Weekend Review: Gamecocks Hitting Crunch Time

After dropping two out of three this past weekend to Ole Miss, the Gamecocks now head into a stretch where they need to put it all together. The remaining four SEC opponents are all in the bottom half of their division, and if USC wants a chance to host a Super Regional, then crunch time begins now.


In baseball, power teams suffer through droughts, and the Gamecocks were left thirsty after the first two games against the Rebels. USC struck out 35 times against Ole Miss over the weekend, which took a lot of pressure off the Rebels' defense. When you add in the worst defensive performance of the year by Carolina, including three errors in each of the two losses, the Gamecocks really stood no chance.

One of the reasons I believe the Gamecocks are struggling with consistency is the lack of a true leadoff hitter. Harley Lail gives solid numbers and has done a fine job this season, but when a team is struggling at the plate, sometimes the leadoff man needs to do more than try to hit a double in the gap. Lail isn't a guy who drag bunts or draws a lot of walks, and sometimes the Gamecocks just need a guy to get on base.

In fairness to Lail, there are eight other guys who can step up, but it's the leadoff guy in the order who needs to be able to do it anytime. Even with Lail slumping, his on base percentage is still over .400, but this weekend was an example of what Lail is struggling at.

If Lail can get it going again, it takes a lot of pressure off the next guys, and I think this team will cruise through the final four weekends.

Believe me when I tell you that I'm not putting this all on Lail. There are three guys in the lineup who have struggled the past three weeks and who need to get it going. Although Phil Disher hit a home run on Sunday, he must find ways to strikeout less. When Disher is hitting, it takes a ton of pressure off of Justin Smoak.

Andrew Crisp has seen his average fall to .283 in recent weeks. When Crisp stops hitting singles, his average seems to plummet. However, when he hits singles, the doubles and home runs seem to follow. Hopefully Crisp will connect on some singles soon because we know what will follow.

After a tremendous start to the year, Trent Kline has struggled of late as well. Kline is still second on the team with a .340 batting average, but the consistency has disappeared. His average has also dropped nearly 40 points in two and a half weeks. If these three guys can get it turned around, which I believe they all will, the Gamecocks will be nearly unstoppable.

The pitching staff once again showed off its depth over the past week, and even with two weekday games ahead for USC, Coach Tanner has plenty of choices for who he wants to start.

The biggest concern right now is, where is the old Harris Honeycutt? Even before his first two losses as a Gamecock, Honeycutt seemed to be slipping and hasn't had a dominant performance in a month. Honeycutt is without question the ace of the staff and needs to turn it around quickly.



The Gamecocks are hoping Harris Honeycutt will rediscover his early season form.


The brightest spot of the year for this team is the return of Arik Hempy. He had another good outing on Saturday, and even though he suffered the loss, Hempy's return has been a boost. It's a lot of fun to watch this guy work hitters, and Saturday's performance was, in my opinion, his best of the year.

After Sunday's outing, Will Atwood will most likely return to the bullpen, but the question becomes whether Tanner will go with Mike Cisco or Blake Cooper Sunday against Alabama? Either way, the Gamecocks will add more arms to an already deep bullpen, and by having five guys who can start, that allows the Gamecocks to be ready for a possible deep run at Omaha.

Another question is, what will Tanner do with Wynn Pelzer? He pitched just fine on Sunday, and maybe moving him from the closer's role to a long relief isn't such a bad idea. If Tanner does that, who is the new closer? My best bet would be Jeff Jeffords.

CLARY'S ANALYSIS

The Gamecocks know every game counts, and this upcoming weekend will be huge. It's good sign that USC gets a home match up against Davidson before heading back out on the road, because sometimes playing a game on familiar ground is all the medicine you need.

I expect the defense to be just fine, and if Honeycutt can get back to form, the pitching staff may be the best in the conference.

The Gamecocks need to find ways to be more consistent at the plate and shorten their swings with two strikes. Having more runs than hits generally means you're not doing a good enough job at the plate. Despite their recent struggles, this squad has the potential to be one of the best in a long time, and I believe they have the ability to win it all. However, we're getting to that point where it all needs to come together.

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