Our South Carolina Gamecocks (29-7 / 12-3) will travel to Starkville, MS this weekend to take on the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (23-14 / 6-9). Carolina is coming off a series victory over the formerly top-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores. MSU is coming off a big win of its own over rival Ole Miss. However, the Bulldogs have struggled a bit lately, losing seven of their last ten SEC contests after sweeping the Auburn Tigers in their second conference series; most of their wins on the season have come against cupcake non-conference opponents.
For the Gamecocks, that means that "focus" is the word of the day. Even on the road, there's no reason that Carolina shouldn't expect to handle a team that's struggling to win in the soft Western Division. However, anything can happen on any given weekend in SEC baseball, and if Carolina doesn't come to play, it may find itself in the same place it did last year against Kentucky: losing a series to an inferior opponent. A series loss wouldn't be the end of the world, by any means, but it would slow down our drive to take the top national ranking, and after criticizing the pollsters all week, none of us want that, do we?
Carolina will have the benefit of Jake Williams's return to the roster this weekend. Williams was temporarily suspended after receiving a citation for providing alcohol to minors. His return will provide depth in the outfield, which eases the pain of Adam Matthews's injury and means that Steven Neff can focus on his pitching. It will also provide a spark to the Gamecocks' offense, which has struggled as of late, although it did show signs of life against the vaunted Vandy pitching staff last weekend.
Luckily for Carolina, Mississippi St. is hardly a daunting pitching team. The Bulldogs currently rank 89th in the nation with a 3.98 team ERA. There's nothing like bad pitching to cure a team's offensive woes. Pitching, indeed, has been the main difference in these two team's success on the year. Neither hit the ball particularly well, with Carolina ranking 115th and 81st in runs scored (the latter number seems to confirm the idea that Carolina is a good slugging team that tends to get big hits at the right time when we get them at all) and MSU coming in at 120th and 90th in those same categories. However, Carolina ranks 11th in the nation in ERA to MSU's 89th. Let's hope those numbers hold up over the weekend, and perhaps that Carolina gets a few big hits in the bargain.