Christian Walker will have to have one heckuva weekend if the Gamecocks are going to knock #1 Florida down a few pegs.
Well, that was fun. After a couple of mid-week games in which the Gamecocks outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 41-12 the Gamecocks ... ... ... wait... Back up a second.... 41-12? Really? In that case it looks like our worries about Carolina's offense were a bit premature. Jackie Bradley, Jr. broke out his "slump" in a big way, collecting 4 hits and 5 RBI over the pair of games. However, the big news might just be Adam Mathews, who knocked in 10 runners off of 4 hits. Mathews hit lead off in both games, and if he can be counted on to fill that role for the rest of the season, then the Gamecocks look to be in good shape. In a two game span USC raised its team batting average from .286 to .306. That's a pretty impressive leap this far into the season. The Gamecocks now have five players hitting at or above .300, and Adrian Morales is batting an eye-popping .417! Of course, before we get ahead of ourselves, the level of competition must be taken into account. Both mid-week opponents are now carrying team ERAs around 5.00. But hey, who wouldn't want this kind of momentum heading into the biggest series of the regular season?
Speaking of which, the Florida Gators (20-2, 3-0 SEC) are looking awfully mighty this year, folks. Florida will be hosting Carolina fresh off its first ever sweep at LSU - a pretty darn good LSU, I might add. The Gators took care of business during the week by dispatching Winthrop in a pair of games by a combined score of 32-5. As a team they're batting .328 with a microscopic 2.26 ERA. Those numbers are good enough to place Florida second in the league in BA and first in ERA. Meanwhile USC's .306 average is good enough for 7th and our ERA of 2.93 places us in a solid 4th. Now, keep in mind that some of our ERA is inflated due to the fact that Ray Tanner used a few pitchers during this week's blow outs who wouldn't normally have seen playing time. Then again, you have to think that Florida probably did same.
More analysis after the jump.
And the Gators are not feasting on a schedule littered with cupcakes, no sir. LSU (#10) has always fielded strong baseball teams, and this year is no different. Florida also owns victories over FSU (#5), Florida Atlantic, and weekend series sweeps over Miami (#29), USF, Boston College and Rhode Island (for what it's worth, the Rhode Island Rams put up a good fight against UF, losing by a combined score of 31-14). In fact, the only blemishes to the Gator's record are a 3-5 loss to FSU and a truly inexplicable loss to Georgia Southern by a 0-7 margin. If there's a team that's played a tougher schedule at this point in the season, I'd like to see it. There's a good reason they're a unanimous #1 team right now.
Meanwhile, the Gamecock's schedule compares favorably to their opponent's, but perhaps not quite as favorably as one would like. Carolina's toughest OCC opponent is Clemson (#15), who the 'Cocks took a series from 2-1. College of Charleston also makes an appearance at 28 in one of the polls, but after the shellacking they received Tuesday night, I wouldn't expect that to last much longer. That's pretty much it as far as USC's resume is concerned. Series victories over Santa Clara, Southern Illinois, and Cal State Bakersfield just don't carry the same panache that BCS schools might. We'll find out a lot about where this team stacks up in the conference pecking order after this weekend.
South Carolina will be throwing ace Michael Roth (4-1, 1.34) on Friday against Florida's Brian Johnson (4-0. 1.53). The Saturday game will feature USC's Steven Neff (2-0, 2,49) against Hudson Randall (3-0, .85). Sunday is still up in the air for the Gamecocks, but if we are to believe Travis Haney, Ray Tanner will go with Forrest Koumas (2-0, 4.05) on the mound. The Gators will throw Karsten Whitson (3-0, 2.52). At least on paper, Florida appears to have the upper hand. But baseball is mercurial by nature. If Carolina's defense finally rids itself of the butterflies, we should be in for a very close, hard-fought series.
In reality, Carolina ought to be happy going on the road in the SEC and taking just one game this weekend from the #1 team in all the land. But we Gamecocks have become accustomed to knocking off top-ranked teams over the last few years. Carolina leads the all-time series with Florida 36-28, but we all remember how the Gators took two from us last year to clench the SEC regular season title. I'd like nothing more than return the favor (you know, minus the title clenching part, of course). If the Gamecocks march into Gainesville and take 2 of 3 from the Gators, I think we'll be looking at a new #1 next week. I'm feeling better about this match-up than I have any right to, but it feels like Carolina might be on the cusp of putting all the pieces together. We'll find out soon enough.