3 Under-the-Radar Numbers from the Sweep
It’s one thing to hang 21 runs in a three-game series on the road at the rival school and leave with a sweep. It’s another to do it all by getting a good bit of that production in the most painful way: 2-out hitting.
Naturally a lot of this is fueled by every bit of the nine-run 4th inning on Sunday coming with two outs, but the entire weekend numbers are still impressive. With two outs, Mississippi State hit 16-for-41 (.390), thus 16 of the 35 hits on the weekend (45.7 percent) coming with two outs.
For most teams you would call that an anomaly and move on, remembering it fondly but certainly never expecting it to happen again. I’m not so sure that’s the case with this group, if nothing else because Chris Lemonis isn’t so sure. He said after the Sunday game this is what this lineup has done: it has so many quality hitters that are able to feed off each other, they have this innate ability to string hits together in bunches like this.
That quality is also evident in hitting .403 with runners on base this weekend (21-for-52) and hitting north of .400 in advancement opportunities in every single game (.417 on Friday, .524 on Saturday and .615 on Sunday).
Another strikeout number
Most of the attention around the Bulldog pitching staff racking up strikeouts is going to Ethan Small and his climb up the individual strikeout rankings — which don’t get me wrong, is impressive. He now has 132 strikeouts this year, good for sixth in school history and not far behind fifth (Jeff Brantley, 136, 1985), fourth (Gary Rath, 141, 1994) or the tie for second (B.J Wallace 1992 and Eric Dubose 1997, 145). He also has 274 career strikeouts, good for fourth in school history and only behind Chris Stratton in third.
But this team as a whole is striking out guys at a clip good enough to be remembered in school history forever and renowned on a national level unlike any other.
First, on the national level: their strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.39 (563 strikeouts, 166 walks) is best in the nation. The 563 strikeouts are best in the nation and the 166 walks are top 50. What’s impressive about that strikeout-to-walk ratio is it’s actually getting better of late, which you wouldn’t expect given the strength of the SEC. But the Texas A&M series (17 strikeouts to three walks, 5.66 ratio) and the Ole Miss series (29 strikeouts to eight walks, 3.62 ratio) raised the season strikeout-to-walk ratio from the 3.33 it was on May 1 to the 3.39 that it is now.
These 42-win Dawgs are on the brink of doing something that is uncommon in the history of this program.
Only four times in program history has a MSU team won 50 or more games, and most of them capped at 50 or 51. (54 in 1989, 51 in 2013, 50 in 1985 and 1990.) If the Bulldogs can put together a perfect week to end the regular season — not out of the picture, considering South Carolina is at the bottom of the SEC at the moment — that would give the Bulldogs 46 wins going to the SEC Tournament. Then if the projected top 8 seed does what that seeding suggests — win three games to win a Regional and win two to win a Super — the team could have 51 wins going to Omaha, and that’s if it doesn’t win a single game in Hoover.
2 Big Picture Thoughts after the Sweep
They locked up a top 8 seed
Over the last three seasons, 22 of the 24 top 8 national seeds have been Power 5 conference teams with at least 40 wins. Mississippi State is now a Power 5 conference team with 42 wins. As I write this on Monday, MSU is 3rd in RPI, moving up two spots after sweeping Ole Miss, with just Vanderbilt and UCLA ahead of it.
MSU is also currently a member of an elite in the 40-win regard. In the ACC, Louisville is there and NC State is borderline guaranteed to get there, but that’s it at the moment; the Big 12 may not get one there and the Big 10 will likely need Michigan to do it to get one there. The SEC and Pac 12 are the class of the sport on the top tier, with UCLA and Stanford joining the SEC’s unquestioned top 4 (State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Georgia).
With one week left in the regular season, the top class is thin and Mississippi State is a part of it. I’ll be shocked if the Bulldogs don’t earn the right to play a Super Regional at home.
Pitchers showed resiliency
Not all sweeps look as easy as the final results say they were, and it was definitely not the case for the pitching staff this weekend. But whenever a big moment came up, they responded — a quality that will do them well in June.
Jared Liebelt had one when the delay gave him an unusual, unexpected entry point to a game, and he responded with a 4-inning save. JT Ginn had one, battling through a 31-pitch first inning to get MSU into the fifth before going to the bullpen. Peyton Plumlee had one, responded to a 29-minute break between pitching the 3rd and pitching the 4th to throw his best from the 4th to the 7th.
It’s more evidence that the moment will rarely, if ever, be too big for this staff. They won’t perform every single time, no one does in baseball, but they’re good enough to have a legitimate chance every single time. That’s more than enough.