By Brett Hudson
Mississippi State saw the bad end of a sweep for the first time this season, yet still is one of six SEC West teams within two games of each other. The race is on, folks, and here are some thoughts on the team as it takes on the final four weeks of that race.
Three Thoughts from the Series
Aberrations cost State the series
In Friday’s 12-5 loss, a Bulldog pitching staff that was allowing 2.84 walks per game inexplicably issued 16 free passes. Not only was it the first time the staff issued 10 or more walks in a game, it was just the third time this year they allowed more than six.
File that Friday loss under Unlikely To Repeat Itself.
On Saturday, Arkansas starting pitcher Connor Noland — who had never gone more than 5 innings as a Razorback — pitched 7.2 scoreless, allowing four hits and no walks. Maybe avoiding facing Mangum yet another time factored into it, but frankly, Noland could have gone longer (he only threw 89 pitches) had he not collected the win in the midweek game before the series.
File that Saturday loss under Unlikely To Repeat Itself.
For Dogpile listeners out there, you may remember my closing thought being on the lack of proven pitching depth Arkansas has, thus Mississippi State’s primary objective being to take advantage of that. Two aberrations made that objective a moving target this weekend — not quite the beginning of a crisis.
Checking in on DH musical chairs
Designated hitter/pinch hitter has intrigued me this season, and has from the beginning, because there are so many respectable options for so few potential at-bats.
There was a stretch earlier this month where it was almost entirely Brad Cumbest and Josh Hatcher, but the coaching staff seems to be diversifying a little bit. Hayden Jones had five at-bats in the first two weeks of April, but got two in the Arkansas series and got his first hit of the month; also in that series, Landon Jordan got at-bats in consecutive games for the first time since two midweek games over a month ago and Luke Hancock — who got 10 at-bats in the first nine weeks of the season — got four last week.
It’s possible this is just a countermove to the facts that Cumbest is hitless in his last nine at-bats and Hatcher has one hit in his last 11. But if it’s more than that, the intrigue in the DH/PH roles has arguably never been this high.
SEC championship in reach — for now
Another nod to Dogpile listeners here. Those of you that listen will remember the path I set out for MSU starting this second half of the SEC schedule: take one of three in every road series, take two of three in every home series and the team gets to 17-13; steal a game or two here or there and with the right amount of help, it could be enough to win the West or the SEC outright.
Since when is baseball that clean and easy? I figured it would go a little differently than that for MSU, if it were to end this regular season with some sort of championship. Seeing the results of this weekend was a little jarring, but I wanted to see if this is out of the norm. Turns out most SEC champions hit a stretch this like:
- 2018 Florida, State fans should remember it well: the Bulldogs swept Florida in Starkville to end the regular season. Didn’t stop those Gators from making it to Omaha.
- 2017 Florida and 2017 LSU. Florida got swept to start the SEC schedule and LSU started 5-5. Both finished 21-9, winners of their respective divisions.
- 2016 Mississippi State got swept by Texas A&M at home, and 2015 Vanderbilt (20-10) lost consecutive SEC series to Ole Miss and South Carolina.
To go back to the headline above this section, here’s why I stipulate the hopes are alive for now: most of those teams rebounded in impressive fashion. 2015 Vanderbilt came back to sweep a series with a ranked Missouri and the 2016 Bulldogs came back to take two of three in Baton Rouge are two good examples. MSU has that opportunity hosting SEC East leader Georgia this weekend, and history suggests it needs to put up a couple of wins to stay in the hunt.
Two Relief Pitchers On Fire
His last six appearances: 6.1 innings, two hits and three walks allowed, no runs, 11 strikeouts. That’s a WHIP of 0.789 and only two of those appearances were against non-conference opponents.
MSU is getting what it wanted out of this Pearl River CC product — one inning of dominance every time he’s called upon.
Yes, he was also part of the walk problem in Fayetteville, but check this out: he’s pitched 5 innings against SEC foes, allowing two hits, two earned runs and striking out seven. When he hits the strike zone a little more (six walks in his last three appearances, 6 innings total), he is the oh-so-useful additional left-handed weapon. And what college baseball team couldn’t use another one of those?