With USC set to open a most unusual baseball season Saturday, some thoughts on this year's baseball team.
PULLED OUT OF THIN AIR RECORD PREDICTION: 34-22
This is a regular season number, of course. I don't think that this team will do quite as well in the nonconference schedule as they did last year. The team is not quite as good as it was last year, and there's no reason to believe that South Carolina underperformed in play outside the SEC. Also, a three-game set with Long Beach State looms in early March.
SLIGHTLY LESS HASTILY MADE SEC RECORD PREDICTION: 15-15
That's the same mark as last year. Again, this team isn't quite as good as in 2008, but I did feel like the Gamecocks underperformed against the league schedule. And, with a still-good team in a powerful SEC, .500 is probably a pretty good bet.
CHANCES OF MAKING SEC TOURNAMENT: 90 percent
I don't really think there's any doubt that we play in Hoover, but there's always the threat of injury or a smallpox epidemic.
CHANCES OF MAKING NCAA TOURNAMENT: 45 percent
The problem here isn't necessarily in how good the Gamecocks are, but in how good some other conferences are likely to be. Baseball America explains:
Auburn and South Carolina are two of the toughest omissions from the field of 64, but the SEC will not get nine bids this year because the ACC will be stronger in the middle than it was in 2008, when UNC, Miami and Florida State dominated but the league got just six bids.
A lot of this, though, depends on how the SEC East pans out. Georgia is the favorite, followed by Florida, but beyond that it should be a dogfight. If South Carolina is a bubble team, the SEC record and Long Beach State series could become huge.
KEY PLAYERS ON OFFENSE: Andrew Crisp, Whit Merrifield, DeAngelo Mack
No surprises here. We need Crisp to bat a little better than .296, we need Merrifield to make things happen on the base paths, and we need Mack to show that his 2008 postseason power display (two HRs in the regional) wasn't a fluke.
KEY PITCHER: Sam Dyson
After an 8-0 season in 2008, he's the Opening Day starter for 2009. Expecting him to go undefeated through a full year as a starter is probably not reasonable, but if he can nudge that strikeout rate (0.87/inning) up just a bit, he could be one of the better pitchers in the league this year.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Duquesne
If the Gamecocks sweep, it could be the beginning of a good season. If they get swept, look out below. It's probably somewhere in between. SERIES RESULT: SOUTH CAROLINA WINS, 2-1