Mississippi State leads the series 55-21 overall and 23-10 in Nashville.
Next, let's take a look at how Vanderbilt's pitchers have done in SEC play.
Vanderbilt is allowing 8.33 earned runs per game, which is last in the SEC. SEC teams are hitting .329 against Vanderbilt pitching.
Look for Vanderbilt to throw freshman, left-handed pitcher Jeremy Sowers Friday night. Sowers, who is 6-0, 165, turned down over 3.4 million dollars as a first-round draft pick in last summer's Major League Baseball draft. He has started all but one of Vanderbilt's Friday night SEC games. His record is 1-5 in the SEC. His one victory was at home against Arkansas. In his 6 SEC starts he has thrown 7 or more innings in 5 of the 6. For a freshman, he has exhibited good control, walking no more than 4 in any SEC game. In SEC play he has thrown 41.1 innings, allowed 54 hits, 32 earned runs, struck out 32 and walked 18. He has an earned run average of 6.97.
Vanderbilt's Saturday starter on the mound will very likely be senior, right-handed pitcher Jeff Little. Jeff, who is 6-3, 200, is 1-4 in SEC play. His one win was a complete-game victory over LSU at Baton Rouge. Other than that complete-game, Jeff has been ineffective, allowing 23 earned runs in 22.1 innings. Overall, in SEC play, he has thrown 31.1 innings, allowed 42 hits, 24 earned runs, struck out 15 and walked 17. His ERA is 7.11.
Either Steven Faulkner or Chris Maultsby will start for Vanderbilt on Sunday. Both senior pitchers throw right-handed. Faulkner has started three games for the Commodores, losing one and earning a no-decision in the other two. In 13.1 innings, he has allowed 17 runs, 18 hits, walked 8 and struck out 5. His ERA is 11.68. Maultsby, who started last Sunday's game against Florida, has started 2 games. He has thrown 12.2 innings, allowing 11 earned runs on 15 hits. He has walked 7 while striking out 8.
The starters have been the most effective of the Vanderbilt pitchers. The bullpen has been completely ineffective, allowing 10.70 earned runs per 9 innings. Vandy's ace reliever, senior Dean Bennett, has saved 6 games, but none have been in SEC play. In SEC play he has thrown 6 innings while allowing 7 runs.
Next up is Vanderbilt's SEC hitting.
Hitting-wise, Vanderbilt is batting .268 in SEC play. At home, they are hitting the ball at a .286 clip while on the road they are hitting .256. They are hitting .306 against left-handers and .251 against right-handers.
Vanderbilt is led in hitting by Sean Luellwitz. Leullwitz is hitting .375 overall and .470 in SEC play. Vandy's second-best hitter, overall and in SEC play, is Chris Broadus. Broadus is hitting .363 overall and .361 in SEC play. Both Luellwitz and Broadus are right-handed hitters. The remaining Vanderbilt hitters are batting .231 in SEC play.
Winners of just 1 of 7 SEC home games, don't look for Vanderbilt to have any kind of home field advantage. Based on the above stats, the Bulldog hitters can expect to score 6 runs or more runs against Vanderbilt's starting pitchers, then when they get into the bullpen, they can expect to score at least a run per inning. If the Bulldog pitchers stop Vanderbilt hitters Luellwitz and Broadus, then they can expect to shut down the Vanderbilt hitting. This appears MSU's best chance for a SEC sweep this season.
While my analysis seems to heavily favor the Bulldogs, head coach Ron Polk and players Brent Lewis and Matthew Brinson are not taking the Commodores lightly.
In fact, Brinson sees this series as the most crucial one to-date. "Going into Vanderbilt, we have got to have three," said Brinson. "We don't want one or two, we want three. I say that every weekend but there is a sense of urgency this weekend. Like Coach Polk said, we have to play every game like it is the last game of the year."
Brent Lewis also knows the importance of the series. "Our backs are against the wall now as far as getting in the regionals," said Lewis. "We know it and have to come out and play every single day. We have gotten off to a good start this week, 2-0, so hopefully we can go to Vanderbilt and win that series. We have a tough go the rest but if we want to play in post-season we have to do well the rest of the way."
Lewis also understands that Vanderbilt freshman, left-handed pitcher Jeremy Sowers has the potential to dominate a game even though he hasn't so far this season. "The guy we are facing Friday at Vanderbilt is a first-rounder but he has been beaten a couple of times this year," said Lewis. "A pitcher does make a big difference but all it does is put more pressure on the hitter. You just have to work harder at the plate and concentrate even more."
Lewis also understands that the Bulldogs need to be more consistent starting this weekend. "We aren't panicking," said Lewis. "It's just the fact that we have to be more consistent. Consistency is the biggest problem with this team right now. This year, we will go out one day and we can beat anybody in the world. Then, the next day, we go out and struggle real bad. It is easy to get real high or real low in baseball. When we play real well, we can't come out too high."
Lewis, originally from Jackson, Tennessee, has added incentive to play well during the series. "It is not far from my house at all," said Lewis. "I have a lot of friends who go to (Vanderbilt) and a couple of friends who go to (Middle Tennessee State) which isn't far either. I have some aunts and uncles who haven't seen me play in a college game who plan on coming down to see the game. I think having family members and friends watching you play makes you feel more comfortable. It makes me more comfortable because I have people that really care about me in the stands."
While both Brinson and Lewis have their own reasons for wanting to win this series, Coach Polk understands the importance of the series and also knows, despite the above stats, it won't be an easy series to win. "We talked to the Florida people and they said Vanderbilt could have won two out of three at Gainesville and earlier in the season they went to LSU and won two out of three," said Polk commenting on how well Vanderbilt has played at times this season. "They are playing at home and have probably the top freshman pitcher in the country in Jeremy Sowers, a first round draft pitcher who turned down 3.4 million dollars."
Coach Polk also has a decision to make regarding MSU's Sunday starting pitcher. Normally it would be Joey Collums but that could change due to Vanderbilt's batting average against left-handers. "It looks like Vanderbilt's batting average is higher against left-handers than right-handers," said Polk. "If that is the case, then we will have to make a decision about (who to start Sunday). I want to see them Friday before I pull that trigger."
While all the stats favor the Bulldogs, the MSU coach and players know the importance of this series and will not take anything for granted. Look for a very determined Bulldog club to take the baseball diamond this weekend.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.