MSU-Kentucky Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Kentucky tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Mississippi State that highlights Super Bulldog Weekend.

Weather - Friday - It should be partly cloudy with a temperature of 79 at gametime. By the end of the game, the temp should be about 72 and the sky mostly cloudy. The wind should be from the southeast between 8 to 9 mph. | Saturday - Expect it to be cloudy with a temperature of 79 at gametime. The wind will be blowing from the south at about 14 mph throughout the game. By the end of the game, the temperature should be about 78. | Sunday - Expect a 70% change of rain. Winds will be 9 mph from the southeast. The temperatures should be in the mid-70's throughout the game ... if it's played.

Gametimes - Friday, 6:30 p.m. CDT | Saturday, 2 p.m. CDT | Sunday, 1:30 p.m. CDT .

3-Year Series History - During the past three years, Kentucky has won 5 of the 11 games played, including a three-game sweep at Kentucky last season. State is 2-1 at home in the one home series played during those three years.

Coaches - Kentucky head coach John Cohen, who played his baseball under MSU head coach Ron Polk, is in his third year at Kentucky. He has a won 97 and lost 74. His teams have won one SEC overall championship (2006) and appeared in one NCAA Regional (2006). His teams have an overall 2-2 record in NCAA post-season games.

During that same three-year period, MSU head coach Ron Polk's teams have won 114 games and lost 69. All three of his teams have appeared in an NCAA regional, winning 5 games and losing 6.

Mississippi State Home/Kentucky Road Records - MSU has a 12-3 home record, while Kentucky is 5-0-1 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Friday, Kentucky sophomore lefthanded pitcher Chris Rusin (3-1, 4.31 ERA, 33.2 IP) will face sophomore righthanded pitcher Aaron Weatherford (3-1, 4.83 ERA, 31.2 IP). Saturday, Kentucky junior lefty Andrew Albers (4-0, 3.00 ERA, 33.0 IP) will square off against MSU junior lefthander Justin Pigott (2-2, 5.70 ERA, 36.1 IP). Sunday, look for Kentucky pre-season All-American junior righthanded pitcher Greg Dombrowski (3-1, 4.31 ERA, 31.1 IP) to face off against senior righthander Josh Johnson (2-1, 7.20 ERA, 25.0 IP).

The ERAs of the three Kentucky starters - 4.31, 3.00 and 4.31 - are somewhat respectable. But if you look a little closer things aren't what they seem.

Rusin, the Friday night guy, in his last two outings - LSU and Arkansas - has thrown 12 innings, giving up 9 runs on 15 hits and 7 walks. All nine of the runs were earned which gave him a two-game ERA of 6.75. And this was against teams hitting .247 and .291. And don't be surprised if he only goes 5 or 6 innings against MSU. The teams that he has faced this season are hitting .247, .291, .266, .264, .314 and .277. The one advantage he may have is that MSU will probably have 4 to 5 lefthanded hitters in their lineup, but that may be offset by the fact that most are three and four-year veterans.

Albers, another lefty, has been roughed up in his last two outings - also LSU and Arkansas - to the tune of 4 runs (all earned) on 10 hits and 3 walks in 7 innings combined. That gives him an ERA of 5.14 in the two games. Once again, this is against teams hitting .247 and .291. Although he's 4-0 on the season, his victories have come against Cleveland State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Tennessee Tech and Furman.

Righty Dombrowski, a pre-season All-American, hasn't lived up to the hype this season. He started the season by winning three straight, although the victories were against Furman, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tennessee Martin. Since then, his last two outings - LSU and Arkansas - have been his worst of the season. In fact, he has only lasted 4 innings each outing, giving up a total of 8 runs (all earned) on 12 hits and 1 walk in the 8 innings for an ERA of 9.00. He only struck out 4 batters in the two games.

So, how does that compare to how MSU's three starting pitchers have done this season?

Friday night starter Aaron Weatherford has a 3-1 record with a 4.83 ERA. He started the season off well with solid performances against Murray State, Troy and Winthrop (20 IP, 16 H, 6 R). But since getting into SEC play, his stats haven't been as good. In outings against Florida and South Carolina he has thrown a total of 11.2 innings, giving up 16 runs (11 earned) on 19 hits and 8 walks with an ERA of 8.84.

Justin Pigott, who will start Saturday, also had a couple of solid season-starting performances against Murray State and Michigan. But like Wetherford, he's had some not so solid outings since then. Against Baylor he gave up 6 runs on 10 hits in 7.1 innings of work. He followed that with a 8-run, 15-hit, 6.1-inning performance against Florida. Last weekend, he gave up 5 runs on 11 hits in 7 innings against South Carolina.

Sunday Bulldog starter Josh Johnson has been up and down. After giving up 4 runs in 3 innings in his initial outing of the season, he threw 13 innings of 2-run, 7-hit ball the next two outings combined. Since getting into SEC play he has thrown a total of 9 innings in two outings. In those appearances he has given up 14 runs on 17 hits for an ERA of 14.00.

Relief Pitching - In SEC games, Kentucky's main SEC relievers appear to be Aaron Lovett, Tyler Henry James Paxton and Brock Baber. With just one mid-week game next week, look for Kentucky to have mid-week starter Duran Ferguson available for long relief in addition to Dewayne Oxford.

Lovett, in his two outings versus LSU and Arkansas, threw 4.1 innings, giving up 3 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits, 3 walks, while striking out 2. For the season, he has a 3-0 record with 2 saves and a 1.59 ERA.

Henry has a 2.25 ERA with 2 saves in his 12 appearances, the most appearances of anyone on Kentucky's staff. He was used 4 times against LSU and Arkansas. In his four outings he threw 5.1 innings, allowing 4 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits and 1 walk. He struck out one.

Paxton has a 5.00 ERA and 1 save in 9 innings of work this season. He has no won-loss record. Like Henry, he was brought in 4 times against LSU and Arkansas. In his four appearances he threw 3.1 innings, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) on 4 hits and 6 walks. He struck out 2. Four of his runs were against LSU last Sunday.

Baber has been decently effective in his efforts against those same SEC clubs. He has given up 2 runs (both earned) on 1 hit and 3 walks in 3 innings. Overall this season, he has a 1-0 record with an 1.69 ERA. Teams are hitting .194 against him.

Oxford has thrown 16.2 innings in his 6 appearances, giving up 10 runs (8 earned) on 18 hits and 5 walks. Ferguson has a 1.54 ERA with a 1-0 record in 9 outings. He has thrown 23.1 innings, giving up 7 runs (4 earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks. He has struck out 29 batters. Teams are hitting a puny .151 against him.

Who relieves for MSU?

Although he had his first bad outing of the season this past Wednesday night against Memphis when he gave up 5 earned runs in an inning of work, Mitch Moreland is the guy MSU will most likely go to in a closing role. In his 7 appearances he has thrown 8.2 innings, giving up 5 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks while striking out 15.

Ricky Bowen is the other reliever with a solid chance to be brought into the game in a closing role. In his 11 outings this season, he has given up runs in just two of them. His two bad outings were back to back when he gave up two runs each to Dallas Baptist and Florida. Both were on the road. At home, he has not given up a run in 9.0 innings of work. He has a 3-0 record with 3 saves and a 2.92 ERA so far this season.

Look for John Lalor to be the first reliever used if one of the starters comes out early. He has been MSU's mainstay when it comes to middle relief, especially recently. After having a couple of rough outings to start the season (8 runs in 5.1 innings), he has thrown 15.1 innings, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits while walking 6 and striking out 14.

Chad Crosswhite is another strong candidate for middle inning relief. He started off strong as the closer, then went into a slump. But in his last three outings he has started to get some of his effectiveness back, giving up just 1 run in 3 innings.

Greg Houston and Jared Koon are also possibilities if needed, although both have had their share of rough outings as of late. Koon, however, did have his best outing of the season against Memphis this past Tuesday, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and no walks while strking out 5 in 2.2 innings.

Hitting - Kentucky and Mississippi State are one-two in hitting in the SEC. Only one point separates the two.

Kentucky is led by Mike Brown, who is leading the SEC in hitting with a .482 batting average. Brian Spear is hitting .393, which puts him in a tie for 6th place in the SEC. He is tied with another Wildcat, Sean Couglin (as well as MSU's Brandon Turner). Although he doesn't have enough official at-bats (61 in 26 games) to be listed among the SEC leaders, Jason Kipnis is also hitting .393. Sawyer Carroll's .374 batting average puts him in 12th place in the SEC. Other Wildcats hitting over .300 are Bryan Wilkes (.346), Antone DeJesus (.340) and Matt McKinney (.322).

Kentucky has only hit 25 home runs this year after hitting 99 last season. While their home run hitting is down, they still walk a phenomenal number of times, 180 (1st in the SEC) this season. They've also been hit by a pitch 53 times which puts them second in the SEC behind Arkansas' 59. They also lead the SEC in sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flys with 27 and 20. Overall, they lead the SEC in 12 of 17 offensive categories.

MSU has four players among the top 11 hitters in the SEC. Edward Easley is number three with a .422 batting average. Mitch Moreland is 5th with a .395 average followed by Brandon Turner's .393 average, which ties him for 6th in the league. Jeffrey Rea is 11th with a .383 batting average. Joseph McCaskill is hitting a robust .392, but lacks the necessary at-bats (51 in 22 games) to be listed among the league leaders. Connor Powers and Brian LaNinfa are both hitting at a .352 clip which puts them in a tie for 19th place in the SEC. Mark Goforth, who is hitting .346, is the other Bulldog hitter batting over .300.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Almost all of Kentucky's starters are sizzling hot at the plate the past five games. Although Mike Brown is leading the SEC in hitting, he's not the hottest hitter during the last five games. Jason Kipnis is, hitting .500 (10-for-20) with 6 RBI. Following closely behind is Brown with a .471 average (8-for-17) with 2 RBI. Matt McKinney is also hitting over .400 with a .421 average (8-for-19) and 5 RBI. The final Kentucky hitter hitting over .400 is Anton DeJesus who is batting at .409 (9-for-22) with 5 RBI. Three other Wildcats are hitting mid-.300. Sean Coughlin is at the .368 mark (7-for-19) the past five games with 8 RBI. Not far behind is Ryan Wilkes with a .357 average (5-for-14) and 2 RBI. Brian Spear comes in at .350 (7-for-20) and 7 RBI. Sawyer Carroll is hitting a very respectable .333 (7-for-21) with 6 RBI. The last batter hitting .300 or better is Tyler House, .300 (3-for-10) with an RBI. The only Kentucky hitter who is in a slump is Billy Grace who is batting .000 (0-for-7) in limited action. Kentucky is batting .362 as a team during the five games.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, has quite a few of their batters hitting over the .300 mark, but no one is batting .400. Leading the charge is Mitch Moreland who is hitting at a .389 clip (7-for-18) with 3 RBI. Two Bulldog hitters are batting .350 - Connor Powers (7-for-20 with 3 RBI) and Joseph McCaskill (also 7-for-20, but with 4 RBI). Brandon Turner is next, hitting .318 (7-for-21) with a team-leading 7 RBI in the five-game period. Jeffrey Rea is batting .318 (7-for-22) with no RBI. Mark Goforth and Brian LaNinfa are hitting .311 (both are 5-for-16), but LaNinfa has 4 RBI to Goforth's 3. Andy Rice is hitting .250 (4-for-16) with 2 RBI. In a slump is Edward Easley, who is hitting at a .191 clip (4-for-21) with 3 RBI. The good news is in his last 8 at-bats, Ed's had 3 hits, so it looks like he's about to come out of his slump. Although they haven't had many at-bats the past five games, righthanded hitters Nick Hardy (1-for-5 with 3 RBI) and Jeff Flagg (0-for-3, 0) may start a couple of games against Kentucky due to the lefthanders starting for the Wildcats. MSU is hitting at a .293 clip those five games.

If you dig a little deeper when looking at the two batting averages of MSU and Kentucky, you find out that three of the five games MSU played were against the top pitching staff in the SEC, South Carolina (2.54 ERA) and two against Memphis (5.02 ERA), while Kentucky's .362 average included one game against Arkansas (4.14 ERA, 8th in SEC), three versus LSU (4.88 ERA, 11th in SEC) and one against Western Kentucky (6.87 ERA).

How Kentucky and MSU Match Up
Kentucky Category Mississippi State
23-2-1 Record 16-6
.357 (1st in SEC) Batting Average .356 (2nd in SEC)
291 (11.2 pg) Runs 190 (8.6 pg)
25 Home Runs 22
.559 Slugging % .505
36/48 Stolen Bases/Attempts 20/29
180 (6.9 pg) Walks 79 (3.6 pg)
172 (6.6 pg) Strikeouts 139 (6.3 pg)
252 (9.7 pg) LOB 177 (8.0 pg)
3.48 (5th in SEC) Team ERA 5.94 (12th in SEC)
5 Saves 8
75 (2.9 pg) Walks 60 (2.7 pg)
185 (7.1 pg) Strikeouts 191 (8.7 pg)
.257 Batting Average Against .316
.964 (5th in SEC) Fielding % .969 (4th in SEC)
37 Errors 26

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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