Baseball: Vanderbilt visits Alabama

No. 10 Vanderbilt heads south to Hoover, Ala., to face the Crimson Tide for a 3-game conference series this weekend (Thurs.-Sat.). Look inside for a complete scouting report on both the Commodores and Crimson Tide.

Vanderbilt at Alabama

Thursday (7:00 p.m., SEC Network+)
RHP Carson Fulmer (10-1, 1.56 ERA) vs. LHP Taylor Guilbeau (2-5, 3.73)

Friday (7:00 p.m., SEC Network+)
LHP Philip Pfeifer (3-4, 4.35 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Walters (4-3, 2.17)

Saturday (3:30 p.m., SEC Network)
RHP Walker Buehler (3-1, 3.14 ERA) vs. TBA


ABOUT VANDERBILT

The defending National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores dropped 2-of-3 games to 10th ranked Florida last week. The Commodores held a late lead over the Gators but allowed the game to get into extra innings where the visitors prevailed. On Tuesday night the 'Dores put together a solid win at No. 2 Louisville that should help come NCAA seeding time. This week Vanderbilt will travel to Hoover, Ala., to face a scrappy and dangerous Alabama Crimson Tide team.

Vanderbilt batters are the fourth best in the SEC in both batting average (.294) and slugging percentage (.454). The Commodores are No. 2 in on base percentage and third in runs scored with 356.

Dansby Swanson (.346, 47 RBI) has nine homers on the season including two last week. Zander Wiel (.333, 49 RBI) leads the Commodores in RBIs. Rhett Wiseman (.311, 36 RBI) is tops for Vandy in home runs with 12. Bryan Reynolds (.305, 38 RBI) had just one hit in 10 at bats last week. Youngsters Will Toffey (.306, 36 RBI) and Jeren Kendall (.303, 24 RBI) have given their team a lift late in the season. Leadoff man Ro Coleman (.280, 22 RBI) has become a solid hitter but needs to be more reliable in the base stealing department. Coleman has stolen successfully just two of seven times this season.

Despite dropping its fourth conference series of the season Vanderbilt's pitching staff still ranks among the best units in the league. Vandy is still No. 1 in batters struck out (522), that's 78 more strikeouts than the No. 2 team, Texas A&M. Vandy is second in ERA (3.01) and first in the league in opposing batting average.

Righty Carson Fulmer (10-1, 1.56 ERA) is among the most dominating pitchers in college baseball. Last weekend he held the Florida Gators scoreless, scattering six hits and striking out 11 to earn his team-best 10th win of the season. For his efforts he was named the SEC Pitcher of the Week. Fulmer has struck out 70 batters over his last 52 2/3s innings pitched.

Lefty Philip Pfeifer (3-4, 4.35 ERA) continues to have the confidence of the Vandy coaching staff despite two less than stellar performances in a row. On Friday the lefty allowed five hits over 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. The previous weekend at Kentucky he allowed six earned runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. Pfeifer has 76 strikeouts, second most on the Commodore roster.

Right handed Walker Buehler (3-1, 3.14 ERA) has been touted as one of the top pitchers for the next MLB draft. So far this season he's struck out 66 batters while allowing 63 hits and only 19 walks. Last week Buehler sat down five batters in 6 1/3 innings. He left the game with a lead only to see his win go by the wayside as the Gators rallied.

The Vandy bullpen is led by righties Kyle Wright (4-1, 1.29 ERA) and Jordan Sheffield (4-2, 3.14 ERA) along with lefties Ben Bowden (5-1, 3.10 ERA), John Kilichowski (2-3, 4.35 ERA) and Ryan Johnson (5-0, 1.91 ERA). Johnson earned a win and Kilichowski a save in Tuesday night's win over Louisville.

ABOUT ALABAMA

Alabama (29-24, 11-16 SEC) is currently riding a six game winning streak. Most recently, the Crimson Tide defeated Mercer 5-3 on Tuesday. Last weekend the Tide swept rival Auburn on the Tiger's home field. Bama's record isn't spectacular but a quick scan of the Tides' schedule gives you a clue why. Alabama has nearly faced the entire gauntlet of tough teams in the SEC including Florida, Missouri, LSU, and Texas A&M. Vandy's visit to Hoover will complete that gauntlet. Other than the Auburn sweep, the Tide has series wins over only Mississippi State and Georgia.

Considering the competition that the Tide has faced, Alabama is a pretty solid batting team. Bama is seventh in the SEC both batting average (.283) and runs scored (294). The Crimson Tide is fifth in hits (529) and tied for third in both triples (20) and doubles (99). The men from Tuscaloosa went on a tear last weekend at Auburn, pounding out 43 combined hits in the three wins.

Shortstop Mikey White (.344, 33 RBI) leads Bama in batting average and triples (6). Right fielder Casey Hughston (.340, 41 RBI) leads the team in runs batted in. Second baseman Chandler Avant (.285, 20 RBI) has stolen successfully on 10-of-13 attempts. Center fielder Georgie Salem had four hits and stole two bases in the Tide's 14-4 Sunday win over Auburn. Third baseman Kyle Overstreet (.290, 35 RBI) has 60 hits, including 20 doubles this season. Georgie Salem (.280, 25 RBI) and Cody Henry (.286, 19 RBI) are two other key Bama hitters.

Alabama's pitching staff, while mostly ranking in the bottom half of the conference pitching stats, should still be given the benefit of the doubt due to the tough conference schedule it's faced. Bama is ninth in earned run average (4.04) and eighth in opposing batting average (.254). The Tide arms do rank among the best in some categories such as batters struck out (5th, 428) and batters struck out looking (5th, 117).

LHP Taylor Guilbeau (2-5, 3.73) is the ace of the Bama staff. He has 72 strikeouts on the season while walking 38 batters. Last week in the 4-2 Friday win over Auburn he allowed seven hits, two walks and two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. Guilbeau, whose fastball gets up to around 90 mph, was drafted by the Yankees in the 39th round of the 2011 MLB draft.

Right-handed Jake Walters (4-3, 2.17), a freshman, tossed 5.2 innings of work and allowed three unearned runs with six strikeouts before exiting Saturday's game with Auburn. His fastball also runs about 90 miles an hour. He's got 55 strikes against 24 walks this season.

Saturday's starter for Alabama has not been announced but it could be Geoffrey Bramblett, who started last weekend in the Tide's third game. Bramblett has 58 strikeouts and just 25 walks on the season. In Sunday's 14-4 win over Auburn Bramblett struck out six while allowing four hits and three earned runs in six innings of work.

Some of the key Bama relievers include RHP Ray Castillo (3-0, 2.89 ERA), LHP Thomas Burrows (1-3, 3.55 ERA), RHP Will Carter (3-5, 4.92 ERA). Burrows has five saves for the Tide.

SEC STANDINGS
EAST CONF GB ALL
VAN 18-9 -- 37-16
FLA 17-10 1 38-14
MIZ 14-13 4 28-24
KEN 12-14 5.5 28-23
USC 12-15 6 31-22
GEO 9-17 8.5 25-26
TEN 8-18 9.5 21-25
--- --- -- ---
WEST CONF GB ALL
LSU 19-7 -- 44-8
TAM 17-9 2 42-9
ARK 15-11 4 31-19
OLM 14-13 5.5 29-24
AUB 12-15 7.5 33-20
ALA 11-16 8.5 29-24
MSU 8-19 11.5 24-27


SEC THIS WEEK

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

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