Baseball: Georgia series vital to Vanderbilt

My how things can change very quickly. A week ago Vanderbilt fans were excited after a series win over Auburn along with two wins over local rivals Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee. The Commodores had a sparkling 31-9 record and prognosticators nationwide were predicting Vandy to host a NCAA regional.

With series coming up against Tennessee and Georgia, two struggling SEC East programs, the Commodores could be assured of improving their national standing even more. However, over the past week things have soured rapidly for our ‘Dores.

On Friday Vanderbilt looked right on track to sweep the rival Vols by pounding the hapless state school, 10-1. However, the suspicious ejection of Sonny Gray and his coach, along with a rainy Saturday set Vandy up for a double whammy ambush on Sunday. With good Tennessee pitching (UT plays its No.1 pitcher in game 2) combined with Vanderbilt's SEC leading tendency to hit into the double play along with poor field allowed the Vols to win the second game. Then the unthinkable happened when Commodore bats went cold in the rubber game and UT escaped with a 4-3 victory that gave them a rare series win. Before the weekend VU was eyeing a possible 11-7 or 10-8 SEC post UT series record but instead the Commodores are now sitting at a shaky 9-9. To make matters worse, Vandy then dropped a rare out-of-conference mid week game at Austin Peay.

With the Bulldogs coming to town the Commodores can't afford to be caught napping again. Georgia has by far the worst record in the SEC at 3-15. The Bulldogs have the worst batting average of the SEC at .287 (VU is .316). UGA is last in at least six different batting statistical categories. Despite their poor performance at the plate you can bet the Bulldogs would love to pick up a couple of wins in Nashville. Interestingly, like UT did last week, Vanderbilt will start their top pitcher, Sonny Gray, in the second game and Taylor Hill will get the nod on Friday night since Gray is suspended for that game. Hopefully VU can have a better Friday result than the Vols did the previous weekend. My feeling is that Hill, who has a solid ERA of 1.96 over his last 23 innings pitched, will get the job done but he still needs some assistance from the Commodore bats.

Vanderbilt must improve its batting and base running against Georgia. The good news is that Georgia is also the worst in the SEC in the pitching department. The Bulldogs are giving up a team average ERA of almost 8.5 runs a game. That's almost three runs more than the 11th place team in that category, Mississippi State. While the Dawgs look like an easy sweep it won't be easy if the Commodores keep hitting into these double plays. As mentioned earlier, Vandy not only leads the conference in that infamous category, they lead it by a huge number. Vanderbilt has hit into a staggering 47 double plays this season. Arkansas, the best team in the conference, has just 12. Ole Miss is the second worst at hitting into the doubles but they have done it just 33 times. To put it another way, the other 11 SEC teams have combined hit into an average of 24 double plays. Yes, the average Joe SEC team has hit into just about half the double plays as our Commodores. That's terrible.

Despite the fact that Vanderbilt just completed one sorry week of baseball, all is not lost. A 9-9-conference record is still workable. However, it will take an almost torrid finish to regain solid footing as a potential regional host. But if Vanderbilt can take care of business against the Bulldogs and at least win the series, they have a good shot at getting a No. 2 seed in someone else's regional. A poor showing against Georgia and even the SEC tournament could become a question. After the Bulldogs the SEC waters get rougher. Vandy visits defending National Champion LSU followed by a trip the next weekend to face Mississippi State in Starkville. The Commodores then get a home series against that tough Arkansas squad.

After Arkansas it's tournament time. Hopefully Vanderbilt will be a participant and hopefully the boys in Black and Gold will have Georgia on their minds this weekend. Top Stories