MSU-Tennessee Baseball Preview

Mississippi State and Tennessee tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Knoxville, TN.

Weather - Friday's game should see temperatures in the high 50's with a 30% chances of showers. Rain is expected Saturday throughout the time the game should be played. Temperatures will be in the low 60's. On Sunday, there will be a 30% chance of showers and the temperatures should be in the low 50's.

Gametimes - Games times are set for 6 p.m. CT on both Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. CT on Sunday.

5-Year Series History - The teams didn't play each other in 2002 and 2003. In the other three years both teams are 4-4. Only one of the three series has been played at Knoxville and UT won both games.

Coaches - Rod Delmonico has coached Tennessee for 17 years. His teams overall record is 665-371 and their SEC record is 250-240. During that time, they have participated in NCAA Regional 8 times and gone on to the College World Series three times. Their overall NCAA post-season record is 27-19.

During that same period (although it was only 15 seasons due to him not coaching for a couple of seasons), MSU head coach Ron Polk has seen his teams (MSU and Georgia) go 597-339 overall and 226-193 in SEC play. They have appeared in NCAA Regional play 11 of the 15 years and appeared in the CWS three times. His teams have recorded a 29-26 NCAA post-season record during that period.

UT Home/MSU Road Records - MSU is 7-4 overall on the road, while UT is 17-7 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations - MSU is expected to start sophomore RHP Chad Crosswhite (3-1, 3.86 ERA) on Friday with junior Justin Pigott (3-3, 5.61) going on the mound Saturday. Either senior RHP Josh Johnson (2-2, 7.02) or sophomore RHP Aaron Weatherford (3-1, 4.66) will pitch Sunday.

Crosswhite will start for the second time this year. Last Friday night against Arkansas, he had a solid performance in his first start of the season, allowing 4 runs (all earned) on 9 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6 in his 6 innings of work.

Pigott has had a tough season so far, but finally showed the Pigott of last year with a 1-run complete game performance against Arkansas last weekend.

Johnson hasn't been very effective in his last two SEC outings, allowing 6 runs (all earned) on 9 hits in 8.1 innings for an ERA of 6.67, but I suspect he will be the Sunday starter (see below).

Weatherford didn't pitch last weekend due to slight arm soreness, but had an extremely strong two innings of relief work against South Alabama Wednesday night, striking out 5 in 2 innings, while allowing no runs, hits or walks. My best guess is the MSU's coaches would really like to use Aaron in relief this weekend. So look for him to be called out of the bullpen if a righty is needed in a crucial late-inning situation Saturday.

UT will go with junior LHP James Adkins (4-4, 2.88) Friday, senior RHP Craig Cobb (6-2, 4.62) Saturday and sophomore LHP Lance McClain (5-4, 5.15) Sunday.

Adkins, in his last three outings (Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky), has pitched very well. In 22.2 innings, he has given up just 6 earned runs on 15 hits while walking 13 and striking out 25. His ERA in those three start is 2.46. Another positive for Adkins and Tennessee is that he has been much better at home than on the road at least based on his ERA which is 2.56 at home and 6.08 away.

Cobb has an ERA of 3.84 with a 2-0 record in his last three appearances (all versus SEC). In the 21.1 innings of work, he has given up 9 earned runs on 26 hits and 7 walks, while striking out 15.

McClain hasn't fared as well as the other two pitchers in his last three outings. He's only pitched 11.1 innings in the three starts and has given up 9 earned runs on 16 hits and 12 walks, which is an ERA of 7.30. He did, however, pitch well in his last start, limiting Kentucky to 2 earned runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 6.2 innings of work.

Relief Pitching - MSU will probably go with their usual SEC relief pitchers - John Lalor, Ricky Bowen, Mitch Moreland and very likely Weatherford. Greg Houston is also a possibility.

Look for Lalor to be used in long relief, although in SEC appearances he hasn't been overly effective in that role. In 4 appearances he has thrown 9 innings, giving up 7 earned runs on 10 hits and 4 walks, while striking out 8. His ERA is 7.00 in SEC games.

Bowen should be used in a RHP closer type role unless Weatherford takes over that role this weekend. So far, in SEC games, Ricky has given up 7 earned runs on 12 hits and 2 walks in 7.2 innings of work. He has struck out 8. His SEC ERA is 8.75.

Moreland has thrown 5.1 innings in SEC games as MSU's LHP closer, giving up 2 earned runs on 5 hits and no walks. He has struck out 5. His SEC ERA is 3.52. All of his runs were given up in one game, which was last week against Arkansas.

Houston has been one of MSU's most effective SEC relief pitchers since his horrendous start in SEC play. After giving up 6 earned runs on 15 hits in 3.2 innings of work against South Carolina, Greg has thrown 3.0 innings in SEC games, giving up 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk.

As for Tennessee, look for them to primarily use freshman LHP Jeff Lockwood and sophomore RHP'ers Danny Wiltz and Aaron Everett in relief. All three have performed well in SEC games.

Lockwood has been used most often, appearing in 7 SEC games. He has thrown 14 innings and has given up just 3 earned runs on 13 hits and 4 walks, while striking out 12. His SEC ERA is 1.93. Lockwood can be used in long relief or the closer role.

Wiltz is not far behind in ERA, although he hasn't thrown near the number of innings. In 4.1 innings of SEC work he has given up 2 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks.

Everett has thrown 7 innings in the SEC, giving up 2 earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 3. His SEC ERA is 2.57.

Hitting - MSU, who is 2nd in the SEC in hitting with a .340 average, has two players batting above .400 - Brandon Turner .426 (2nd in the SEC) and Edward Easley .413 (5th - SEC). Seven other players are hitting over .300. Mitch Moreland leads the pack with a .370 average, followed by Joseph McCaskill (.354), Brian LaNinfa and Mark Goforth .333, Conner Powers .325, Jeffrey Rea .317 (Jeffrey will not play due to a death in his family) and Jeff Flagg .313. Easley and Moreland lead the Bulldogs in RBI with 37 apiece.

Tennessee doesn't have any one player hitting over .400, but they do have four above .300. Andy Simunic leads with a .372 average. He's followed by J.P. Arencibia who is hitting .322. Yan Gomes is hitting at a .317 clip, while Jeff Lockwood comes in at .313. Yan Gomes leads the Vols in RBI and home runs with 26 and 5. Cody Brown also has hit 5 homers. Don't be surprised to see UT attempt several steals this weekend with Simunic leading the pack. So far this season, he has stolen 18 bases in 25 attempts.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - For MSU, Brandon Turner and Jeff Flagg lead the way with a .429 (9-for-21 and 6-for-14) batting average. Flagg has also knocked in 7 runs during the five games. Not far behind them is Brian LaNinfa with a .389 BA (7-for-18, 3 RBI). Ed Easley continues to hit the ball well, hitting .350 (7-for-20 with 6 RBI) the last 5 games. Although he's only hitting at a .300 clip (6-for-20), Mitch Moreland has knocked in 9 runs during the 5 games. Slumping is Connor Powers, who has hit at a .211 (4-for-19) pace the past five games. He has struck out 10 times.

As for Tennessee, three players are hitting the ball well. First up is J.P. Arencibia who is hitting at an amazing .579 clip (11-for-19, 5 RBI). Andy Simunic comes in next with a .455 (10-for-22, 2 RBI) batting average. The last UT batter hitting over .400 is Jeff Lockwood who is hitting .421 (8-for-19, 5 RBI). Danny Lima, although only hitting .286 during the 5 game period, has knocked in 7 runs, the most by any UT player during that time-frame. Yan Gomes is the one player who is mired in a slump, coming in at .190 (4-for-21).

How UT and MSU Match Up
Tennessee Category Mississippi State
20-13 Record 22-8
.291 (10th in SEC) Batting Average .340 (2nd in SEC)
216 (6.5 pg) Runs 249 (8.3 pg)
25 Home Runs 28
.424 Slugging % .487
51/66 Stolen Bases/Attempts 23/34
129 (3.9 pg) Walks 104 (3.5 pg)
201 (6.1 pg) Strikeouts 206 (6.9 pg)
276 (8.4 pg) LOB 241 (8.0 pg)
4.44 (9th in SEC) Team ERA 5.85 (12th in SEC)
6 Saves 9
116 (3.5 pg) Walks 84 (2.8 pg)
231 (7.0 pg) Strikeouts 267 (8.9 pg)
.288 Batting Average Against .315
.961 (9th in SEC) Fielding % .965 (5th in SEC)
50 Errors 40

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by 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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