Top-10 showdowns highlight massive weekend of SEC baseball matchups
SEC baseball season will hit its midway point this weekend. Yes, it’s really not that long until somebody (and maybe half the SEC at the pace of current events) is heading to Omaha. We’ll speculate more on the whos and wheres in coming weeks, but the current SEC slate includes a pair of top-1o showdowns that will play significant roles in determining who wins each division’s regular-season crown.
Here’s your quick guide to the weekend ahead.
1. Can UT keep it up against a suddenly human Vandy?
UT and Vanderbilt are both 9-3 in league play heading into this weekend’s series in Knoxville. Georgia’s thumping of Kumar Rocker and Vandy’s struggle to find a consistent No. 3 starter definitely put this series in the realm of competitiveness. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming Vols have actually bypassed Vandy in the weekly Baseball America rankings — UT is No. 5, while the Commodores fell to 6th. Tennessee hasn’t been in the College World Series since 2005, but this Vol team is piling up firsts. Last week’s fourth consecutive series win, this one over Florida, marked the first time UT had achieved that feat since 1970. A couple of Vols to watch? Liam Spence, who leads the SEC in batting average at .406, and Max Ferguson, who has 13 stolen bases.
Vandy meanwhile hasn’t lost a road SEC game since 2019. Their last five SEC road series were all sweeps. Vandy Boys to watch (aside from aces Rocker and Jack Leiter)? Dominic Keegen is hitting a robust .391 with 18 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs. And Vandy has the league’s top speedster; Enrique Bradfield has 21 stolen bases in just 22 attempts. Bear in mind, these two schools have split the last 8 games they’ve played in Knoxville.
2. Egg Bowl, baseball edition
Arkansas’ 9-3 mark places the Hogs a game in the lead for the West Division crown. But nipping at their heels are a pair of 8-4 squads that also boast top-1o credentials and will meet for a pivotal series. Ole Miss, meet Mississippi State. Ah, it appears you two are familiar with each other.
The Rebels slid to 9th in the Baseball America rankings, the first time all year that they’ve left the top 5. The Rebels opened SEC play going 6-0 but have dropped their last two series at Florida and at home against Arkansas. Pitching was an issue last weekend, as the Rebels allowed over 10 runs per game to the Hogs, with much of the damage instigated by 30 walks given up by Ole Miss pitchers. Slugger Tim Elko (9 home runs, 36 RBIs) is worth keeping an eye on, and Rebel starter Gunnar Hoglund is made for matchups like these.
Meanwhile, State opened SEC play at 2-4 after being swept by Arkansas. But since then, it’s been a pair of sweeps of Kentucky and Auburn, with half of those wins being of the 1-run variety. Aside from Sunday’s 19-10 slugfest with the Tigers, State’s pitching has been very solid, leading the league in strikeouts and trailing only Vandy in ERA and opposing batting average. State’s pitching depth is second to none. Can their offense, featuring leading hitter Tanner Allen (.330, 5 home runs) create enough cushion to hold off the Rebels? The 3rd ranked Bulldogs have won their last 4 series matchups with Ole Miss.
3. The “don’t get tripped up” series matchups
There are a couple of matchups that look one-sided but could certainly end up being unpleasant surprises for the favored squads. Auburn (1-11 SEC) goes to a struggling Alabama team. Bama is just 5-7, but with this series followed by matchups with Kentucky and Missouri, the Tide could well put themselves right back in the thick of the NCAA Tournament picture, should they go, say, 7-2 or 8-1 in those 9 games. Which is certainly possible, if they don’t stumble against the Tigers.
Similarly, Texas A&M takes its 3-9 record to 9-3 Arkansas. The Aggies are dangerous, as they recently showed Texas in a nonconference mid-week game. But since winning a series against Georgia, A&M lost a series at Mizzou and then got swept by Alabama. Given the Ole Miss/State matchup, Arkansas has a chance to put some distance between itself and the 2nd and 3rd place teams in the West. But that’s incumbent on the Razorbacks staying hot.
4. The “making a statement” series matchups
It’s almost unbelievable that Missouri (the only SEC team not to have been ranked in the Top 25 in at least one of the various rankings at some point in this season) is only two games behind preseason No. 1 Florida. But the 6-6 Gators haven’t put much distance between themselves and the 4-8 Tigers. Florida has dropped to 19th in the latest Baseball America rankings. With Vandy, Georgia, and Arkansas left on the schedule, the Gators don’t want to take any unnecessary losses.
Meanwhile, Kentucky finds itself ahead of Georgia heading into this weekend’s series in Athens. The 6-6 Wildcats have dropped their last two series matchups, and 5-7 Georgia comes in off the heels of a series win over Vanderbilt. Either Kentucky can give its season a boost with a shot of legitimacy heading down the SEC stretch or the Bulldogs can demonstrate that the Vandy victories were the turning point for a squad that has too much talent to be sixth in the SEC East.
It’s kind of a similar situation with 8-4 South Carolina playing at 3-9 LSU. The Tigers were tending toward hopeless, but even after the loss of ace pitcher Jaden Hill, they won their last series at Kentucky. That said, with Ole Miss and Arkansas following on the schedule, LSU really needs to steal this series to keep hopes alive of a season approaching .500 in the league. Carolina is ranked 10th and is only a game behind UT and Vandy — and should gain grown on at least one of the two. But they too are about to face Arkansas and Ole Miss, and if the series with LSU isn’t successful, it looks like a two-team race in the East.