With a start (22-3-1) that ranks as the third best in school history - only the 1970 (27-3) and 1979 (29-3) seasons started off better - these baseball Bulldogs are showing that they could wind up being ranked with the best teams in school history and that is, as we all know, saying a lot.
And this team is not just doing it with good hitting or good pitching.
Mississippi State, under the guidance of Ron Polk, has had great teams. However, almost all of his greatest teams have done it with great hitting and, on occasion, solid, but not deep, pitching.
This year's team is different; it is not only playing exceptionally well in all three phases of the game - hitting, pitching and defense - but it has depth at all three.
The team's batting average is .316. That average, if it remains at that level throughout the season, would be the 7th best since 1976. And it's not a Thunder and Lightning two-man show as it was for the 1985 team with Palmeiro and Clark. There are hitters, galore.
Individually, 11 players have started 12 or more games. Of those 11, seven are hitting .320 or better. To go into even more detail, five of the seven are hitting at a .350 or better clip. If you add Jeff Butts in the mix - Butts has batted 24 times, almost one at bat per games played - you would have 8 of 12 hitting .320 or better.
About the only weakness I see in this team's hitting armor is home runs, or lack thereof. So far this season, only 26 home runs have been hit. Over a course of a season, that would project to about 65. Not great, but then the 1985 team, with Palmeiro and Clark, only hit 74 and the 1990 team hit 53. Both of those teams won 50 games. So homers aren't a requirement of greatness.
And lest I forget, this team is doing something that no MSU team has done that well the past 12 years: Steal bases. So far this season, 37 bases have been stolen. Over the course of the season, that projects to about 90, which would be the best since 1990 (98).
Ok, we now know this team has the hitting. What about pitching, you ask?
The three SEC starting pitchers are a combined 11-1 with an earned run average of 1.80. Junior Paul Maholm is 4-1 with an ERA of 1.50, while sophomore Alan Johnson is 4-0, 1.82 and redshirt sophomore Todd Nicholas is 3-0, 2.20.
And unlike Bulldogs teams of the past, this staff is so deep the SEC starters don't have to pitch during the week. Junior Jeff Lacher (3-0, 3.43, 3 starts) and freshman Brad Corley (0-0, 3.79, 4 starts) take care of the mid-week duty.
Wonder about the bullpen? Solid there, even to the point of possibly being the best in school history. You have relief ace junior RHP Jonathan Papelbon with a 4-0 W-L record and 2 saves and an ERA of 0.42. In 21.2 innings, he has given up 16 hits, 7 walks and struck out 29. And he's not alone in the pen. State has a righty-righty-lefty combination of redshirt sophomore Saunders Ramsey (0-1, 2.19, 12.1 IP, 6 H, 6 BB, 17 SO), redshirt freshman Jamie Gant (1-0, 0.00, 9.2 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 8 SO) and senior Brian Owens (1-0, 0.00, 6.2 IP, 2 H, 5 BB, 5 SO) that allows Papelbon to keep from being overused. Then, there's junior Robby Goodson, true freshman Brooks Dunn, and senior Jacob Blakeney to help out in SEC play and mid-week games when necessary.
Hitting, pitching? MSU's got 'em. What about defense? Spectacular is the word that comes to mind. Why, you ask?
.975 fielding percentage says it best. And this is not one of those percentages that is disguised due to having fielders that have limited range and can't get to balls that only the great defensive players can reach.
Senior shortstop Matthew Maniscalco, currently the closest thing to the Ozzie Smith show in college baseball, makes outstanding plays look common place due to his outstanding range and arm. Junior Steve Gendron, moved from right field back to third base before the season started, is setting a new standard for past and future MSU third basemen with his quickness in getting to the ball and his strong, accurate arm. At first base, junior Matthew Brinson, while at first glance doe not appear to be the fastest first baseman around because of his size, has made great improvement in that area during his career at State and is now one of the fastest players on the team. With that improvement in speed, his defensive ability, which has always been very good, has continued to improve and he now makes all the plays around first look routine, whether they are routine or difficult, and uses his height to grab balls most other first basemen can't snag. The only weak link in the infield is at second base where catcher-turned-second baseman Thomas Berkery and shortstop-turned-second baseman Tyler Scarbrough share duty. Having never played second base before, both are adequate defensively.
Speaking of catcher, add the ingredients of solid feet, excellent confidence and an arm that could be the best in MSU baseball history and you get a young redshirt freshman by the name of Craig Tatum. And he is backed up by J. B. Tucker, a redshirt sophomore that continues to improve daily. Through the first 26 games, neither one has made an error behind the plate. And to show you the respect that their arms have earned, especially Tatum's, teams have attempted to steal 15 times. While 11 of those steal attempts have been successful, 15 attempts in 26 games shows the respect teams have for the arm prowess of the MSU catchers. Oh yeah, combined, the dynamite duo of T-and-T are hitting at a .363 clip. You couldn't, on your best day, daydream a better catcher combination. Just ask Ole Miss. Tatum, with his hits during this past weekend's MSU-Ole Miss three-game series, knocked in as many runs as their whole team.
Now, about that outfield. Redshirt sophomore Jon Mungle in left, true freshman Joseph Hunter in center and true freshman Brad Corley in right. Mungle and Hunter have speed to burn while Hunter and Corley have two of the strongest outfield arms in school history. Hunter probably has the best combination of speed, natural instinct and arm strength of the three. Because of that, he could wind up going down in school history as the best defensive centerfielder to ever play at MSU.
What's left? Coaching, of course. Ron Polk. Need I say more?
Add all of the above together and you have the potential of true greatness.
Of course, as Coach Polk says during his postgame shows, the season is young and there are many challenges ahead. But at least those challenges will be faced with both guns loaded with some of the best ammunition in school history.
See you at the ball park.
A look back at highlights of the MSU women's basketball season.
SEC Tournament Results:
NCAA Tournament Results:
That does it for this Monday.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.