Super Bulldog Weekend is upon us and Starkville will be flooded with people who are forced to make their trips to Starkville less regular than others. They’re coming to town at a time when the team is clearly good, but also containing a few interesting questions to answer with its recent daily lineup shuffling. Let’s run through those things, shall we?
3 Lineup Spots of Contention and State’s Options
No. 2 and No. 3
Jake Mangum is Mississippi State’s career hits leader and is on pace to become the SEC’s hits leader by the end of the month. He won the batting title as a freshman, had the best season of his career as a junior — and is still on pace to be better this year. The No. 1 spot is fine.
Elijah MacNamee is on a 10-game hit streak and a 28-game reached base streak. He has twice as many multi-hit games (14) as he has hitless games (seven). The cleanup spot is fine.
What happens in between them is where MSU is looking for stability.
It’s probably going to be some combination of Jordan Westburg, Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan, but three different combinations were used in the Tennessee series. Up until now it’s been pretty self-explanatory based on which ones were hitting and which ones were not at the given time, but now there’s no telling what to do with Tanner Allen.
Allen’s slump led to his bump down the lineup (which didn’t seem to help matters), but then they move him up in the lineup a day after going 0-for-4 just to see him deliver three hits and a homer. It would have been easy to have some Jordan-Westburg combo in those spots until Allen flashed some life up in the order.
Admittedly, this is kind of a tame “problem,” if you even want to label it as such. It’s possible this is a controlled chaos situation, where the guys move where they belong based on recent production and do so all season, fluctuating back and forth comfortably; maybe the production eventually settles and they can fit one slot for the final six weeks.
Really, it’s more of a convenience thing for the coaching staff. Finding something steady in those spots would surely make the day-to-day a little easier on everyone.
There is obvious potential in Gunner Halter’s hit tool, but it’s simply not coming through right now: he’s got one hit in his last 16 at-bats, with seven of those 15 outs coming on strikeouts. This is the same guy that recognized defense as his weakness relative to his bat in the fall; thus, the bat is what has to keep him in the lineup every day.
(I feel it’s important to take a quick moment to point this out: fielding percentage is far from a perfect stat, but it’s as good as we can get in college baseball, and Halter’s [.936] is favorable to Justin Foscue’s [.906] and Jordan Westburg’s [.922]. We’re going to stay transparent here, no exceptions.)
- Halter hits again. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? This is the most attractive option for several reasons: it makes the bench deeper (it can’t be as deep if Halter is on it because he’s slumping), the double play combo of six weeks stays in tact and Foscue can stay at the position he’s played for his entire State career.
- Foscue at 2nd and Marshall Gilbert at 3rd. This is nice because it gives a current .300 hitter (Gilbert) more ABs, after just 40 through MSU’s first 33 games. It also lessens the log jam at catcher and maybe you could use Halter as a pinch runner. It’s dependent on both moving parts being competent in their new positions, but it’s realistic, to say the least.
- Landon Jordan takes over at second base. This one’s pretty clean, too: if he hits and he defends, all’s well that ends well.
- Finally, let me work through this one. Say Josh Hatcher starts hitting well (at first as a DH), Tanner Allen gets going again and more struggles at second base prompt the switch: Allen from first to second, Hatcher in at first. First of all, how fun would it be to have Hatcher and Cumbest in the same lineup? To be clear, I think this option is unlikely, but it is one, and I think it’s the last realistic one. There may be some other ideas floating around out there in Crazy Fan Twitter, but this is the option that meets the line between unrealistic and possible.
Bulldog designated hitters (and the pinch hitters in their place) went 1-for-10 against Tennessee, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying: those 10 ABs were spread through four guys.
The options are exactly what you think they are: Hatcher, Cumbest, Landon Jordan, Hayden Jones and Gilbert (when he’s not playing third or catching). There’s a button to be pressed here to get this thing clicking, and this coaching staff has shown no hesitation in pressing buttons and changing things.
Two Underappreciated Elements
Friday night fireworks
The four Friday night starters MSU has faced — Florida’s Tommy Mace, Auburn’s Tanner Burns, LSU’s Zack Hess and Tennessee’s Garrett Stallings — have this combined line against the Bulldogs: 23.1 innings, 25 hits, nine walks (1.457 WHIP), 15 earned runs allowed (5.79 ERA).
Keep in mind: even with those performances, two of them (Stallings and Burns) are still top 15 in the SEC in ERA. The Bulldogs are taking awesome pitchers and beating them up.
Folks, this lefty just had his worst outing of the season and he still has the best ERA on the team among pitchers with at least 1 inning pitched.
His ERA jumped by over a run and it’s still under 2.00.
23 strikeouts, 1 walk. If I saw that in a video game I would say it’s not realistic, and Barlow is doing it in the SEC.
His seven appearances against SEC competition: 8.2 innings, seven hits, two earned runs allowed (2.08 ERA), no walks, 11 strikeouts. And with the two rough outings Jack Eagan had before he got back on track against Tennessee, Barlow was effectively the only lefty out of the pen. This guy deserves public acclaim for what he’s doing.