1.) Florida Gators (22-2, 5-1 SEC) - The Gators remain atop our rankings this week after a series victory over South Carolina in Columbia. The guys over at Baseball America hold Florida in high esteem as well, keeping them at #1 for the nth consecutive week since the season's inception. And just like Inception, Florida was just screwing with our heads by dropping game one of the series on Thursday night 9-3. The loss appeared to do nothing if not piss off the Gators, who soundly beat the Gamecocks in game two 8-2 and took the series on Sunday 5-4. Senior Mike Zunino is slugging an un-Godly .802, which basically means any time he makes contact he's crushing the ball so hard that a tiny universe is being created at the inflection point. Nobody else in the SEC even comes close to that stat. Number two in SLG% is fellow Floridian Preston Tucker (.688).
2.) Kentucky Wildcats (24-1, 5-1 SEC) - The Wildcats kept on keepin' on this week with a 2-1 series win over Tennessee and a mid-week victory over Cincinnati. Even though the dream of an undefeated season is officially over, the Wildcats are still tied for first in the SEC. Baseball America rewarded the Cats with a top ten (#10) ranking, just above the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks. Kentucky has not scored more than six runs in any SEC game so far this year, but has not allowed more than four runs in any one game, either. They're walking a razor-thin line of success during this historic season for Wildcat baseball. If they continue to lead the league in batting average (.321) they should be in contention for the regular season crown.
3.) Arkansas Razorbacks (22-3, 5-1 SEC) - The #3 Razorbacks took two from Mississippi State in Starkville this weekend, giving them sole possession of first place in the SEC West. Add in a mid-week victory over Nevada to pad the ole resume and we could very well be looking at the best team in the SEC. We'll find out soon enough.
4.) South Carolina Gamecocks (17-7, 1-5 SEC) - The Gamecocks showed that there's still plenty of fight left in this team by trouncing the Florida Gators 9-3 on Thursday night in front of a national television audience. USC couldn't finish the drill, though, and dropped the final two games by a combined margin of 13-6. Florida did enough damage to where the Gamecocks have now dropped to third in the SEC in ERA (2.74) but still lead in opposing batting average (.190). After having won just two of their last 8 games, the Gamecocks must now spend a week on the road -- traveling to Charleston to play the Citadel and then to Nashville where a hungry Commodores squad awaits.
5.) Auburn Tigers (15-9, 4-2 SEC) - Let it not be said that Batting Around is not a meritocracy. Auburn can now lay claim to series victories versus both Ole Miss and LSU. Their longest winning streak of the season (5) came to an end Sunday after a 4-3 loss to LSU. With Mississippi State up next, Alabama on deck, and Vanderbilt in the hole, Auburn could have a pretty impressive record when the Gamecocks come to town next month.
6.) LSU Tigers (18-6, 3-3 SEC) - The #15 Bayou Bengals lost more than the series this weekend, as starting center field Chris Schiambra has been diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury after crashing into the centerfield wall. There seems to be a rash of neck injuries going around the SEC in recent years -- proportionately more than I ever recall when I followed the MLB with any regularity. Said head coach Paul Mainieri,
"He's going to have to wear a neck brace for three months, and he's out for the rest of our season and most likely for the summer as well. We're hopeful he'll be able to join us for practice this fall, and he'll be ready to go next season."
Sounds like Chris will make a full recovery, which I am extremely glad for. Meanwhile, The Tigers' #15 ranking in Baseball America has me thinking they're riding more on reputation than resume at this point.
7.) Mississippi State Bulldogs (16-9, 2-4 SEC) - Mississippi State nearly took two from Arkansas at home this weekend. The Bulldogs began the weekend with a commanding 11-2 victory over the Hogs and ended it by losing 5-8 in 11 innings. MSU just couldn't match Arkansas's 5-run eleventh frame. If it weren't for the fact that MSU already lost the head-to-head match up, I would probably put them ahead of LSU right now.
8.) Georgia Bulldogs (17-8, 3-3 SEC) - Losing two out of three games by a combined score of 10-8 isn't all that bad, but when the opponent is Vanderbilt and the calendar reads 2012, it's bound to draw some bad publicity. Suffice it to say, neither of these teams is all that potent, offensively, right now. UGA ranks 8th in the league in average .284 and Vanderbilt 10th (.264). Number 25 Georgia will host Clemson during the mid-week before Kentucky comes to town in what I like to call the Battle for Tubby Smith's soul.
9.) Ole Miss Rebels (17-7, 3-3 SEC) - A mid-week loss to Southern Miss and a 2-1 series victory over Alabama doesn't impress me, Rebs. I don't know what Baseball America sees in you, what with ranking you #16 and all, but I don't get it. With a team average of .310 (2nd, SEC) and OB% of .394 (4th) the Rebels have consistency and a little bit of power in the order. Senior R.J. Hively has been a solid ace for Ole Miss (.207 b/avg., 41 SO), but highly touted freshman Sam Smith has yet to become a major factor in the rotation. The youth on this team may yet mature into something resembling a top 15 team, but it hasn't yet.
10.) Tennessee Volunteers (13-10, 2-4 SEC) - The Volunteers beat Florida International in extra innings during the mid-week and stole one from Kentucky over the weekend. Honestly, just finishing the season above .500 should be a goal for this squad in 2012. They'll have a chance to add to their win column this week when the Alabama Crimson Tide comes to town. No word yet on the decision to call the second game of this series the Turd Saturday in Marchtober (I know, and I'm sorry.).
11.) Alabama Crimson Tide (9-15, 1-5 SEC) - The pillow fight for last place in the SEC got a little more interesting this week when the Crimson Tide replaced all its feathers with rolls of quarters. A 9-0 loss to Troy during the mid-week is pretty impressive and not at all mitigated by the fact the game was played in Troy (Every game in every sport in the state of Alabama is a home game for the Tide.). However, I am unwilling to dethrone Vanderbilt as the worst team in the SEC because, more than anything, as a Gamecocks fan I like to tempt fate.
12.) Vanderbilt Commodores (9-15, 2-4 SEC) - The Commodores were a mere two runs away from sweeping UGA last weekend. A mid-week loss to Evansville (Who? Exactly.) tempers that excitement substantially, though. We're all waiting for Vanderbilt to rebound, but frankly, I'm still waiting on LSU to rebound as well. At some point you've got to call a spade a spade. The Commodores will host South Carolina this weekend in a series that will either confirm my inclinations or leave me even more befuddled about the directions of these two teams.