This week the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-5, 4-2 SEC) will play host to the Kentucky Wildcats (15-11, 2-4 SEC). The Gamecocks will be looking to avenge a series loss to the Wildcats in 2010. In fact, the Gamecocks only lost two series in 2010, the other being to the Florida Gators. And for some reason, after traveling to Lexington two years in a row, USC finally gets the Wildcats back in Columbia. No doubt, Ray Tanner and Co. will be looking for the sweep against a team that is sub-.500 in league play.
Before facing Kentucky, though, USC hit the brick dust at Carolina stadium to face off against The Citadel. Once again the Gamecocks struggled against inferior mid-week competition. Adam Westmoreland (0-1, 6.04 ERA) allowed a single run in each of the first two innings before giving up 2 in the 4th without recording an out. For at least his 3 consecutive start, Westmoreland failed to pitch past the fourth inning. At some point, Carolina will have to find more than 2 pitchers on their staff that can give a quality start. For now, though, the Gamecocks can meander along in league play filling holes as they surface. That's tough on a pitching staff, so it would be nice to see some more consistency out of the Carolina hurlers.
The other storyline coming out of Wednesday was the apparent chippiness that the Citadel players directed at our own Jackie Bradley, Jr. After striking out in his first two at-bats, I guess that Citadel dugout thought they actually had something to crow about. JBJ, for his part, did some staring into the Bulldog dugout after an RBI walk. Hey, the kid's got enough maturity about him to know that it's not about how you start, but how you finish. After that the Gamecocks added a few run, including a Christian Walker solo HR, to win the game 6-4. As for the Bulldogs, well, Carolina now leads the all-time series 121-46-1. 'Nough said.
Kentucky preview after the jump.
South Carolina enters this weekend's series tied atop the SEC East. The Gamecocks are currently 4th in the SEC in ERA (2.87) and 8th in batting average (.292). Meanwhile, the Wildcats carry .307 team average and a 3.90 ERA, good enough for 5th and 10th in the league, respectively. Kentucky has 7 players hitting above the .300 mark, led by J.T. Riddle (.364). Riddle also leads the team in slugging percentage (.530). Kentucky is far from a power team, though. The team slugging percentage is .449, good enough for 4th in the league. Carolina leads the league that category with a .470 mark. Together, the 'Cats have only tallied 18 home runs (tied for 4th in the league), but no one on their team has more than 3 round trippers to his name. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, lead the league in home runs with 25.
Kentucky's schedule to date has been less than impressive. The 'Cats have played quite a few BCS level schools in their out-of-conference schedule, but they've won only a couple of those match-ups. Their biggest wins, to date, are taking 2 of 3 from Tennessee a few weeks ago and a mid-week victory over Cincinnati. Of course, accompanying those wins are losses to College of Charleston, Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee State, and a sweep at the hands of Alabama. Needless to, Carolina fans ought to expect a series win, if not a sweep, this weekend.
But USC has problems of its own. The Gamecocks have had trouble finding starters who can, you know, start. Thursday afternoon Travis Haney tweeted that the 'Cocks' starters for the weekend would be Michael Roth (5-1, 1.50 ERA), Colby Holmes (2-0, 4.00 ERA), and the infamous TBD that has become a staple of the weekend rotation for two years running. From this we can glean that usual Saturday starter, Steven Neff, is still unavailable due to soreness in his shoulder. However, Forrest Koumas, the freshman who pitched a gem of a game in his first collegiate start against Florida last weekend is recovering after being hospitalized for an allergic reaction to some peanuts. Presumably, he'll be available for the Sunday start if all goes well.
Carolina's shortened pitching roster could provide some serious problems for the Gamecocks this weekend. The Wildcats have proven pesky for the Gamecocks in recent history, and if they get hot at the plate this weekend they could easily take the series against Carolina's weakened staff. But by the same token, Kentucky is a team that USC should be able to sweep - at least on paper. Kentucky has only won one game when trailing after the 6th inning. If Carolina can get ahead early, Kentucky has shown that it has struggled against experienced closers. Of course this strategy hinges on Matt Price performing up to his potential - something that hasn't been a given in 2011. Kentucky is also liable to help the Gamecocks out. They lead the league in sac. bunts (read: free outs) and are 3rd in caught stealing attempts (read: srsly free outs). Carolina has only allowed 8 stolen bases on the season.
With a little luck, Carolina will be able to sweep the series with Kentucky and move into first place in the SEC East by themselves. South Carolina leads the all-time series with Kentucky 38-29. All three games this weekend will televised for your viewing pleasure on FS South, SportSouth, and SportSouth, respectively.