its first game of the season, 1-0 to UCF in 12 innings on Saturday. But the rest of the week certainly demonstrates that the 0-run, 3-hit team performance in that game is a fluke. The rest of the week, Ole Miss put up 10, 11, 8, and 9 runs in their 4 wins. Tim Elko is in solid form, with 5 homers and 14 RBIs so far, the first number tying for the SEC lead. The pitching staff continues to hold hitters under a .200 batting average, and the Rebels have been the best team in the league early on at 10-1.
UT is in that conversation too. The Vols did lose their first game, dropping a 7-2 decision to top-ranked Texas on Friday despite a sterling start from pitcher Chase Burns that the Tennessee bullpen couldn’t follow.
Chase Burns, Wicked Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/hD9xP6zuUd
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 5, 2022
But they recovered with easy wins over Baylor (Saturday) and Oklahoma (Sunday). UT remains the most potent offense in the SEC, leading the league in batting average (.350), runs scored (41) and home runs (30). The young Tennessee pitching staff continues to impress, ranking just behind Vandy in the league ERA race. All is rolling along for the Vols.
Nasty stuff from Drew Beam.
Another day, another Vol pitcher tearing it up. pic.twitter.com/cv5PiVGhSB
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 6, 2022
4. Vandy mound dominance continues
Vandy went 5-0 last week, allowing a total of 7 runs and just 24 hits. The Dores have a 1.66 team ERA and have held opposing hitters to a .172 average. In 103 innings, the Vandy Boys have racked up 148 strikeouts and given up just 2 home runs. While nobody might be on the same level as Jack Leiter or Kumar Rocker, the depth of this pitching staff is imposing. Particularly when the hitting is solid — as a .303 team batting average will attest.
5. Florida turning it up
The Gators had a 4-1 week, picking up the last 2 games of their series win over Miami on Saturday and Sunday. Sophomore standout Sterlin Thompson is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .396 with 5 homers and 15 RBIs in UF’s first 13 games. He shares the league lead in HRs.
Jud Fabian and Colby Halter each have 4, and UF’s 27 homers put them 2nd, just 3 behind Tennessee. Meanwhile, starting pitchers Hunter Barco, Brandon Sproat and Timmy Manning have 61 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings pitched. If anybody can handle Vandy in the East, it’s probably Florida.
6. LSU hits some growing pains
Meanwhile, an LSU team that had been absolutely on fire met some tough competition over the weekend and took a few lumps. LSU snuck by Oklahoma 5-4 on Friday via a walk-off shot from Jordan Thompson.
But from there, the Tigers lost 6-1 to Texas on Saturday and then fell to Baylor 9-6 on Sunday. The hitting hasn’t stopped (Saturday aside, but Texas will do that), with Dylan Crews over .400, Cade Doughty 2nd in the SEC with 20 RBIs and Tre Morgan leading the league in runs scored (19). The pitching — aside from starter Blake Money, whose 0.44 ERA in 3 starts is living up to his name — has struggled, particularly in the search for a 3rd starter to join Money and Ty Floyd. How well that search goes might go a long way in determining LSU’s season.
7. Kentucky up and down
It was the best and worst of times for the Wildcats. They lost to in-state foe Western Kentucky on Tuesday 7-5, in the kind of loss that can hurt come NCAA selection time. But UK then rebounded by winning a weekend series over a ranked TCU squad. The Wildcats are at the bottom of the SEC’s ERA rankings, but they put up 26 runs against TCU, and if Kentucky can keep hitting like that, they could factor into the East.
8. Georgia drops series
Georgia, like Kentucky, was undefeated coming into the week. And like the Wildcats, the Dawgs dropped a pair of games — both coming in a series loss to in-state foe Georgia Tech. After Bulldog pitching gave up 18 runs in the first 2 games, UGA did settle down on Sunday, as reliever Luke Wagner picked up his 4th win of the young season. Georgia is 10th in the SEC in runs scored, and that will need to improve moving forward.
9. Auburn blasts Rhode Island
File this under “Does this mean anything?” but Auburn absolutely crushed Rhode Island over the weekend, winning the series 7-2, 16-0, 12-0, and 14-1. Rhode Island had just 17 hits over the 4 games. Meanwhile, Auburn hurler Trace Bright still has a perfect 0.00 ERA after 17 innings pitched. Let’s see where the Tigers stand in a few weeks.