In saying that though, it certainly needs to turn around very quickly if the high expectations everyone had are going to be fulfilled.
The rather amusing thing that I do see in all of this is the fact that now that they're struggling, people aren't hesitating to call them overrated. Apparently, the Auburn fans share that opinion as well, as judged by the chant they did towards the end of the Sunday rubber game, a 7-3 win for the Tigers.
Overrated? Come on. The same people who sat and hyped, hyped, and overhyped this team after the start they had are the same ones who are leading those 'overrated' comments now.
Overrated? No, not in the least. Teams struggle and slump, it happens. This has become quite a little slump, yes, but it's not something that isn't unusual. Texas started out the season poorly, and they were the defending national champions. A lot of people thought to bury them for the season, but you really have to be smarter than that. Look at where they are now, back in the top ten and rising higher and higher every week.
This is a good team, a very good team, with talent and depth that they haven't had in a while. They didn't win 18 games in a row to start the season by being a bad team. Some people would like to say that 18-0 start is tainted because it came against the likes of Marist, Arkansas State, and Arizona, Tennessee, and LSU teams that apparently weren't very good. I don't care who you are or who you play - 18 wins in a row is 18 wins in a row.
I'm not being naïve here. There are some things severely wrong right now with this team that definitely need to be straightened out soon. Just like a team can win 18 in a row, they can slump too.
Admittedly, there are some things that the team was able to get away with in the earlier part of their schedule that they haven't been able to now. Leaving too many runners on base is something that's been an issue all season, but when they were scoring runs on a consistent basis and getting solid enough pitching almost every time out it wasn't a big issue.
As of late though, the starting pitching that was so excellent in the first part of the season is now struggling, and that inconsistent hitting is now a bigger issue.
Everyone is well aware of their woes with runners on base, and especially with the bases loaded. They sure haven't had a problem loading the bases this season, but they've come up well short when it comes to getting hits in those situations. You can't say that it's the result of not knowing what to do or not being able to hit, because they certainly get enough hits to get these guys on base. But once you realize you're having trouble with something, you either let it get to you or you shrug it off and do what you're supposed to do. It seems to be more of a psychological issue than anything. Those guys just have to find it in them to overcome their worries and hit like they would with the bases empty.
There are a few changes that could be made in the lineup. It's certainly not a slight on any of the players, but you should only get so much of a chance to get out of a rut before someone else should get a chance.
The depth that was said to be one of MSU's main strengths has not been utilized to its fullest possibilities, and with experience and depth being a huge factor come postseason time, it'd be wise to take advantage of what the team has in its arsenal. At the same time, however, there needs to be a balance between letting a lot of guys get time but at, conversely, letting the ones who deserve to play the most get their fair share of opportunities.
And no, previous experience or spot incumbency should matter only to a certain extent. If you've been struggling for a while, it's only fair to allow another player get a chance in at least a game or two to showcase what he can do. I'm not saying to pull so and so fully out of the lineup, but there are a couple of guys who could very well be key contributors that are just waiting in the wings to get their opportunity.
As far as the starting pitching goes, well, they've seemingly hit a midseason wall. Brooks Dunn hasn't looked very sharp in his last three outings, and against Auburn on Friday, he had a small implosion in the fourth that led to an early exit for him. Brooks settled into the Friday spot very nicely from the start of the season, and he should still be the Friday guy, despite his struggles. But you do have to realize that before this season, the most he pitched was last year, and while he was a midweek starter for the most part, he didn't log nearly as many innings as he has this year. He's proved his worth against quality competition, and he'll bounce back, hopefully. Getting yanked early Friday might have actually been a blessing for him. It wouldn't be such a bad idea to have him pitch less in his next start or two, or maybe even rest him for a weekend.
Josh Johnson started off just as well as Brooks did, and he's been a little off in his last three outings as well. He logged a lot of innings early on as well, and it may well be a good idea to rest him a little like Brooks. It's not as if I'm trying to make excuses for why he's struggling, because I don't know why he is, but a rest could only help.
The Sunday starter spot is the most interchangeable one, in my opinion. I like John Lalor, I do. He caught my attention from his first outing last year. But, I'm aware he has had some problems with control and consistency this year. He's definitely got the talent to be a weekend SEC starter, and he should be, but I think that there may be some other guys who deserve to get a chance.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Jon Crosby not be made a weekend starter this year, after he was one all of last season, and did relatively well at it. He deserves a shot, above the other guys I'm going to mention, in part because he knows how to handle himself against top notch opposition. He's done the job so far in his midweek performances, though his strikeout to walk ration isn't as stellar as it was last year.
Matt Lea has thrown his hat into the ring with how he's stepped in as a true freshman and impressed in the midweek. He got a loss that he didn't particularly deserve against Ole Miss, due to one mistake pitch to a great hitter in Zack Cozart (not to mention the lack of backup he got from the offense), but he showed that he can get the job done against SEC competition. If one of the three weekend guys keeps struggling, I'd think that Coach Polk would give him a shot.
After Crosby and Lea, there are a couple of impressive freshmen whose performances have warranted a shot for at least extended innings, if not starts. Flamethrower Chad Crosswhite has benefited from his redshirt year and summer league experience, and the equally hard-throwing Aaron Weatherford has stepped in as a true freshman. Both have given quality innings out of the bullpen. The likely bet is that we'll see both of these guys in the running for weekend starter spots next season, but as I said, they definitely have earned extra work, at least.
Justin Pigott is another guy who should see more work in the second half of the season, with his 0.00 ERA as good as it gets. But, one would like to think, the less the bullpen has to work, the better. However, you also have to be mindful that it is a long season, and you don't want your starters to log so many innings that their tanks are low when you need them the most.
I looked at the series against Auburn as a chance for the team to get back on track and show that the little slump they were in was just that. But, unfortunately, it didn't happen. It isn't the end of the world though, and there's still half a season to be played.
The schedule works out well for State, despite what some people might like to think.
I'm looking at 5-1 in those last six non-conference games, at least. 6-0 would be nice, but a loss against either Memphis or Southern Miss would not be a surprise, considering both are on the road and are never easy opponents.
As far as the conference schedule goes:
The current stretch is a little tough to handle right now, certainly. Just imagine what the players are feeling right now. They know what they're capable of, and I'm sure it's extremely disappointing to not be performing at the level they could and should.
As a fan, you can only say so much, feel so much, think so much. You can get down on the players, and you can get down on the coaches as well; there's no law against it. But take a moment, please, to think about what they've been feeling. Don't get down on these guys just because they've been struggling.
It's easy to look at this and think of past disappointments. It's hard not to. 2003 comes to mind for me. They started off 23-3-1, led the SEC after a few weekends, and then went on a midseason slide reminiscent of what's going on with this year's team.
But, that team turned it around when they needed to. And so will this one. It's all about confidence.
This isn't 1985, 1989, '93, '98, or any other year in the past. It's 2006, and it will have its own place in the record books for several reasons. Only time will tell what further accomplishments they'll achieve, and it's definitely something to look forward to with optimism.
Eddie Griffin is a freelance writer who does monthly opinion columns for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website.