Baseball Stretch Run Should be Fascinating

The SEC baseball season still has three weeks to go and the battle for spots in the conference baseball tournament promises to be something to watch.

Eight teams will qualify for the tournament and right now only one team (Georgia) can be considered "in" and just one (Mississippi State) can be viewed as pretty much "out". The other ten SEC teams are battling for seven spots in the event in suburban Birmingham, Alabama.

Eastern Division
Georgia 15-5-1
Florida 12-9
Vanderbilt 11-9
Kentucky 11-10
S. Carolina 11-10
Tennessee 11-10

Western Division
Mississippi 11-10
Alabama 10-11
LSU 9-11-1
Arkansas 9-11
Auburn 8-13
Miss State 6-15

The winner of each division is guaranteed one of the top two seeds, while the next six best records also qualify. Thus the top two in each division get in, but the other four teams could all come from the same division. Right now that looks like a real possibility with sixth place in the East being a game-and-a-half better than third in the West.

At the moment Florida would be the third seed in the tournament and would play in the second game of the event on Wednesday, May 21 at 2:00 p.m.

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Overall the Gators (27-16) are four games better than they were at this stage last season. Offensively and defensively the Gators are about the same as they were last year with the notable exceptions of stealing a ton more bases (78 to 39) and hitting far fewer home runs (40 to 74). But this Gator pitching staff is far superior to last year with almost all the same guys. Let's look at some of the most notable improvements among individual pitchers.

2008 vs. 2007

Patrick Keating 8-0 2.69 --- 3-2 5.79
Stephen Locke 3-2 3.21 --- 3-3 6.95
Clint Franklin 3-2 2.51 --- 0-2 12.21
Billy Bullock 3-3 4.20 --- 2-7 6.31

In fact only one returning pitcher has dropped off from last season.

Kyle Mullaney 0-3 6.30 --- 4-2 4.25

The Florida pitching staff ERA has dropped from 5.27 last year to just 3.79 heading into the weekend. If the Gators can get Mullaney back on track, this will be a tough team to beat come tournament time and Florida will actually be better suited for tournament play depth-wise than in recent years.

This weekend the Gators will head to Columbia for a three-game set with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Florida will follow that with a trip to Tuscaloosa next weekend before wrapping up the regular season with Vanderbilt in Gainesville may 15-17. Five wins in those final nine games should assure the Gators of playing in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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