Analysis: Gamecocks Travel To Knoxville
The goal doesn't seem that difficult when facing a team with a losing record in the SEC, a pitching staff in question, and only 39 total homeruns, with no one having more than seven. But make no mistake, the Vols can run, run, and run some more.
Tennessee has stolen 75-97 bases this season, and it starts with right fielder Andy Simunic, who owns a third of the total himself. He also leads the team with a .350 batting average and earlier this week was moved to the leadoff role. It paid off when the Vols defeated Temple 24-6, as Simunic was 2-4 with four RBIs.
Second baseman Tony Delmonico is second on the team with 10 swiped bags this year and is one of six starters to have a batting average over .300.
The hottest hitter as of late is first baseman J.P. Arencibia, who over the past five games is hitting over .600. The junior has three hits in each of his last three games, and is one of three players tied for second on the team with six homeruns. The leader is catcher Yan Gomes with seven homeruns, and his .324 batting average is good enough for second.
The Gamecocks head into the weekend swinging the bats a little better of late, with five guys all within two points of each other for the team lead in batting average. James Darnell leads the way at .330, followed by Phil Disher at .329. Justin Smoak, Trent Kline, and Travis Jones are each hitting .328, and all would agree to see these numbers not only stay close, but climb as the year goes on.
The home run race is just as tight, with Darnell and Smoak at 16, and Jones right behind with 15. The Gamecocks as a team have hit 90 homeruns, 51 more than Tennessee. However, the Vols have 31 more stolen bases, so as you can see, the approaches are very different.
The question heading into the weekend is, which pitching staff can keep the opposing team more frustrated at the plate? Unlike Tennessee, the Gamecocks know who they'll be sending to the mound, and it's nice to be on this end of that problem.
Arik Hempy and his 1.59 ERA will take the mound Friday night as he looks to continue his run through the SEC. Since coming back, Hempy has been outstanding, and Tanner hopes he can set the tone once again this weekend.
Opposing Hempy will be left hander James Adkins (5-6), who although hasn't been a dominating starter, has dominating stuff. His 108 strikeouts are more than double what anyone else has, but Adkins also has the tendency to be wild. Carolina hitters will know early if he's on, and if he is, expect a great pitching matchup Friday night.
Harris Honeycutt is still trying to regain his old form and will try again on Saturday. Blake Cooper once again will start on Sunday, and with Mike Cisco pitching well Wednesday night, he'll have to pitch at a high level to stay in the weekend rotation. Either way, both Cisco and Cooper will be called upon in the postseason.
The Vols don't know who their two other starters will be. Lance McClain and Craig Cobb have been the guys for most of the year, but both have struggled of late. McClain will most likely start one of them, but Cobb threw six innings against Belmont on Wednesday and is unlikely to see time this weekend. Nick Hernandez started last Saturday against Ole Miss and went 4.2 innings. He didn't get the win, but the Vols won 7-6.
Tennessee generally goes to three guys out of the bullpen, with closer Jeff Lockwood leading the way with five saves. Lockwood, who also is the teams' designated hitter, has a 3.13 ERA and is 2-2 this season. Danny Wiltz leads the team with 18 appearances, all out of the bullpen, and his 1.35 ERA leads the team. Aaron Everett has also been very reliable with a 2.65 ERA, and opponents are hitting just .230 off him.
Carolina needs two this weekend, not just for numbers sake, but to continue to climb back up in the polls. The Gamecocks haven't won a game in Tennessee since the 2001 season, but look for that to change this weekend.
I expect USC to take two of three, and look for Hempy to get it started again. The Gamecocks will have to make sure they don't have a pop up contest, or it could be a long trip back.
No team has figured out Jones since he started this streak, and don't expect Tennessee to be the one who stops him. Look for Jones to have another outstanding weekend at the plate.
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