South Carolina (24-10, 5-7 SEC) hosts the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (21-12, 5-7 SEC) for a three-game series this weekend, starting tomorrow night. This will be an important tilt between two teams that are jockeying to break into the conference's upper tier. The series will likely feature tons of low-scoring baseball from two teams that are known more for their pitching than offense.
The probable starters are as follows, per USC's official site:
South Carolina - Michael Roth (Sr. LHP) 3-0, 1.98 ERA, 54.2 IP, 11 BB, 47 SO
Mississippi State - Chris Stratton (Jr. RHP) 7-0, 2.54 ERA, 49.2 IP, 14 BB, 67 SO
South Carolina - Jordan Montgomery (Fr. LHP) 2-0, 2.70 ERA, 30.0 IP, 2 BB, 27 SO
Mississippi State - Kendall Graveman (Jr. RHP) 2-1, 2.68 ERA, 47.0 IP, 13 BB, 27 SO
South Carolina - Colby Holmes (Jr. RHP) 4-0, 2.56 ERA, 38.2 IP, 10 BB, 34 SO
Mississippi State - TBA
That means that USC will go with Montgomery on Saturday night for the second-straight weekend. Montgomery's outing against Tennessee was the highlight of that series, and it earned the young southpaw SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Montgomery's play this weekend will again be key. We've had trouble finding consistency on Saturday so far this season. Matt Price opened as the Saturday starter with mixed results, and once he was moved back to the bullpen, poor play from our other choices oftentimes meant having to bring him out too early for him to really take advantage of his skills as a closer. Montgomery's deep, impressive outing changed that, at least for one weekend. We need similar work this weekend, which will not only keep runs off the board but will also keep Price and the other relievers fresh for potential Sunday work. That shouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities, as MSU does not have devastating hitters.
The other key will be finding more consistency on offense. Christian Walker remains one of the league's best hitters, while Evan Marzilli is also having a good season after something of a sophomore slump in 2011. Past that, though, we don't have anyone who's hitting well night-in, night-out. Perhaps that player can be Adam Matthews. Matthews is playing better of late; per USC's official site,
Senior outfielder Adam Matthews was 4-for-9 (.444) with a double and two RBI in the Tennessee series. Matthews leads the Gamecocks in conference games with a .308 average in 12 SEC contests (12-for-39) with four runs scored and four RBI.
L.B. Dantzler and Joey Pankake are a couple of other players who have shown flashes of potential brilliance. The Gamecocks are going to need all they can get from these guys this weekend, as MSU brings a solid pitching staff, led by conference standout Chris Stratton. We also need to make sure we take advantage when we get runners in scoring position. We've suffered from leaving runners on base and base-running errors this year. That can't happen against a stingy Bulldogs team.
If I had to say, I think the key to this series will be how much our staff has left in the tank on Sunday. If we can at least split Friday and Saturday (and, even against Stratton, I advise not betting against the Gamecocks and Roth in Columbia on a Friday night), and we don't wear out our pen in the first two games, then we should have a leg up on Sunday, as the Bulldogs' pitchers have been shaky on Sunday. Sunday pitching might, in fact, be the biggest difference between these two teams; we haven't been great, but we're better than MSU. In that sense, if we have even a semblance of a fresh crew on Sunday after at least splitting the first two, I like our chances to take the series.