Alabama - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Alabama tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend on the campus of Mississippi State. Included is a very detailed preview of the upcoming series.

Weather - Saturday - The temperatures should be in the low 80s and high 70s throughout the first game with no chance for rain. Winds should be from the southeast at 12 to 14 mph. The second game should see temperatures in the high to mid 70s with no chance for rain. Winds should be from the southeast at 9 to 12 mph. | Sunday - The temperatures should be in the low 80s to high 70s with almost no chance for rain. Winds should be from the southeast at 10 to 12 mph.

Gametimes (CDT) - Saturday Game 1 Starting Time 2:00 p m (SportsSouth-TV) and Game 2 Starting Time 5:00 p m | Sunday 1:30 p m

Coaches - Mitch Gaspard is in his second season as the head man at Alabama. His first team had an overall record of 42-25 with an SEC regular season record of 15-15. His team advanced to a Super Regional and ended up with a NCAA post-season record of 5-3.

John Cohen, who is in his second season at Mississippi State, came to State from Kentucky where he won the overall SEC Championship in 2006. At Kentucky, John Cohen's teams were 175-112 overall and 63-85 in SEC play. Last year's MSU team was 23-33. In five seasons at Kentucky and one at Mississippi State, he has taken two of his teams to NCAA post-season play, although neither team advanced to Super Regional play. His teams have an overall NCAA post-season record of 4-4.

Alabama Road/Mississippi State Home Records - Alabama is 4-13 on the road while Mississippi State is 19-8 at home. For those keeping count, MSU is 17-2 at home against teams not ranked among the top 5 in the nation, while Alabama is 4-7 on the road against teams not ranked among the top 5 nationally.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Alabama is expected to start senior RHP Nathan Kilcrease (5-3, 2.94 ERA) during the first game Saturday and junior LHP Adam Morgan (4-4, 4.28 ERA) the second game. Alabama has not named a starter for the Sunday game, although my guess is it could either be one of two relievers, Jonathan Smart or Trey Pilkington (their info is listed in the reliever section of this preview). Sophomore RHP Tucker Hawley had been the Tide's third SEC starter but he's been out due to arm fatigue the past few SEC series.

Kilcrease has been an effective Friday night starter for Alabama during his six appearances. In three of his outings, he has given up 2 or less runs, while giving up between 4 and 6 runs in his other three. What is interesting to note is that he's been a much better pitcher in home SEC games than road games, giving up 14 runs (11 earned) in 17 innings of work on the road. That's an SEC road ERA of 5 82. As a comparison, he has an SEC home ERA of 1.57. While he does give up a lot of runs on the road, they are usually in the 5th inning, an inning when he has given up 8 of the 14 runs he has allowed in road games. Whether on the road or at home, he has been very, very effective in the first four innings of all of his SEC games, giving up a total of 6 runs in 24 innings (6 games x 4 innings) of work. If he can get by the 5th inning and his team is still in the game, he'll usually give Alabama a couple of very effective innings before being taken out in the 8th. Although not a strikeout pitcher, especially on the road, he is very good at inducing ground ball outs, generating about 1.5 ground outs to 1 fly out.

Morgan, while effective, hasn't been quite as good as Kilcrease in his six SEC outings. He's normally going to give Bama six innings, although he did go 7 and 8 innings in two of his six outings. One thing he does have in common with Kilcrease is his effectiveness at home compared to road SEC games. His SEC home ERA is 3.43 (8 ER, 21 IP) compared to 6.38 on the road (13 ER, 18 1 IP). Unlike Kilcrease, he hasn't been as effective in the first four innings, giving up 14 of his 23 SEC runs in those innings. Once he gets past the 4th inning, he's been extremely effective in the 5th (giving up no runs in that inning in SEC games), then he'll give a solid 6th before getting hit in the 7th (he's allowed 5 runs in this inning). He's a high pitch count guy who will throw between 15 and 17 pitchers per inning.

Mississippi State will have sophomore RHP Chris Stratton (4-5, 5.02 ERA) throwing the first game on Saturday and junior LHP Nick Routt (0-2, 4.15 ERA) on the mound Saturday night. Although a third starter hasn't been announced, I'm guessing it might be sophomore RHP Kendall Graveman (4-0, 3.13 ERA).

Stratton, who consistently throws his fastball in the 91-93 mph range, threw ok in his first three SEC starts, giving up 12 runs (11 earned) in 20 innings for a 4.95 ERA. Half of the 12 runs were scored from the 6th on. In his last three outings - against Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina - he gave up 20 runs (18 earned) in 13 2 innings. In those three games Stratton kept his pitches up in the zone, allowing opposing hitters a better opportunity to hit him. If he keeps them down in the zone, then he will usually give MSU a solid 6 innings of work. Based on the past three games, you should know within the first couple of innings how effective he will be.

Routt, who is being brought along slowly after recovering from an injury he suffered last season, has been very effective during the first three innings in all but one of his five SEC outings, giving up no runs in the first three innings of those 5 appearances. His best outing of the season was when he threw 5 innings against Florida, giving up no runs. His worst outing was the next weekend when he gave up 6 runs in 3 innings. Although he only lasted 3.1 innings in his last SEC appearance, he threw well, not only throwing an 88-90 mph fastball but also throwing his off-speed pitches as well as he had all season. If he is as effective with all of his pitches this weekend, I would guess that the MSU coaches will try to get 6 to 7 innings out of him.

Graveman, although not a hard thrower, has been an effective ground ball out type pitcher in most of his outings this season. And Alabama's hitters are ground ball hitters. Although he has only thrown in two official SEC games, he also threw against Ole Miss in the Governor's Cup game. He's been very effective in all three games, with the exception of a two-run home run he gave up to hot-hitting Christian Walker of South Carolina in the 9th inning of last Sunday's game. Take away that one swing of the bat and he has given up no runs in 11 innings of SEC work. A positive for Graveman is he makes teams work to get on base, walking just 1 in his 11 innings.

Relief Pitching - Alabama has primarily used four relievers in SEC games - senior LHP Jonathan Smart (2-1, 7 S, 2.40 ERA), sophomore RHP Trey Pilkington (1-3, 0 S, 4.04 ERA), sophomore LHP Taylor Wolfe (1-2, 1 S, 4.43 ERA) and senior RHP Brett Whitaker (1-0, 2 S, 2.81 ERA). They did pitch junior RHP Josh Posecrans (0-0, 0 S, 0.00 ERA) for the first time in SEC action last weekend due to using Smart as the Sunday starter.

Smart has, basically, been Alabama's most consistent reliever in SEC games this season, throwing in 9 of the 17 games he was available for relief. He started last Sunday's game, allowing 2 runs in 7 innings. In the 9 SEC games he has relieved in he has won 1 and saved 5 while recording a no-decision in the other three. While he's given up 7 runs (6 earned) in the SEC, those runs were scored in 3 of the 9 games. He has shut down the opponent in the other six to the tune of no runs in 10.1 innings. He is Alabama's closer and won't be brought in unless the game is on the line. He could be brought in as early as the 7th inning or as late as the 9th..He's been effective both ways. I could see him starting the Sunday game again if he's not needed in the first two games.

Pilkington is a pitcher that Alabama has used in long relief in two of his four relief outings. And when used in that role, he has been very good, giving up 1 run on 5 hits and 0 walks while striking out 2 in 6 1 innings of work. Bama did use him against Florida last weekend but the Gators scored 3 runs in a one-out effort by Pilkington. Along with Smart, he's a possible Sunday starter if he's not used in the first two games of the series.

Wolfe was used more in the first three SEC series than in the last three. He threw 3 innings in 2 games during those first three series, giving up no runs on 0 hits and 3 walks. In his last outing, he was hit hard by Florida, giving up 3 runs in 1 inning. Despite that poor outing, I could see him being used against MSU due to him being a left-handed pitcher. MSU hasn't hit lefties that well in SEC games this season.

Whitaker hasn't seen any action in the last two SEC series after throwing in three of the first twelve SEC games. He pitched pretty well in his three outings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) in 4 1 innings of work. If used this weekend, it's likely he will be used for a couple of innings in a game that is slightly out of hand.

Posecrans, a catcher by trade, has thrown in three games this year, one in SEC action. He was used last weekend as the closer, taking over Smart's role due to Smart starting the Sunday game. He was effective, allowing no runs, hits or walks in his 1 inning of work.

Mississippi State will primarily use seven relievers in SEC games when the game is on the line - junior RHP Caleb Reed (0-0, 7 S, 0.81 ERA), junior LHP Luis Pollorena (5-2, 0 S, 1.52 ERA), junior LHP Tim Statz (0-1, 0 S, 3.86 ERA), freshman RHP Taylor Stark (2-0, 1 S, 2.38 ERA), freshman RHP Daryl Norris (1-0, 1 S, 2.25 ERA), sophomore LHP Chad Girodo (2-0, 0 S, 5.40 ERA) and junior RHP Devin Jones (2-5, 0 S, 4.84 ERA).

Reed continues to be MSU's go-to guy out of the bullpen this season. Other than his first SEC outing when he allowed 4 runs (3 earned) in 5 innings against Vanderbilt, he's completely shut down the other SEC teams that he has faced. In those other 8 appearances he allowed 0 runs on 7 hits and 6 walks while striking out 17 in 15.2 innings. He's the kind of pitcher who can throw 1 or 2 innings and 5 if necessary. And he'll be effective in either role.

Pollorena, a lefty who throws his fastball in the high 80s touching 90 at times, has been pitching more and more in SEC games this season after pitching extremely well in non-SEC games. He's been solid so far, giving up just 3 runs (2 earned) on 12 hits and 6 walks while striking out 6 in 10.1 innings. His control had been a bit of an issue with him in his first few SEC games but he appears to have solved that. He's a guy who can pitch effectively against left-handed or right-handed hitters. When he's brought in, look for him to throw between 2 and 3 innings.

Statz has pitched well in SEC games, although he did give up 3 hits in 1 1 innings in his last outing. He didn't give up a run though. Prior to that outing, he has looked very good in SEC action, throwing 9.1 innings while allowing 3 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits and 5 walks to go along with his 9 Ks. Look for him to pitch an inning or two when he's brought in.

Stark, a low 90s fastball guy with an outstanding slider, had been extremely effective in SEC action until last weekend when he gave up 3 runs in 0.1 inning of work. Prior to that outing, he had pitched in 3 SEC games, allowing 0 runs on 1 hit and 2 walks while striking out 2 in 4.1 innings. He's a guy who might come in and get a couple of outs or, if really effective, give the Bulldogs a couple of innings of work.

Norris has pitched in five SEC games and has had inconsistent results. He has been very effective in three of the games (7.2 IP, 1 R) and been hit hard in the other two (1.2 IP, 3 R). He proved against Auburn, when he allowed 0 runs in 5.1 innings, when he's on he can give MSU a lot of quality innings in long relief. I could see him being tried in long relief again this weekend if one of the starters runs into early trouble.

Girodo is a lefty matchup type reliever who has appeared in seven SEC games. He's been effective in four of the seven. His best SEC outing was last weekend against South Carolina when he threw 2 innings, allowing 0 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 2. While it's possible he could be used for an inning or two in a game, I see him being used more in the role of a guy who is brought in to get out of an inning when a couple of lefties are coming to bat.

Jones, who has the best stuff on the staff including a 93-95 mph fastball, started out as the Friday night starter for MSU during the early part of the SEC schedule. After being ineffective in that role, he was moved to the bullpen and looked really good in his first two SEC outings, allowing 0 runs on 1 hit and 3 walks while striking out 7 in 3.1 innings. However, in his last outing, which was against South Carolina last Sunday, he was hit hard in 0.2 inning, giving up 4 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk. He's a guy the MSU coaching staff want to use and if brought in and he is effective, I could see him throwing a couple of innings to close out a game.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Junior Jared Reaves leads Alabama at the plate with a .588 batting average (10-for-17, 2 RBI), followed by freshman Austen Smith at .389 (7-for-18, 1 RBI) and senior Brock Bennett at .316 (6-for-19, 2 RBI).

Others include sophomore Brandt Hendricks who is batting .273 (3-for-11, 2 RBI), senior David Kindred at .273 (3-for-11, 1 RBI), sophomore Brett Booth at .263 (5-for-19, 2 RBI), senior Josh Sanders at .250 (4-for-16, 0 RBI), Junior Taylor Dugas at .174 (4-for-23, 2 RBI), sophomore Andrew Miller at .111 (2-for-18, 0 RBI) and in part-time duty, junior Hunter Gregory also at .111 (1-for-9, 1 RBI).

Mississippi State is led at the plate in the last five games by senior Jarrod Parks who is hitting .563 (9-for-16, 3 RBI), followed by freshman C.T. Bradford at .350 (7-for-20, 0 RBI) and senior Trey Johnson who is hitting .308 (4-for-13, 2 RBI) In part-time duty Ryan Collins is hitting .444 (4-for-9, 3 RBI.

Others include senior Cody Freeman who is hitting .286 (4-for-14, 1 RBI), senior Wes Thigpen at .250 (4-for-16, 3 RBI), junior Brent Brownlee at .250 (3-for-12, 0 RBI), senior Jonathan Ogden at .200 (3-for-15, 2 RBI), senior Jaron Shepherd at .091 (1-for-11, 1 RBI), and freshman Adam Frazier at .000 (0-for-16, 0 RBI) In part-time duty senior Nick Vickerson is hitting .167 (1-for-6, 1 RBI), freshman Daryl Norris is at .167 (1-for-6, 1 RBI) and freshman Taylor Stark comes in at .000 (0-for-7, 0 RBI).


How Alabama and MSU Match Up
Alabama Category Mississippi State
26-18 Record 24-16
.273 Batting Average .282
227 (5.2 pg) Runs 239 (6.0 pg)
12 Home Runs 15
.367 OB % .386
32-47 Stolen Bases-Attempts 59-78
170 (3.9 pg) Walks 172 (4.3 pg)
251 (5.7 pg) Strikeouts 266 (6.7 pg)
354 (8.0 pg) LOB 347 (8.7 pg)
3.57 Team ERA 4.09
11 Saves 10
102 (2.3 pg) Walks 125 (3.1 pg)
284 (6.5 pg) Strikeouts 320 (8.0 pg)
.250 Batting Average Against .256
.972 Fielding % .974

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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