Analysis: Gamecocks Hope For Weekend Sweep
With almost a third of the SEC schedule already gone, the upstart Gators have a two game lead on USC in the race for the SEC East, and Ray Tanner's club already is on the wrong end of a tiebreaker against #1 ranked Vanderbilt after losing two of three last weekend to the Commodores.
The Gamecocks need a sweep this weekend not only to get ahead of Florida, but to get back the confidence that once existed. However, for the first time all season, a huge question mark hangs over the pitching staff.
Harris Honeycutt will start on Friday, and he'll clearly be the best pitcher of the night, as Bryan Augenstein (3-3) gets the ball for the Gators. Augenstein has a 4.72 ERA and will be trying to earn back to back wins for the first time all season. He stands at 6'5" inches and had a very strong sophomore year, but has struggled late in games this season.
Tanner has said that freshman Blake Cooper will start either Saturday or Sunday for the Gamecocks, but who will be called upon to be the third starter in the rotation is still up in the air. Will Atwood, Jeff Jeffords and Curtis Johnson are the leading candidates for the job. The decision won't be made, however, until after Friday night's game when Tanner knows who will be fresh.
I predict Atwood will get the start, but if he is used on Friday, expect Tanner to go with Cooper on Saturday. If Atwood is spent, look for Johnson to possibly get the nod. However, even if Atwood is the front runner, Tanner always likes to go with his instincts.
SCOUTING FLORIDA: PITCHING
On the other side, the Gators have no questions surrounding their pitching staff. The only left handed starter the Gamecocks will face this weekend is freshman Tony Davis, who is 2-0 on the year with a 0.87 ERA. He's only appeared in four games so far this season with one start, but looked impressive against Georgia last weekend, going 5.1 innings and only allowing one run and five hits.
Another freshman, Billy Bullock, will start on Sunday for the Gators. Bullock is 2-3 with a 4.66 ERA and relies on getting ground ball outs to get him through a game. When Bullock gets the ball up, he gets hit hard.
The Gators have a bullpen that won't blow anyone away, but relies on plenty of arms. This weekend the Gamecocks can expect to see lefty David Hurst. The senior has a 1.77 ERA and is generally the closer for the Gators, but with the Gamecocks' recent struggles against lefties, expect Hurst to see plenty of action this weekend.
The Florida pitching staff is nothing to brag about, and expect the Gamecocks to come out swinging this weekend. Tanner will want his big bats in the lineup, and much like the Mississippi State series, knows one run won't do the trick.
SCOUTING FLORIDA: HITTING
Florida is led by first baseman Matt LaPorta, who currently leads the team with a .433 batting average, 15 HRs, 35 RBIs, and a .587 on base percentage. What LaPorta didn't do last year to get drafted high enough, he's doing this year and more.
One of the reasons is LaPorta has more help around him this year. Austin Pride is hitting .326 with seven long balls and 27 RBIs. Another familiar name, Cole Figueroa, has a .307 batting average, with 6 HRs and 30 RBIs.
Even though these are the only three regulars hitting over .300, the Gators hit plenty of long balls and score a lot of runs. The Gators are second in the SEC with 45 HRs, one behind the SEC leading Gamecocks.
Even though Florida has swept their previous two SEC series, Georgia and Auburn aren't two of the conference's better clubs this season. The Gamecocks are the better team, even without knowing who is the third starter will be.
The key for South Carolina this weekend is to get the bats off to a hot start and get the confidence they once had. Honeycutt should carry the Gamecocks through Friday night, and look for Phil Disher and Justin Smoak to have big weekends. And by big, I mean BIG.
Tanner knows how important this weekend is, and if need be, look for Hempy to possibly throw an inning to spark the club.
I believe USC will sweep Florida this weekend and sit atop the SEC East come Monday morning. The one day that is the biggest question will be Saturday, as the Gamecocks face their toughest match up, a left hander on the mound. Look for Davis to do everything he can to keep the Gamecocks off balance, but I have a feeling that it won't be enough this weekend.
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