So the SEC Baseball Tournament commences tomorrow, and while we will do our part in providing you with the best coverage of what will hopefully be a miraculous run to the championship by the Gamecocks, we also want to keep you in the loop as to how our fellow SEC brethren will fare.
While the easy pick would be LSU, the country's #1 team and the top seed in the tournament, there are several teams that could take the trophy home this week depending on how things fall. In fact, it might bear mentioning that the top seed hasn't won the SEC tournament since 2009 (LSU, who ended up winning the College World Series that season), a year before they ended up winning it as an eight seed in 2010. (As for that year's College World Series...that was another story.)
Without further ado, here's a look at the field:
The good: Pretty much everything. Only one of their nine players with at least 150 at bats has an average below .300. (That one player is Jared Foster, who was academically ineligible, then eligible again--all that after having foot surgery in the fall.) Two players have 50 or more RBI: Chris Chinea (All-SEC second team) and Conner Hale. They're pretty good at the pitching thing, too: Alex Lange (10-0, 2.11) was named the SEC freshman of the year earlier today and is on the national pitcher of the year watch list, while their staff ERA is lowest in the league (2.91). Redshirt sophomore Hunter Newman (30.1 IP, 0.59 ERA) might be one of the top bullpen guys in the country.
The not so good: If there's a "not so good" to address with this team, they're going to either play Kentucky or Auburn in the second round. The Wildcats beat them two out of three in the regular season, and Auburn beat them 6-1 a day after a hard-fought 3-2 defeat, so that's something that might be in the Tigers' periphery.
Chances of winning: Well, they're the #1 team in the country, so...yeah, I think they have a good shot.
The good: They have Carson Fulmer, the SEC pitcher of the year (11-1, 1.51) and projecting as a #1 overall pick in the MLB Draft this summer. They also have Dansby Swanson, last year's most outstanding player in the College World Series and possibly the number two pick in the MLB Draft behind Fulmer. If they declare. And it's safe to assume they will. Zander Weil and Rhett Wiseman (23 HR combined) are your power threats.
The not so good: Well, they strike out a lot--477 times to be exact, the SEC's highest K total--but they're such a good team so that's hardly a huge concern.
Chances of winning: Even though LSU's the top seed and the #1 team in the country, it's not a stretch at all to see the Commodores winning, and the fact that they're the defending national champion can't be understated.
3. Texas A&M
The good: Led by first-team pick Mitchell Nau, their offensive firepower is up there with LSU's (.313 batting average and 380 runs scored--both second in the SEC) and they just plain know how to get on base (tops in slugging percentage at .479 and OBP of .405). The 61 home runs (#1 in the SEC) helps too. Grayson Long is their ace, and while Lange and Fulmer may get the buzz, the junior's held his own this season: he's 9-0 with a 2.51 ERA, and players are hitting just .211 off of him.
The not so good: If there's one thing that sticks out with the Aggies, it's that they don't attempt that many stolen bases. That's not necessarily a bad thing. To that end, while the team won't burn you on the base paths, they certainly know how to make the most of their opportunities when they come up. However, they're last in the league in fielding percentage (.967) and are second in the league in errors (66).
Chances of winning: They don't really have the all-out, top-to-bottom strength that LSU has, and they aren't the best team defensively, but their pure ability to get men on base, their overall run production, and their power make them a group to watch. (Of note: both Alabama and Ole Miss, their potential second round opponents, have beaten them this year.)
The good: The Gators have two players that can change games with one swing of the bat: Harrison Bader and JJ Schwarz, who account for 26 of the team's 50 homers and combine for 102 RBI. Combine that with the sturdy bat of Josh Tobias (.366, 12 doubles, five triples) and a young but talented corps of pitchers (all but four members of the staff are sophomores or younger) and Florida has a shot.
The not so good: While Florida's starting pitchers (namely Dane Dunning, A.J. Puk and Logan Shore) have been solid at times this year, they've not been great. Puk is 7-3 but has an ERA near five—he's allowed two runs or fewer in three of his last four starts, though. Shore's ERA is much lower (2.86) but he has lost his last four decisions as his offense has been of no help to him over the stretch of those games. (Total number of runs scored by the Gators in Shore's last four losses: Two.) Dunning has won five games, but his 3.54 ERA still trends much higher compared to guys like Fulmer, Lange and other upper-echelon SEC pitchers.
Chances of winning: They have a good early draw, but unless they show an ability to shut down the higher-powered offenses that are out there and match wits with the better pitching staffs in the league, they won't make it to Sunday.
The Hogs have the league's best player in Andrew Benintendi (.415, 17 HR, 51 RBI), but might not have a deep enough lineup and the overall pitching to make too far a run. That's not to say they don't have a shot at all: they have three wins against the #1 team in the country (LSU on March 19 and Texas A&M twice on April 18 and 19). If there's a dark horse in the group, the Razorbacks are it.
6. Ole Miss
Sikes Orvis is one behind Benintendi for the SEC lead in homers (16) and is tied for third with 53 RBI, so if he's not at his best, the Rebels have no shot.
The Tigers are last in the SEC in batting average (.258) and on base percentage (.330) while ranking second from the bottom in runs scores (260). While they might make it past South Carolina in the opening round, they probably won't make it too far.
The Wildcats would have a true chance at the title if their pitching (4.33 ERA, third worst in the league) wasn't struggling so much. That's a shame, because they have several dynamic players in the lineup, led by Ka'ai Tom and JaVon Shelby.
Cole Lipscomb (7-2, 2.38) and Anfernee Grier (.344) help the Tigers go, but the team itself doesn't have the full package when it comes to overall production.
10. South Carolina
The Tide suffer from a similar problem as Kentucky: some decent bats in the lineup (i.e. Mikey White and Casey Hughston) but the lack of pitching to back it up.
Injuries and a struggling offense (last in the league in runs scored and third-last in batting average) have decimated the Vols this season. It's sure to be a short trip at the Met this week.