RESILIENCY: Florida hasn’t been good at playing from behind this season, but they handled it on Saturday and Sunday. Both were back-and-forth games, and they were both important games while Florida chases one of the eight national seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the Southeastern Conference looks unlikely at this point, so the biggest thing for Florida is trying to get into the top eight. With LSU and Texas A&M looking like locks to be there and the NCAA’s reluctance to give four national seeds to one conference, it could come down to Florida or Vanderbilt for the third one from the SEC.
That made the games on Saturday and Sunday a big deal for Florida. And for a team with 23 of its 33 players as freshman and sophomores, they look to be turning the corner while heading into a week with four games all against teams in the top 30 of the RPI.
SURPRISE STARTER: If anyone expected one good outing from this weekend’s three starting pitchers, most of the guesses would’ve been Alex Faedo or Logan Shore. Instead, both of them struggled and A.J. Puk was dominant. It’s the latest week with a Florida pitching staff that has turned from inconsistent to completely unpredictable.
Puk’s start was easily the best of his career. The sophomore left-hander went six innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out 11 hitters. It was the first time a Florida pitcher had struck out double-digit hitters since Hudson Randall, now a student assistant for the Gators, did it in 2012.
This is the reason Kevin O’Sullivan continues to give Puk chances despite his 5.87 ERA going into the week. He has an elite arm and will be a high draft pick in the 2016 MLB Draft whether or not he puts it all together at Florida. But if he does, he makes the Gators a completely different team on the mound. Puk has the best arm on the team and could change the Gators’ postseason fortunes if he has figured it out.
DEFENSE: This category could be limited almost every weekend. Florida’s .986 fielding percentage is the best in the country, and the Gators completed another weekend without an error. Florida has made just two errors in its last seven games and only 26 errors in 48 games this year. They make the routine plays and have the ability to make the spectacular ones, which center fielder Buddy Reed did in the first inning of Saturday’s game while going airborne to catch a ball on the warning track before crashing into the wall.
O’Sullivan said it best on his postgame radio show Sunday. When Florida pitchers don’t walk hitters, the Gators are tough to beat because they don’t give their opponents anything. The offense has gone through funks and the pitching has been inconsistent, but the Florida defense has been the best in the country throughout the year.
FRIDAY: There’s really no excuse for what happened on Friday. It was Georgia’s first home SEC win in six tries, and the Bulldogs simply aren’t very good. O’Sullivan ripped his team for not putting out a better performance in a rivalry game that means so much to both fan bases, and the team played a lot better on Saturday and Sunday.
It’s hard to expect a road sweep in the SEC regardless of the opponent, but the Bulldogs are a team Florida should sweep, especially as the Gators try to make a push for a national seed.
TWO STARTERS: Starting pitcher roulette continues to produce mixed results, as Faedo and Shore combined to throw 4.1 innings and allow nine runs. If that happens next weekend, the Gators have no shot to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Shore’s SEC ERA is now up to 4.20 after Friday, and Faedo’s is 4.67 although he has been good as a starting pitcher before Sunday.
Shore can still be one of the best pitchers in the country, and Faedo has the upside to be a Friday night guy as soon as next year for Florida. But the Gators still need both to be better going forward.