Getting Their Best Swing Off?

Ole Miss is coming off a week with three losses and only one win. What does the Rebel offense need to do to get going? What about the chances of hosting a fifth-straight regional? Go inside for more.

The problems remain the same with the Ole Miss offense. A lack of quality at-bats and helping the pitcher get ahead are the two main concerns. Aggression and "getting the best swing off" are two vital parts of the Rebels' offensive approach, but it seems that a number of the batters are misinterpreting those points.

Opposing pitchers are shying away from throwing fastballs early in the count and are allowing the Rebels to dig their own hole by swinging at offspeed pitches out of the zone or on the borderline of being a strike. It is possible to be aggressive and patient, but fans aren't seeing that right now from Ole Miss. If a fastball is grooved on the first pitch, then I understand taking a cut, but the Rebels are going after fastballs on the first pitch that are very difficult to handle or curve balls that result in off-balance contact and an assortment of soft rollers and pop-ups.

The free-swinging allows pitchers with control issues to establish a rhythm and put together a solid performance. I believe that is what has created the lack of offense on Sundays. Most end-of-rotation pitchers walk a relatively high number of batters and have to use change-ups and breaking balls often to be effective.

This is the worst type of pitcher Ole Miss can face became they help him out early on. Failing to make him work and position themselves in a hitter's count takes the pressure off the pitcher and makes the batter have to guess with a couple strikes already on the board. The Rebels should be able to put up solid numbers off most opposing arms they face but not if the wrong approach is taken by a majority of the line-up.

Almost every Division I pitcher can be difficult to deal with if hitters don't wait for a pitch to drive and allow pitch counts to stay down. Last Tuesday against Mississippi State, Bulldog starter Tyler Whitney threw just 71 pitches after working three batters deep into the sixth inning. Whitney came in averaging almost a walk per inning, but Ole Miss swung at his pitches, and the State sophomore walked just a single hitter. That is one example of the midweek and Sunday difficulties.

The Rebels are averaging 5.9 runs on Fridays with a high of 15 against Mississippi State, 7.8 runs on Saturdays with a high of 22 against Minnesota, 4.4 runs on Sunday with a high of 15 against Minnesota, 7 runs on Tuesday with a high of 15 against Northwestern State and 8.5 runs on Wednesday with a high of 14 against Northwestern State. Four of the five high scoring totals came in the first week of the season.

Ole Miss is hitting .281 inside the SEC, which is seventh best in the conference. The Rebels' overall average has dipped below .300 for the first time this season. In league play, Ole Miss is tied for seventh in doubles (29), tied for 10th in home runs (15), 11th in total bases (253), second fewest in walks (51), tops in fewest strikeouts (99), second in grounding into double plays (16) and tied for ninth in stolen bases (11).

Hosting?

The Rebels currently sport an RPI of 45 and will need an extended tear to even get back into the hosting conversation. Ole Miss is 10-8 in a league that boasts the third-best conference RPI.

Due to the lack of quality out-of-conference wins and the sluggishness of the overall SEC, the Rebels would presently be closer to a three seed than a one. In the past, winning the West would go a long way towards a host bid, but 2008 will not be one of those years. It is very possible that only two Western Division schools will even reach Hoover, Ala., and have a shot at NCAA play.

A few big series remain, but anything less than around eight more SEC wins and a clean sweep of the non-conference opponents will likely have the Rebels traveling for the first time since 2003. The 2006 team played its way into a host bid by winning the conference tournament, but some work needs to be done beforehand or even that won't do the trick. The Rebels have a great reputation when it comes to postseason events and will provide the NCAA with an impressive paycheck, but the committee has to have a reason to include Ole Miss. Right now they don't have one.

Struggling squads like Minnesota (159) and Mississippi State (126) have devastated Ole Miss' RPI along with terrible losses to teams like Central Arkansas and Arkansas State. The Rebels' four SEC opponents remaining are all situated in the top 50, including Georgia at No. 12. However, Memphis is the highest rated out-of-conference team left at 160. Another OOC defeat would be devastating.

The Rebels are 4-2 against ranked opponents, with South Carolina and Vanderbilt being the only ranked teams Ole Miss has faced this season. Enough season remains to shape up the resume, but the Rebels are out of breathing room. It is now or never when it comes to keeping the hosting streak alive.

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