The road to Hoover is almost complete. The SEC Tournament begins May 21, and with 12 teams now getting seeds in 2013, there are a few teams left fighting to make it in.
CSS has five games on display this weekend. It’s an all-SEC showdown. Let’s take a look at each matchup.
No. 3 LSU at Texas A&M (May 10, 7:30 p.m.)
LSU is on a four-game winning streak, in part due to the dominant performance of reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week, Aaron Nola. He pitched his fourth straight complete game while shutting out Florida last Friday, giving up just four hits and one walk. Nola is now 9-0 with a 1.92 ERA.
Texas A&M has an award winner in its presence this week, too. Third baseman Hunter Melton was named SEC Freshman of the Week after hitting 8-for-16 with two homers. He became a full-time starter at third 10 games ago, and is now hitting .294 in that span. The Aggies have also won four straight. Is there a correlation between Melton starting and their success?
Both teams are coming off sweeps. The Tigers outscored the Gators 26-8 in their three-games series, while the Aggies beat up on another of Tigers from Missouri. A series upset doesn’t appear to be in the cards here, but Texas A&M did take two of three games at Oxford earlier this season. Is it up to its biggest challenge of the year?
Georgia at No. 12 South Carolina (May 11, 1 p.m.)
After winning its series over LSU, South Carolina followed that performance up with two losses to Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks are 13-10 in conference play. This is a good team, but it’s not elite.
Defeating the Bulldogs shouldn’t be too adverse, though. Georgia is 5-15 against the SEC, and its 4.47 team ERA is second worst in the conference. Outscoring opponents is tough when your pitching doesn’t give you much to work with.
South Carolina leads the SEC in home runs with 41. That won’t bode well for this matchup. The Gamecocks’ pitching staff is in the middle of the road for the SEC. Another outstanding offensive display, like the one we saw against Georgia Tech, will be the only way for Georgia to pull off an series upset.
No. 2 Vanderbilt at Kentucky (May 11, 7 p.m.)
The Commodores have already clinched the SEC East after picking up two more wins over the Gamecocks. With just two losses in conference play, Vanderbilt could easily finish with that mark if it can pick up sweep over Kentucky.
The Wildcats did not enjoy April, finishing with 11 losses last month. Playing arguably the best team in the nation is not the way to get back on track. Kyle Barrett is loving the leadoff spot, now batting .359 on the year after starting 15 straight games at the top of the order. Kentucky needs a strong showing from its best hitter to set the tone for the rest of the lineup.
Is that possible against Vanderbilt, though? Look at this pitching staff. The team ERA is sitting at 2.55. Opposing hitters are batting .211. Tyler Beede is 12-0 in 12 starts. Brian Miller has 13 saves and has been nearly untouchable with his 0.89 ERA. Oh, and the Commodores lineup is batting .314 overall. Six full-time starters are hitting above .300. Tony Kemp is still on fire. Good luck, Kentucky.
No. 13 Mississippi State at No. 20 Ole Miss (May 12, 2 p.m.)
Mississippi State defeated Ole Miss in the annual Governor’s Cup earlier this season. How will a three-game series play out? The Bulldogs were swept by the Commodores two weekends ago, but bounced back with a sweep of their own over the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss just dropped two of three to Auburn.
Bobby Wahl will put the Rebels in position to take at least one game in this series. He’s 9-0 in 12 starts with a 1.21 ERA, best in the SEC. Opponents are batting .178 against him (third best in the conference). If he’s on the mound, there’s a strong chance this team is walking away with a win.
The Bulldogs won their last two games in last fashion, getting walk-off singles from C.T. Bradford and Jacob Robson. Aside from the sweep by Vandy, Mississippi State has been a dangerous team in this latter part of the season. Hunter Renfroe is hitting .394 with 15 bombs and 49 RBI. Five relievers on the team boast an ERA below 1.50. Both teams are talented across the board. Add in the rivalry factor, this is shaping up to be one of the best series we’ve seen all year.
Tennessee at No. 14 Arkansas (May 12, 5 p.m.)
It looks like smooth sailing for the Razorbacks until the SEC Tournament rolls around. A three-game series with the Volunteers should help pad their record before heading to Hoover.
Tennessee is desperately searching for any kind of success late in April. It has one win since April 16. Two rainouts against Georgia were missed opportunities to get somewhat on track. Will Maddox and Scott Price are talented hitters. The team overall is batting .274. That’s not the issue. The Volunteers’ pitchers have a 5.31 ERA. Zack Godfrey is really the only one from the staff worth discussing.
Arkansas wins with dominant pitching. Only one pitcher on the team has an ERA above 3.00. I know, I had to double-check those stats, too. Ryne Stanek is 6-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 12 starts. Barrett Astin has a 1.98 ERA in 63.1 innings of work. Tennessee has some firepower offensively, but not enough to match this group.