Analysis: USC Returns Home For Crucial Series
For the first time in a long time, the Gamecocks are heading into a weekend series with an idea of who's going to make each start. Although Sunday's decision is down to two, for the most part everyone will head into the weekend knowing their role on the pitching staff, which I believe will help put this group back on track.
The Gamecocks host Kentucky this weekend in what I am calling a "Must Sweep."
Like the Gamecocks, the Wildcats enjoyed a four day rest after taking two of three from the Georgia Bulldogs to improve to 9-11-1 in SEC play (Kentucky tied LSU 9-9).
Kentucky does pose some challenges for the Gamecocks, and even though their season hasn't gone as planned, by no means are the Wildcats a pushover. Pitching, however, is not their strongest point.
Arik Hempy has been moved into the Friday night starting role in an effort to get the Gamecocks out in front on a weekend series. This is a good move, and it will allow some pressure to be taken off of Harris Honeycutt and let him just go out and pitch.
SCOUTING KENTUCKY: PITCHING
Kentucky will send left handed sophomore Chris Rusin to the mound on Friday. Rusin is 4-2 but holds a 4.35 ERA, which happens to be the lowest of the Wildcats' three starters. He has won his last two starts, going into the 9th inning both times, and went end to end against Florida. Rusin's key to success is that he throws a lot of strikes, and at times it costs him, but other times he gets a lot of strikeouts.
Andrew Albers gets the nod on Saturday against Harris Honeycutt. Albers is another lefty with a 4.94 ERA, and although he's 5-3 on the year, opponents are hitting over .300 on him this season. Albers is not a strikeout pitcher, but when he keeps the ball down, he gets a lot of ground ball outs. When his curve ball gets up, he gets hit hard.
Greg Dombrowski, a right hander, gets the nod on Sunday against either Blake Cooper or Mike Cisco. Dombrowski is 4-1 and has only walked seven batters in 55.1 innings. He throws a lot of strikes, and his 4.88 ERA is a sign that his ball tends to rise every once in a while.
If the Kentucky pitching staff struggles and gets the ball up, it's going to be a very long weekend at the Sarge. The Wildcats have used a lot of arms in the bullpen, but it's been more of a trial by error experience. Aaron Lovett is a reliable arm and will be called upon on more than one occasion this weekend.
SCOUTING KENTUCKY: HITTING
Kentucky, however, does swing the bats very well. A .329 team batting average is impressive this late in the year, and like many of the Gamecocks' recent opponents, they like to run.
It starts with the leadoff man, right fielder Mike Brown. His .397 team leading batting average, along with a .518 on base percentage, is very dangerous for opposing pitchers. Brown is 13-14 in the stolen base department and will definitely be looking to run this weekend.
First baseman Sawyer Carroll isn't your typical third hitter. Carroll only has 3 HRs on the season, but he has driven in 52 and holds a .368 batting average. Catcher Sean Coughlin bats fourth and leads the team with 10 HRs and 53 RBIs.
The Wildcats are an amazing 56-70 as a team stealing bases, and they'll try to take advantage of Carolina's inability to consistently throw runners out.
Justin Smoak and the Gamecocks will look to rediscover their winning formula at home this weekend against Kentucky.
If the Gamecocks don't get the leadoff man out each inning, Kentucky always has the chance to score a lot of runs. The Wildcats are very fast, but when they get behind early, their game is taken out from under them.
It is important for the Gamecocks to take early leads each day to take Kentucky out of their game plan. Moving Honeycutt to Saturday could be all he needs to get going again.
Whoever takes game one should wind up winning the series because both teams have relied on momentum all year.
Although USC needs a sweep, two of three is more likely as the Gamecocks are thrilled to finally be back home. However, if Carolina does manage to sweep Kentucky, then I'll bring back the goals for this season.
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