Baseball: Vanderbilt hosts Florida

The No. 9 ranked Vanderbilt baseball team hosts No. 10 Florida for a 3-game series (Thurs.-Sat.) at Hawkins Field. Look inside for a complete breakdown of both teams.

Florida at Vanderbilt

Thursday 6:30 p.m., ESPNU)
RHP Carson Fulmer (9-1, 1.74 ERA) vs. RHP Logan Shore (6-4, 3.01)

Friday (6:30 p.m., SEC Network+)
LHP Philip Pfeifer (3-3, 3.88) vs. LHP A.J. Puk (6-3, 5.08)

Saturday (Noon, SEC Network)
RHP Walker Buehler (3-1, 2.86 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.27)


ABOUT VANDERBILT

The defending National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores (35-14, 17-7 SEC) won their second consecutive series last weekend when they won two out of three at Kentucky. The previous weekend the 'Dores swept nationally ranked Missouri. Next up for the Commodores is three games at Hawkins Field against No. 10 Florida.

Despite a few lapses, Vanderbilt's hitting ability is still among the best in the conference. The Commodores are third in the SEC in batting average (.298) behind LSU and Texas A&M. Vandy is second in the league in both hits (512) and on-base percentage (.391).

All-America short stop Dansby Swanson (.354, 43 RBI) leads the SEC in runs scored with 55. Just behind Swanson, in second place is Rhett Wiseman (.309, 35 RBI) with 49 runs scored. First baseman Zander Wiel (.332, 47 RBI) is tied for fourth in the conference in RBIs. Bryan Reynolds (.318, 35 RBI) has 62 hits and three home runs. Freshman Jeren Kendall (.311, 22 RBI) and third baseman Will Toffey (.308, 32 RBI) have given the Commodores a boost with timely hitting late in the season.

Vanderbilt's pitching staff is among the best in the nation. Commodore pitchers are third in the SEC in ERA (2.98) and first in opposing batting average (.219). Vandy pitchers have also struck out more batters (485) than any other team in the SEC.

Righty Carson Fulmer (9-1, 1.74 ERA) has dominated this season and currently leads the SEC in strikeouts with 107. However, last week was a less than series for Fulmer. He struck out just six in 6 1/3 innings while allowing three runs and three walks.

Lefty Philip Pfeifer (3-3, 3.88) was roughed up last week at Kentucky giving up nine hits and three walks in just over three innings. Three well placed bunts that produced no outs were a major part of his troubles. Pfeifer has 71 strikeouts this season, second best on the Commodore squad. Against Missouri two weeks ago he had 13 strikeouts.

Right handed Walker Buehler (3-1, 2.86 ERA) scattered six hits in six innings and walked two against Kentucky last week. Buehler has 61 strikeouts on the season.

The Vandy bullpen is led by righties Kyle Wright (4-1, 1.14 ERA) and Jordan Sheffield (4-1, 3.11 ERA) along with lefties Ben Bowden (5-1, 2.60 ERA), John Kilichowski (2-3, 3.60 ERA) and Ryan Johnson (4-0, 1.94 ERA).

ABOUT FLORIDA

Tenth ranked Florida (36-13, 15-9 SEC) should present Vanderbilt with its most formidable series challenge of the season. The Gators have won five conference series this season with sweeps over Mississippi State and South Carolina. The Gators have dropped conference series at Missouri, at Kentucky and at Ole Miss. Most recently the Gators won a series at Georgia last weekend and then beat South Florida on Tuesday night.

Florida, like Kentucky, is a solid batting team and rated in the top four of most conference batting statistics. The Gators are tied with Vandy for third place in the conference in batting average (.298). Florida is also tied with the Commodores in slugging percentage (.457). The Gators have scored just two fewer runs than the Commodores (339 to 337). Florida is just ahead of Vandy in runs batted in (309 to 305) and just behind the 'Dores in hits (512 to 505).

Infielder Josh Tobias (.366, 30 RBI) leads the Gators with a .366 overall batting average. Harrison Bader (.320, 47 RBI) is tied for third in the SEC in RBI (47), sixth in slugging (.604) and is tied for fourth in home runs (11). Richie Martin (.319, 28 RBI) has scored a team leading 44 runs for the Gators and stolen 16-of-21 bases. Buddy Reed (.311, 36 RBI) went 4-for-10 (.400) versus the Bulldogs, had a two-run single on Sunday. Ryan Larson (.306, 21 RBI) and Dalton Guthrie (.296, 20 RBI) are two other key Gator hitters.

Florida is a complete package team unlike Vandy's opponents from the past two series. Two weeks ago we saw Vandy face a strong pitching team and mediocre hitting team in Missouri. Last week it was the opposite. Kentucky had questionable pitching (although their Saturday starter was good) and solid hitting. Florida, on the other hand, has solid pitching and hitting, particularly in its bullpen. Pitching wise the Gators are fourth in the SEC with a 3.40 ERA. The Gators are second in the SEC in opposing batting average (.232) and third in fewest hits allowed (376).

Sophomore righty Logan Shore (6-4, 3.01) will face Carson Fulmer on Thursday. Last week at Georgia Shore allowed five hits and two walks in just 2 1/3 innings of work. He was responsible for five runs and went on to take the loss for the Gators. Shore has a 92 mph fastball according to Perfect Game. He was taken in the 29th round of the 2013 draft by the Twins but opted for the college life.

Another Sophomore, lefty A.J. Puk (6-3, 5.08), will face Pfeifer on Friday. Puk leads the Florida with 56 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. Puk has a low 90s fastball and was drafted by the Tigers in the 35 round of the 2013 draft. Last week in the 3-2 win over Georgia, Puk struck out 11 while walking none. He gave up two hits and no runs.

Right-handed Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.27) and Vandy's Walker Buehler will duel on Saturday. Faedo's fastball reaches the mid-90s. He was also drafted by the Tigers, in the 40th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Last Sunday against Georgia Faedo gave up two hits and four runs in two innings of work.

The Gators have solid relief pitching. Florida’s bullpen is 16-2 with a 2.92 ERA and 11 saves, and has registered 180 strikeouts in 212.2 innings. Key Gator relievers include RHP Dane Dunning (5-2, 3.57 ERA), LHP Bobby Poyner (4-1, 1.94 ERA), RHP Taylor Lewis (3-1, 1.97 ERA) and LHP Danny Young (1-0, 2.78 ERA). Lewis leads the team in saves with six.

SEC STANDINGS
EAST CONF GB ALL
VAN 17-7 -- 35-14
FLA 15-9 2 36-13
MIZ 14-10 3 28-21
KEN 11-12 5.5 26-21
USC 10-14 7 28-21
GEO 7-16 9.5 22-25
TEN 7-17 10 19-24
--- --- -- ---
WEST CONF GB ALL
LSU 16-7 -- 40-8
TAM 16-7 -- 41-7
ARK 14-10 2.5 29-18
AUB 12-12 4.5 32-17
OLM 11-13 5.5 25-24
ALA 8-16 8.5 25-24
MSU 8-16 8.5 24-24


SEC THIS WEEK

Florida at Vanderbilt (Thurs.)
Georgia at Kentucky
Alabama at Auburn
Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Thurs.)
Missouri at LSU
Tennessee at Arkansas
South Carolina at Texas A&M

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