SEC baseball power rankings: Kentucky? Kentucky! (And other surprises)
Seven weeks into the college baseball season, it would be hard to underrate the surprise factor. Yes, LSU has been LSU. But whoever had South Carolina and Kentucky being each 4 games ahead of Tennessee in the SEC standings, your lottery winnings are probably due any day.
To say nothing of Kentucky being ranked in the top 10 nationally and (gulp) surprisingly high in our power rankings. With plenty of baseball left, it’s getting harder and harder to dismiss the season’s early surprises as flukes … and easier to imagine that the heap of SEC baseball has gotten a pretty good shake-up. Here’s where they stand:
14. Georgia (15-13, 1-8)
The Bulldogs stumbled to another league sweep, and they’ve lost those 8 SEC games by a combined 45 runs. In 9 SEC games, Georgia has an ERA of 9.16. Maybe more astonishing, they have 0 stolen bases. And 0 stolen base attempts. Sitting back and waiting for 3-run home runs doesn’t seem to be helping UGA much. They host Kentucky this week.
13. Mississippi State (16-13, 1-8)
On the bright side, the Bulldogs won a league game and got out of the cellar of our power rankings. On the not as bright side, MSU has a 12.46 ERA in conference play. That includes 60 walks in 73 2/3 innings pitched, a .327 opposing batting average, and 45 extra-base hits allowed (all worst in the SEC). The Bulldogs have hit .291 in SEC play, but it’s not clear how much of that is ability and how much is that opposing teams are well into the back of their pitching staffs quickly. The Bulldogs go to Alabama this week, and need to figure things out in a hurry.
12. Ole Miss (16-11, 1-8)
The Rebels don’t seem as fundamentally flawed as the teams below them. Yes, they are 1-8 in SEC play. But after getting blasted by Vandy, they have lost their other SEC games by 2, 4, 3, 2 and 1 runs, respectively. They did pick up a win over Texas A&M, although their team .230 batting average and next-to-worst 8 homers in SEC play isn’t especially inspiring. The Rebels host Arkansas in a series that could launch them back to the middle of the West or keep them at the bottom of the league.
11. Auburn (18-9, 3-6)
On Friday, the Tigers seemed to have figured things out, blasting Florida 10-1 behind a pair of homers and 6 RBIs from Ike Irish and Bryson Ware. But it looked a little more flukish after a total 29-13 beatdown in the next pair of games. Pitching continues to hamstring the Tigers, with an 8.53 ERA in conference games and a .320 opposing batting average.
10. Alabama (21-8, 3-6)
Similarly, the Tide seemed destined to make a statement after a 12-1 win over Arkansas on Friday. Everybody in the Bama lineup had a hit, and Ben Hess looked good on the mound. But on Saturday, Bama gave up an early lead, and on Sunday, they lost a 5-4 heartbreaker. Bama has just 22 extra-base hits in SEC play, which ties for last with (oddly enough) Tennessee. Hosting Mississippi State gives them a good chance to increase those numbers.
9. Missouri (19-9, 3-6)
When the Tigers opened SEC play with a sweep of Tennessee, it seemed astonishing. Now, the Tigers sit a game behind the Vols in the SEC standings, and a singularly punchless offense is to blame. Mizzou is hitting .223 in SEC play. The Tigers are last in the league in homers in conference play (5) and have the 2nd-most strikeouts (92). Kentucky outscored Mizzou 25-3, which doesn’t feel like an NCAA Tournament team — despite how good Kentucky is.
8. Texas A&M (17-11, 3-6)
The Aggies had a rough start to league play, but they did rebound by winning a series over Ole Miss. With series matchups at Auburn and against visiting Mizzou coming up, the Aggies could get back into the thick of the West race quickly. But A&M pitchers have allowed SEC hitters to bat .303 and have thrown the most wild pitches in the league. Clean up the pitching and the Aggies still have plenty of time to get it right.
7. Tennessee (21-8, 4-5, No. 12 in Baseball America poll)
Yes, UT lost its series with LSU and are 4-5 in SEC play. But Tennessee did pick up a win at LSU, and played competitively — which is unlikely to be repeated much against the Tigers. Zane Denton’s 5 homers and 13 RBIs in 9 conference games have been helpful. But he needs more company from a UT offense that — Sunday’s 14-run explosion against LSU aside — has been surprisingly quiet. Florida is up next, which won’t be easy.
6. Arkansas (23-5, 6-3, No. 5 in BA poll)
Sure, the Razorbacks are somehow lower in the SEC than in the national rankings per Baseball America. But a 6-3 mark isn’t brilliant, and Arkansas could easily have lost its series with Alabama last week. In conference play, Arkansas is hitting .241 and has a 5.95 team ERA. They’re 6-3, but those numbers suggest that they could easily be 3-6. Can they keep winning close games? Of course. But will they? They can start with what should be a fairly straight-forward road series in Oxford.
5. Kentucky (25-3, 8-1, No. 10 in BA)
No. 1 in RPI in the nation? Why yes, that would be the Kentucky Wildcats. UK leads the SEC in ERA in conference play, and has stolen 26 bases in 30 attempts in 9 SEC games. Nick Mingione’s Wildcats are small-balling their way through a pretty deeply mediocre early SEC schedule. Will it hold up? The Wildcats head to Georgia, but then will go to LSU the following week.
4. South Carolina (26-3, 8-1, No. 6)
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks keep scoring runs in orthodox ways, running through the week by a 46-14 margin. Carolina has 22 homers in SEC play, 1 behind SEC leader Vandy. The Gamecocks’ 3.97 team ERA in conference games is 3rd-best, which is a little more surprising. Jack Mahoney, Noah Hall and Will Sanders are a legitimate front-end weekend rotation, and as long as Ethan Petry (.442, 13 homers, 42 RBIs) keeps playing like he’s invincible, the Gamecocks should be fine. LSU figures to test that this coming week.
3. Florida (24-5, 7-2, No. 2 in BA)
The Gators continue to hang around the top of the national rankings. But they were absolutely drubbed with Brandon Sproat getting blasted on Friday by Auburn. Jac Caglianone had a (yawn) 7-for-15 series and continues to lead the SEC with 18 homers, and the Gators will head to Knoxville for what could be a big series for both teams.
2. Vanderbilt (22-5, 9-0, No. 4 in BA)
The Commodores picked up another sweep and just continue to roll. That’s not shocking. But Vandy having the most homers in SEC play … well, that is surprising. The Vandy Boys are hitting .371 in conference play, and lead the SEC in that category as well as walks taken. They’re tied for 2nd in stolen bases in league play. The pitching? As expected. Vandy has a 3.35 ERA in conference play and Carter Holton is winning games. If the offense is this good, the ceiling just went a notch higher. With Mizzou up next, Vandy is likely to continue its run.
1. LSU (24-4, 6-3, No. 1)
What can be said that hasn’t been said? Paul Skenes (12 Ks in 7 innings) outdueled Chase Dollander and LSU bested the Vols. LSU is the most talented team in the league, and you can take your pick of a variety of offensive stars on any given day.
Dylan Crews, who is hitting an absurd .543 and has a Barry Bonds-like OPS of 1.611, is showing everybody why he’s in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. Tommy White leads the SEC with 45 RBIs.
No, the Tigers haven’t swept a series yet. They also haven’t lost a series yet. That probably won’t change with this week’s trip to South Carolina.