Georgia at No. 14 Vanderbilt
Friday (6:35 p.m.)
LHP Ryan Lawlor (3-3, 3.43 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Beede (5-5, 3.75 ERA)
Saturday (3:05 p.m.)
RHP Robert Tyler (4-3, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Carson Fulmer (1-1, 1.64 ERA)
Sunday (1:05 p.m.)
To Be Announced (UGA) vs. RHP Tyler Ferguson (5-3, 3.17 ERA)
Vanderbilt (30-12, 8-10 SEC) is caught in a cycle, a cycle in which the often frustrating sport of baseball is throwing the Dores one nasty curveball of fate after another. Baseball – not subjected to a time clock yet governed by a single matchup of hitter versus pitcher – defies easy categorization. It is a team sport defined by individual confrontations. It might not be that different from football and basketball in the sense that all three sports demand the ability to perform in a timely manner, but a baseball game goes as long as its teams take advantage of and manufacture opportunities. You can be as good as the next day's starting pitcher – that's one such truth about baseball – but then again, your starting pitcher's excellence might not mean much of anything if your hitters' bats go dead on a given day. This last scenario is precisely what ambushed VU against Arkansas, causing the Dores' focus to shift from pitching to hitting as Georgia comes to Nashville.
Vanderbilt's pitchers conceded 23 runs to Texas A&M two weekends ago. Quite logically and appropriately, the Dores paid a price for such shoddy pitching, losing two of three games. You're supposed to lose a majority of the games you play when you allow an average of roughly eight runs per game. The VU crew needed to address this particular weakness heading into this past weekend's three-game set against the Arkansas Razorbacks. This was clearly the foremost priority for coach Tim Corbin's group.
Vanderbilt's pitchers, especially Carson Fulmer and long reliever (on Sunday) Adam Ravenelle, successfully contained the Razorbacks, throwing 10 scoreless innings between them and contributing to a larger effort in which Arkansas tallied just 10 total runs over the weekend. Maybe in the National League, allowing an average of 3.3 runs per game shouldn't quite create the expectation a three-game series win. Your ballclub might be facing Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha or Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Without a designated hitter, your team could get mown down and lose, 3-1 and 2-0. Yet, in college baseball, surrendering just 3.3 runs per game ought to translate into a series win. At the very least, it needs to translate into a series win… especially when your team is scuffling and looking for a jump-start in the middle of spring, with the SEC Tournament only a month away.
Yet, Vanderbilt managed to win only one game against the Hogs. Moreover, while VU did leave the bases loaded on one occasion while squandering a second-and-third chance at another point against Arkansas, the biggest and most alarming reality of the whole weekend was how genuinely impotent the Commodores proved to be.
This wasn't the kind of series in which Vanderbilt collected 11 or 12 hits per game and stranded 14, 15, 16 runners per nine innings. This was a series in which Vanderbilt didn't generate many good scoring opportunities in the first place. There were a few reasons for the Dores' lack of offensive output.
One fact should jump off the printed page more than anything else when assessing VU's lost weekend in Fayetteville, Ark.: Vanderbilt produced just two extra-base hits in three games. Two. This one jarring statistic gives rise to several others that need to jolt this team into a state of greater urgency when the Georgia series commences. Vanderbilt did not hit even one double or triple against Arkansas. The Commodores didn't score a single earned run by any means other than a home run. Vanderbilt scored only two runs without need of a home run, and those two runs were unearned, the product of an Arkansas error with two outs in an inning.
This is all immensely irritating, sure, but such facts can't be denied or swept under the rug. Vanderbilt solved its pitching problems, only to run into hitting problems. A given problem one weekend gives way to another issue the next. This is what happens to struggling baseball teams, and this roster has to find a way to pitch and hit well at the same time.
Naturally, Vanderbilt's hitters need to spank the ball more authoritatively instead of accumulating lots of singles, but if there's a particular pattern to monitor this weekend, pay attention to what the Dores do with a runner on first and one or two outs. Vanderbilt didn't always get leadoff hitters on base against Arkansas, but when the Dores put a runner on first with one or two outs, they never got an alley-finding or foul line-hugging extra-base hit to either score a runner from first or, at the very least, turn a runner-on-first-and-one-out situation into a second-and-third-with-one-out opportunity. Vanderbilt created a number of first-and-second-with-two-out scenarios against Arkansas, but it rarely if ever got to the point where it could score a run (from third) without need of a hit. The Commodores did not put much pressure on Arkansas's pitching and defense, and that's how a team scores just three earned runs (five runs overall) in a three-game weekend series.
The one starting pitcher who was tagged by Arkansas this past weekend is the pitcher who will begin this series against Georgia on Friday night. Tyler Beede gave up four runs in the first inning and did not allow his team to feel comfortable against the Razorbacks. If he gets rocked out of the gate on Friday, another wave of negativity will crash down upon this team, possibly setting the wrong tone for the series. Beede doesn't need to be spectacular, but he needs to stay away from the big inning and give his team a good chance to take a lead after four or five innings.
The star of the past weekend for Vanderbilt will be the team's starter on Saturday. Carson Fulmer was terrific in his first career start, tossing six scoreless innings and keeping Arkansas hitters off balance. Fulmer scattered his hits instead of allowing the Hogs to stack them in bunches. Anything close to last week's display will put Vanderbilt in very good shape in Saturday's mid-afternoon encounter with the Bulldogs.
VU's starter on Sunday needs to be more effective. Tyler Ferguson wasn't rocked or ripped last Sunday, but he didn't make it out of the fifth inning, either. Struggling with his control at times, Ferguson required long-relief help from the bullpen. In the attempt to keep arms fresh before the May home stretch, Ferguson needs to give Corbin six solid innings (maybe 5 2/3) so that the Dores can use relievers in spots as opposed to prolonged stretches.
Georgia (21-19-1, 7-10-1 SEC) shows that as frustrating as life has been for Vanderbilt in recent weeks, it could still be so much worse. Georgia just got waxed in two games this past weekend against Florida, while losing a third time to the Gators by a 3-2 score. The Bulldogs' hitters left the bases loaded on two separate occasions over the weekend, but when a team loses by seven runs in two separate games, it's hard to lay the blame at the feet of the batting order. This sweep loss was a series in which Georgia's pitching collapsed.
The Bulldogs' Friday starter, Ryan Lawlor, has a 2.25 ERA in SEC games this season. Looking at that gleaming ERA number, it's easy to identify Lawlor as the one Georgia starter that didn't stumble against Florida. Lawlor pitched an eight-inning complete game in a 3-2 loss. He held down the Gators' bats but didn't get enough run support from an offense that – similar to Vanderbilt's – was tamed in all three games this past weekend in the SEC. Georgia might have lost games by 10-7 and 8-6 margins instead of 10-3 and 8-1 against Florida; indeed, pitching is what lost the series for the Dawgs, not their hitting. Yet, Florida's two blowouts cannot obscure the fact that Georgia scored a total of six runs in the three games, one more than Vanderbilt's total of five in the Arkansas series. Lawlor was the one UGA starter to catch an unlucky break as a result of this dynamic. Vanderbilt will face a challenge against him in the first (tone-setting) game of this series on Friday.
The Saturday starter for Georgia is Robert Tyler. His ERA was 1.56 entering his game against Florida last weekend. When a midseason ERA shoots up by 0.89 runs in one outing, you know that a pitcher had a rough day at the office. Tyler was hammered for six runs on seven hits in only three innings of work. Tyler can claim that he wasn't overextended in that start. Georgia should expect at least six innings from him against Vanderbilt, but the Dores need to plant a seed of doubt in his mind as soon as they get a chance to do some damage.
Georgia's starter on Sunday has not yet been announced. This is the game in the series when the Bulldogs will most likely need a big day at the plate. Their hottest hitter at the moment is Hunter Cole (.333 batting average), who went 6-for-13 at the plate last weekend in three games against Florida. Teammate Nelson Ward went 5-for-12 versus the Gators. Yet, Georgia's inability to get big hits is something that could easily weigh on the minds of the Bulldogs in this series. If Beede can get the jump on them in Friday's opener, the Dores could find the springboard moment they need, en route to a very successful series.
One more note about Georgia's bats, underscoring how much this team is pressing at the plate, is worth sharing: UGA hitters struck out 25 times while earning only four walks in three games against Florida. Given that Georgia was trailing by big deficits for much of the series, the 25 strikeouts really aren't as bad as they might have been in other contexts. Hitters need to take big cuts when trailing by four or more runs. What's alarming for the Dawgs is the total of only four walks. Hitters aren't working counts or putting themselves in position to get a hitter's pitch. Florida pitchers were able to throw their kinds of pitches, and that's something Vanderbilt's staff needs to be aware of heading into this three-game clash.
EAST CONF GB ALL
FLA 12-6 -- 27-15
USC 10-8 2 32-10
KEN 9-9 3 27-14
VAN 8-10 4 30-12
GEO 7-10-1 4.5 21-19-1
TEN 7-11 5 25-14
MIZ 6-12 6 19-21
WEST CONF GB ALL
ALA 12-6 -- 28-13
LSU 10-7-1 1.5 31-10-1
OLM 10-8 2 30-12
MSU 10-8 2 27-15
ARK 9-9 3 27-16
TAM 8-10 4 25-17
AUB 7-11 5 23-19
SEC THIS WEEK
Georgia at Vanderbilt
Alabama at South Carolina
Ole Miss at Kentucky
Missouri at Florida
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Tennessee at LSU
Auburn at Arkansas