Looking for Signs

For the past three weeks, the external benchmark for the Alabama baseball team has been clear – get to 20 Southeastern Conference wins and the league title – and with it a regional host bid guarantee and possible top-8 national seed for the NCAA tournament - should be yours.

If that mark is to be reached it will take a sweep of Tennessee on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to do it. And even then, it might not be enough for all the Tide had hoped.

If the Jekyll & Hyde Tide can pull the sweep in Knoxville, it would assure itself of the Western Division title and make it inconceivable that the Tide would not win a bid to host an NCAA regional weekend in Tuscaloosa. The top-8 national seed would be a distinct possibility, too.

But taking the league crown with a 20-win SEC season is another story.

Jim Wells' bunch, picked to finish fourth in the SEC West, is a heck of a story, but it's on the verge of being trumped by what John Cohen has done in Lexington with the Kentucky Wildcats.

Cohen's squad finished last a year ago, and they were predicted to finish there again this year. At the halfway mark of the SEC season this year Alabama had gone through the toughest part of its schedule at 10-5, while Kentucky's first half came in at 8-7. Over the last dozen SEC games, however, Kentucky has put up an unimaginable 11-1 record against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

Georgia, to its credit, has matched Kentucky winning its last 11 games. The Cats and Dogs meet in Athens this weekend, and anything but a sweep by Georgia will give Kentucky the outright Eastern Division title and at least a share of the overall league crown.

The conventional wisdom of those who have been following Southeastern Conference baseball much longer than I have is that 20 wins is a team reasonable expectation. to win the league crown. In four of the last five seasons, the overall league champion has totaled 20 or fewer wins, and with the league becoming more competitive each year the 20-win plateau should be a more likely winner than not.

The good news for Alabama fans, is that a regular season title is often harder to come by than post-season success. As has been documented, winning the SEC title in any sport is not any easy task, nor is it common in Tuscaloosa. Bama appeared to have pulled out of a self-imposed skid with its final two wins over Florida this weekend.

The general feeling from Jim Wells after Sunday's victory over Florida was one of encouragement that the Tide might be pulling out of a tough patch in the road. After played poorly against Arkansas and Auburn, and against Florida on Friday night, Bama's starting pitching dropped back into smooth operation, and the mid-season hitting confidence appeared to be on its way back.

"More importantly that whether we're in the race to win the league, is that we're playing better," Wells said Sunday.

With the series beginning on Thursday in the final week, Wells hasn't yet decided on a pitching rotation. It could well be that Wade LeBlanc sits this weekend out and recuperates for the post-season.

Alabama's title hopes are out of its hands, but more than how the wins and losses shake out, the final series of the SEC season will be about looking for any signs of possible post-season glory.


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