The Gators' overall record of 25-15 is not overly impressive, nor is their 10-8 mark in SEC play. So why do I think they're in such good shape?
Glad you asked!
Florida has an RPI of 21 according to the NCAA, and that's a good number when you are looking at a field of 64 teams. Additionally, Florida has played 18 games against teams with RPI in the top 50. Of those 18, six of them came against the top two teams in the country, Miami and Florida State. Florida can strengthen its credentials with a win or two this weekend when No. 12 Georgia comes to town.
Georgia is the top team in the SEC this year with a 14-3-1 record and will provide quite a challenge for the Gators who have dropped two of three in each of the last three weekends. A strong finish is also needed to make certain the Gators will be one of eight teams in the SEC Tournament at the end of the year. Right now Florida is tied for fifth place with Tennessee and has a two-game lead on Arkansas which sits in ninth place. The Gators lose the tie breaker with the Hogs, as they do with Tennessee and Kentucky.
Assessing the Gators
Florida is a team that is solid in every area, but not great in any of them. Florida's overall batting average is .299 and staff ERA is 3.80. Fielding has been a problem as the Gators have committed 61 errors. However when you look at conference games only the Gators' numbers are even more dramatic. Florida is 2nd in the SEC in batting average (.297) and also No. 2 in ERA (3.63). However the mistake prone Gator defense is last in the SEC and that's how a team that is near the top in pitching and hitting managed to lose 8-of-18 games. The defense will have to tighten up in the final 12 SEC games for the Gators to keep moving towards NCAA consideration.
Offensively, Florida has a decent balance of speed (72 SB) and hitting with okay power (38 HR). Avery Barnes has done a heckuva job in the leadoff spot with a .389 average and 19 stolen bases. He's basked up by Josh Adams (.354, 24 extra base hits) and Cole Figueroa (.325, 16 extra base hits).
On the mound, Florida is a much better team than last year with pretty much the same guys. Patrick Keating (7-0, 2.69) has been outstanding while Tommy Toledo (3.40), Billy Bullock (3.50) and Stephen Locke (3.45) have been pretty good most of the time. Head coach Kevin O'Sullivan is coaching the guys on the hill and his mantra of work fast and throw strikes is paying dividends.
It's always good to see a first year coach get off to a good start, and "Sully" has his team in position to do just that. A strong finish means SEC and NCAA Tournament play for the Gators for the first time in three years.
Future Looks Very Promising
Looking ahead there's every reason to expect the Gators to be much improved in ‘09. First of all, not one of the players I've mentioned thus far is a senior. Secondly, there's not a junior with the talent to get the pros to spend a lot of money. Additionally, Florida's recruiting class includes six of Baseball America's top 100 high school prospects. Only one of those guys, LHP Nick Maronde (#19) is in the top 60, and players rated above that number are normally considered to be good "risks" as it comes to pro ball.
The Florida program appears to be in good hands and on the right track. But the image of the program still needs help. A fast finish and post-season play would be the perfect momentum to keep the Gators moving forward.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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