What we learned about Florida: Vandy series

Florida finished its best week of the year with a road series win against Vanderbilt.

THE GOOD:

NATIONAL SEED RACE: There aren’t truly elimination series in the race for a national seed, but the Florida-Vanderbilt series was as close as possible. The Gators still need to win the series against Auburn and maybe even a game in the SEC Tournament to feel locked into a national seed, but with the higher RPI and now a road series win over the Commodores, the Gators have the upper hand in the race for the Southeastern Conference’s third national seed.

LSU and Texas A&M seem like locks at this point. The Gators are now No. 8 in the RPI over Vanderbilt at No. 13 and have a better non-conference strength of schedule and record against the top 50 RPI.

PUK SHINES AGAIN: Logan Shore bounced back by allowing one run over seven innings on Thursday. Shore has battled his own inconsistencies, but the pitchers behind him have been even more uncertain. A.J. Puk looks like he’s starting to reach the potential that has him in talks to be a top 10 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. At 6-7, the left-hander was 94-97 mph on Friday and made a lineup with multiple MLB prospects look hopeless.

The Gators didn’t have a pitcher strike out double-digit hitters in one start since 2012. Puk has done it in his last two starts. At Vanderbilt, Puk allowed five hits and three walks while going seven innings and striking out 12 hitters. He also went 126 pitches and was able to sustain his mid-90s velocity throughout the outing. The Shore-Puk duo has a chance to lead Florida deep into the postseason.

RESOLVE: Fighting back hasn’t been Florida’s way. The Gators struggled to bounce back while trailing, but they showed a new side in Nashville. After falling behind 7-4 after seven innings in the decisive third game, the Gators could’ve folded the tents and thought about the return trip to Gainesville. Instead, they scored two in the eighth inning and one in the ninth inning, coming on a two-out, two-strike single by J.J. Schwarz to tie the game.

Florida played from behind for the final seven innings on Saturday before posting two runs in the 10th inning to win the game. The momentum created from Saturday’s game is something the Gators can use while heading into the final three regular season games and the postseason.

THE BAD:

DEFENSE: It’s rare to be able to put the defense into this category. The Gators came into Saturday’s game with a national-best .986 fielding percentage. Florida made four errors on Saturday after not committing more than two in one game this season. There were some big ones, too. Ryan Larson dropped a ball in right field that sparked Vanderbilt’s three-run seventh inning. Even plays that weren’t ruled errors hurt, as Dalton Guthrie couldn’t corral a line drive hit at him to start that inning.

This isn’t an area that should give anyone concern about Florida. The Gators have plenty of talent and have been great on defense all year. There’s no reason to believe this game is anything more than a blip on the radar.

THIRD STARTER: This problem has been worse in that Florida struggled to find a second starter at times this year, but freshman Alex Faedo had his second straight bad start on Saturday. He has a big arm and will be tough to keep out of the rotation next season, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can handle the pressure down the stretch. He didn’t pitch well on Saturday, but the Florida bullpen bailed him out.

If Shore and Puk continue to dominate, Faedo doesn’t need to be a star. Having a solid third starter would be nice for this team, but the best part of this group comes with a deep bullpen that should be able to bail him out.


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