Analysis: Yardcocks Look To Get Back on Track
The Gamecocks have lost three of their last five games, including a series loss to Ole Miss last weekend. While USC still stands second in the SEC East, the once unstoppable Gamecock bats have cooled down of late.
For the first time in a while, the team batting average leader is under .340. Trent Kline is now hitting .338, and he has steadily watched his average fall as the SEC season wears on. This weekend, the Gamecocks don't face one of the best pitchers in the conference, and if there is a weekend to get the bats going, there isn't a better team to pick than Alabama.
SCOUTING ALABAMA: PITCHING
Even though Alabama has a team ERA of 3.79, which is fourth in the SEC, opponents are hitting a solid .250 against them. The Crimson Tide's two top starters are each 4-3 on the season.
The Gamecocks will face right hander Tommy Hunter on Friday night. Hunter has a 3.36 ERA and was once the closer before moving into the weekend rotation. The Crimson Tide have struggled finding a regular rotation, and like Clemson, moved their best pitcher to the Friday night role. Hunter has started six times this season and has 69 strikeouts in 21 appearances. He is prone to giving up the long ball, and if he gets the ball up this weekend, the Gamecocks will certainly add to the seven home runs he's already given up.
Saturday will feature two lefties, as USC's Arik Hempy will face off against Alabama's Miers Quigley. Quigley has a 3.76 ERA and can be a bit wild at times, but he is at his best when he is effectively wild. He has 60 strikeouts along with 33 walks and nine wild pitches this season. In Quigley's last outing, he only lasted an inning and two thirds while giving up eight runs off seven hits.
Justin Smoak and the Gamecocks will look to bring their bats this weekend against the Crimson Tide.
Both USC and Alabama are undecided on their Sunday starter. Tanner will be choosing between Blake Cooper and Mike Cisco. If Cooper is ready after his 73 pitch performance against Clemson, he will most likely get the start. Cisco has pitched well since his return, and will be ready if called on. Will Atwood will return to where he's been most effective this season, the bullpen.
Alabama has made no indication who will start for them, but the frontrunner is probably Bernard Robert, who is 4-5 on the season with a 3.64 ERA but has also struggled with control.
Alabama doesn't rely on many guys out of the bullpen, but they feel very comfortable with right hander Josh Copeland, who has taken on the closer's role since Hunter became a starter. Copeland holds a very respectable 2.70 ERA, but if the Gamecocks can get to the bullpen Friday night, a series win should be in the cards.
SCOUTING ALABAMA: HITTING
Alabama's pitching staff certainly hasn't received any run support in their efforts to find themselves as a staff. It's been 31 games since Alabama has scored 10 or more runs. They last did it February 28th against UAB, when they won 16-0 (this took place before Justin Smoak's hit streak started). Alabama is hitting just .287 as a team, good enough for 9th in the SEC.
The Crimson Tide are led by leadoff man Emeel Salem, whose role is to be a pest once he gets on base. Salem is 21-27 stealing bases and leads the team with a .343 batting average. Salem has a good eye at the plate, walking 27 times and has an on base percentage of .443. The Gamecock pitching staff needs to keep Salem off the base paths, and if they succeed, Alabama will struggle.
Designated hitter Alex Avila is second on the team with a .302 average, and his seven home runs are just one back of team leader, Kent Matthes. After Salem and Avila, no starter holds an average above .300.
The Gamecocks are the better team this weekend, but if they continue to struggle at the plate and give Alabama five outs an inning, another series loss will occur. The Gamecocks need to get back to form in the field, and any sort of consistency at all at the plate should be enough this weekend.
It would also be nice to see Harris Honeycutt get back on track. He doesn't need to go seven or eight innings, but a solid six inning performance would be a good sign to see from the Gamecocks' ace.
Alabama has been a real disappointment this season, and there's no reason USC shouldn't be able to take advantage of that with a big conference series victory on the road. I believe USC will take at least two of three this weekend, but a sweep could be in the cards.
The Gamecocks need to go 9-3 in their final 12 SEC games to put their record at 19-11. That, along with a decent showing in the SEC tournament, should result in a national seed come the postseason. It all starts this weekend as crunch time begins.
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