Analysis: Two SEC Titans Set To Clash
In order to compete for a conference championship, I've always believed a squad must sweep conference series at home and take two of three on the road. The only time taking two of three at home is a good thing is when you are playing the best team in your division, like this weekend. It's crucial for the Gamecocks to win this weekend's series against the Commodores so USC can hold the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same conference record.
However, taking two of three won't be an easy task as the Commodores are arguably the best team the Gamecocks have faced all season.
SCOUTING VANDERBILT: PITCHING
Vanderbilt is led by All-American and possibly the first overall pick in this year's upcoming Major League Baseball Draft, left handed pitcher David Price.
Price, who stands at a threatening 6-5 and 215 lbs, is 5-0 this year with an SEC leading 79 strikeouts. Price has also only given up one home run this season, due to his ability to consistently keep the ball low.
Opponents are only hitting .191 against Price, but he has looked human at times this year. Last weekend Arkansas tagged him with five runs off six hits in six innings.
Price, however, isn't just the Commodores best player, he's their go to guy to get the weekend started. He sets the tone for Vanderbilt, and his teammates thrive off his energy. It will be crucial for the Gamecocks to get to Price early and rattle him.
If the Gamecocks are to be successful against the Commodores' ace, look for them to play small ball, but at the same time stay aggressive. Head Coach Ray Tanner will look to bunt in certain situations, as well as hit and run to manufacture as many runs as possible.
Friday night's game looks to be a quick one with Harris Honeycutt and Price on the mound.
After facing Price on Friday night, the Gamecocks will square off against another lefty on Saturday when freshman Mike Minor gets the ball. Minor (3-0) has a team low 2.35 ERA along with two saves this season. Minor will be a big change of pace as he likes to use a mean curveball to complement his fastball. Don't be too surprised if Gamecock hitters actually have a tougher time with Minor than Price.
Nick Christiani, Vanderbilt's Sunday starter on the mound, will be a nice welcome for the Gamecocks as a right hander returns. Christiani (5-1) has been successful this year, but has walked 18 batters while striking out only 33. If the Gamecocks struggle at the plate Friday and Saturday, look for the bats to be unleashed on Sunday.
Vanderbilt has a strong bullpen to complement a solid starting rotation, and since Price usually goes long distances, they are generally fresh the rest of the weekend. When they get in trouble, the Commodores turn to senior Casey Weathers. In 12 appearances, Weathers is 3-1 with two saves, striking out 25.
SCOUTING VANDERBILT: HITTING
Vanderbilt is no slouch at the plate either. Led by super sophomore third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the Commodores are hitting .331 as a team.
Alvarez leads the team with a .368 batting average, 10 HRs, and 31 RBIs. Getting Alvarez out will be the number one goal for the Gamecock pitching staff this week. Right Fielder Dominic de la Osa should be another familiar name to Gamecock fans. He's hitting .337 this year and is second on the team with six long balls. He's also very dangerous on the base path, going 10-14 in the stolen base department, and since he hits in front of Alvarez, it'll be very important for Kline to catch him.
Ryan Flaherty is second on the team with a .346 batting average. The shortstop is another dangerous weapon opposing pitchers have to deal with, as he has seven stolen bases on the year.
Like the Gamecocks, Vanderbilt poses a threat throughout the entire batting order, which won't allow the Carolina pitchers to relax at all. Eight of the regulars have batting averages over .300, and like the Gamecocks, Vanderbilt also has an extremely deep bench.
This weekend promises to be a match up of two very even teams, who are both looking for one thing, a series win. It's crucial for the Gamecocks to have the series at least tied after two games, because I like their chances in Sunday's contest.
It's easy to put all the hype around game one because of the great pitching match up, but look for the loser of that game to bounce back strong on Saturday.
If the Gamecocks can hit the ball where it's pitched and not necessarily focus on hitting it out of the ball park, USC should take two of three in the friendly confines of Sarge Frye Field.
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