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Home > Baseball, Sport, Vanderbilt > Vanderbilt Baseball: Seventh Week Behind, Week Ahead

Vanderbilt Baseball: Seventh Week Behind, Week Ahead

April 5th, 2011

Well, it was a successful second try as the number 1 team in the nation. The last time Vanderbilt held that ranking, they went 3-1 on the week, but lost the spot as Florida swept away LSU in Baton Rouge. This week, all four teams in the running for the top spot took care of business, with Virginia sweeping past George Washington via a perfect game before pouring it on Virginia Tech. South Carolina made their case by besting The Citadel, before sweeping Kentucky. Finally, Florida bounced back from a midweek loss to Florida State to bounce Tennessee out of Gainesville.

The Immediate Progression: Catching Up With Predictions

The immediate progression this week will run back to January, when I revealed my SEC predicted standings. This week marked the mid-point of the season, so what better time to revisit my best guesses at how things will turn out.

Click through to read on.

We’ll start with the East where things were not terribly hard to pick at the top. Here’s how I broke it down.

EAST
Vanderbilt 23-7
Florida 22-8
South Carolina 19-11
Kentucky 13-17
Tennessee 9-21
Georgia 7-23

After three weeks of SEC play, this is how things have shaken out.

EAST
Vanderbilt 7-2 (26-3 overall)
Florida 7-2 (24-5)
South Carolina 7-2 (22-5)
Georgia 6-3 (14-14)
Kentucky 2-7 (19-9)
Tennessee 2-7 (15-14)

Again, the shocker here is less the records of Kentucky and Tennessee lagging a bit and more the in conference surge of Georgia. Ever since the tragic injury to Johnathan Taylor in a loss to Florida State on March 6, the Bulldogs have rallied together and been on fire. After a 4-9 start to the year, they’ve been 10-5 against very stiff competition, including visits to South Carolina and Clemson and victorious home series against LSU and Mississippi State. I sheepishly concede that I did not see coming the reality that Georgia is probably the fourth best team in the East, though they have a long way to go in making up for a very RPI-destroying bad start to the year.

As for Kentucky and Tennessee, there’s not a whole lot of positives. Tennessee has lost all three series to date (to Kentucky, Mississippi and at Florida), while Kentucky has failed to register an SEC win since taking 2 over Tennessee. Of course, those six straight conference losses have come to West-leading Alabama and the Florida powerhouse. Each appears poised to potentially struggle to reach the predicted win totals of 13 and 9 that I set forth for them.

And that is what you have at the top of the East, three powerhouses. Each feature great all-around teams, though one looks at the Florida and Vanderbilt staffs and sees a bit more pitching than resides on the Gamecock bench. The rigors of the SEC pretty much ensure that each team will struggle to meet the lofty win totals I set forth for them, but with the SEC West really seeming to struggle, it’s not inconceivable for at least two of them to reach 20 wins.

Looking ahead, Vanderbilt has a home series against West-leading Alabama before heading to South Carolina, hosting LSU and Tennessee, traveling to Kentucky, hosting Florida and finishing the year in Athens with Georgia.

Florida will spend the next two weeks on the road at Mississippi State and Georgia before getting Alabama and Mississippi at home, traveling to Arkansas and Vanderbilt and closing the regular season by hosting Kentucky.

The Gamecocks will head to Knoxville for Tennessee this weekend, before hitting Nashville, traveling to Mississippi State, hosting Auburn, heading back West to Mississippi, hosting Arkansas and finishing the schedule out at Alabama.

On a pure strength of team basis, one might be tempted to say that the Gamecocks have the easiest road to Hoover, having already bested Florida and facing many of the West down the stretch; however, those currently struggling Western teams may very well prove resilient and bounce back from their rough starts. Let’s look back to my predictions.

WEST
Arkansas 19-11
LSU 17-13
Ole Miss 16-14
Auburn 15-15
Alabama 12-18
Mississippi State 8-22

I’ll readily take my medicine and note that I was a bit off, based on early returns, which are as follows:

WEST
Alabama 7-2 (21-9)
Mississippi State 4-5 (19-9)
Ole Miss 4-5 (20-9)
LSU 3-6 (20-8)
Arkansas 3-6 (19-8)
Auburn 2-7 (15-13)

Clearly, Alabama surprised me in a big way. I did not anticipate a transition quite so strong for them to the BBCOR era. They’ve been consistently solid, though they’ve yet to be tested by the beasts of the East. Mississippi State, on the other hand, I’m still not sold on, though it’s readily apparent that they should be able to beat my prediction of 8 wins.

On the converse, disappointing side is LSU, which has dropped three straight series to Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss to start the year. At this point, it would take a truly Herculean effort to reverse course and get to my prediction of 17 wins from them.

All in all, I can’t claim to be Kreskin with these standings, but other than Alabama’s surge, I’m not sure things won’t shake out somewhat like I guessed at the start of the year.

The Week Behind

Tuesday: Vanderbilt 10, UT-Martin 3

In what was, above all else, a very sloppy game in web conditions, the Commodores managed a big win on the scoreboard, even if they didn’t really play all that well. The relatively wet field conditions were only part of the problem for UT-Martin, who’s fielding did themselves no favors. It started in the Commodores 4-run 1st inning, in which the Skyhawks poor defense helped Vanderbilt plate 4 runs off the bat. The visiting left fielder had a real adventure, with one error and a terrible misplay of a fly ball off Sam Lind’s bat that went for a 2-run double.

Anthony Gomez had a huge week for the Commodores. Photo Courtesy Jimmy Jones.

With a 4-run lead, Vanderbilt’s stellar midweek starting Freshman TJ Pecoraro (3 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 2 K) eased through the first third of the game, before giving way for a staff day. Sam Selman (IP, 3 H, R, K) and Jack Armstrong (IP, H, R, BB, K) were not as sharp as they have been, but Will Clinard shut the door on the Skyhawks with 2 near-perfect frames and 3 strikeouts to allow the Vanderbilt offense to put things away. Mark Lamm (IP, K) and Navery Moore (IP, H, K) finished things off with the game out of reach.

On the offensive front, the Dores were as impish as you could be while scoring double digit runs. Coach Corbin echoed this in the post game, noting that a good deal of the Vanderbilt offense was contributed by UT-Martin’s poor play. While I still contend that Lind’s first inning double should have been ruled an error, the left fielder still managed to register 2 more, topped only by the Skyhawks’ shortstop piling up 3 errors. That’s not to say that Vandy didn’t get it done at the plate, just that it could have been far more uneven a score. The lineup did pound out 9 hits with 2 walks and 4 hit batsmen. Lind led the way with 3 hits, 2 runs and 3 RBI, while Aaron Westlake chipped in a pair of hits with a walk, run and RBI. Anthony Gomez extended his hitting streak with an RBI triple in his last at bat of the night.

This was a relatively easy game against an over matched Skyhawk squad. It also represented a nice opportunity to get some innings for a relief corps that had been recently robbed of weekend innings by stellar pitching from the starting rotation. Pecoraro picked up the win, moving to 4-0 on the year.

Friday: Vanderbilt 11, Auburn 6

Vanderbilt’s offense kicked into high gear on Friday in support of Sonny Gray; however, the game was not without its frustrations and concerns. The concerns centered around Gray (5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) who, after breezing through the early innings, appeared to hit a wildness wall in the 4th inning. Though he escaped that inning, his inability to spot his fastball and a somewhat sub par curve led to a harrowing 5th inning in which Auburn utilized his uncharacteristic wildness to plate two runs, closing the gap to 3-2. Vanderbilt would put the game away in the top of the 6th and 7th innings with respective 3 and 4 spots, allowing Gray the rare chance for a short, 5 inning start. Having thrown only 76 pitches, the early exit was disconcerting, but Gray explained the problem on Saturday in an in-game interview. A blister had developed on his pitching hand (the same ailment that plagued TCU standout Matt Purke earlier in the year). The blister was caught early and I wouldn’t anticipate it would be much of a problem going forward. More emphatic is that Gray still managed to handle an excellent hitting Auburn ball club without his best stuff.

Gray was relieved by Corey Williams, who breezed through the 6th and 7th inning. In the 8th, as the Tigers lineup flipped for a 2nd time through against the lefty, Williams (3 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 K), ceded 2 runs as the team violated my rule of not letting Williams see the same batter twice in the same game. A stellar short reliever, Williams have yielded more than 2/3rds of his runs allowed after seeing a lineup a 2nd time through in the same game. Pecoraro (IP, 2 H, 2 ER, BB) replaced Williams for the 9th inning and proceeded to have his first poor outing of the season, but the damage had already been done by the Vanderbilt offense, putting this one out of reach.

The offense was spearheaded by the 2-headed monster at the top of the lineup. Tony Kemp and Gomez each slammed 4 hits. At the bottom of the lineup, Riley Reynolds added to the carnage with 4 hits of his own and a career-high 3 RBI. The 4 hits tied or set career-highs for all three Dores. Curt Casali added 3 hits and 2 RBI of his own as the Commodores pounded out a season high 20 hits in what the Auburn commentators acknowledged as a tremendously efficient offensive performance. The only inaccuracy therein was that the Dores were anything but efficient after getting men on base, stranding a season-high 16 men on base in what would become a theme for the weekend.

Every Commodore except for the slumping Connor Harrel registered a hit, highlighted by Kemp blasting an exciting triple off the wall in right center. While Kemp cruised around to 3rd without so much as breathing hard, I darn near needed some oxygen after watching him fly. The offensive outburst helped Gray move to 6-1 on the year, though his ERA ticked up to 1.74 for the season.

Saturday Vanderbilt 11, Auburn 2

For the 2nd straight day, Vanderbilt was forced to deal with one of their aces having something less than his best stuff, and once again it did not matter as the less-than-best in the Vandy rotation is still better than what most teams can offer. Saturday it was Grayson Garvin on the bump for the Dores and the big lefty had a decidedly average day for him. He was on cruise control early, not really locating as well as he normally does, but not in any danger of being scored upon. Supported by a 1-0 lead provided by a 400-foot home run from Aaron Westlake in the 1st inning, Garvin left an outside fastball in and Auburn tied the score with a solo shot of their own in the 3rd. Auburn would grab their first lead of the series in the next inning on a botched bunt up the first base line, allowing a run to score. Garvin (5.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 K) got through 5 innings before being relieved by Clinard with a man on in the 6th inning and a 3-2 Vanderbilt lead. Clinard got 1 strikeout, but surrendered a walk and was replaced by Ziomek. Ziomek (IP, H, HBP, K) registered a big strikeout to end Auburn’s last real chance to take control of the game. Mark Lamm (2.1 IP, HBP, K) closed out the 7th and finished the game out for his 2nd save of the year (he was not credited with this in the box score, but that should be corrected).

Reynolds enjoyed one of his finest weekends as a Commodore while in Auburn. Photo courtesy Jimmy Jones.

After falling behind 2-1, Vanderbilt evened the score in the 6th and had runners on 1st and 2nd for Jason Esposito. With the runners going, Esposito chopped a ball of the plate up the middle with 1 out. Westlake beat the second baseman to the bag and Esposito beat the throw to first base, leaving everyone safe on the fielder’s choice. But the Commodores weren’t done on the play as Coach Tim Corbin waived Gomez around 3rd and he easily beat a throw to the plate, giving Vanderbilt a 3-2 lead. The play was key, as the Vanderbilt offense sputtered a bit against Auburn’s John Luke Jacobs before exploding with an 8-run 8th inning, their biggest frame of the year. With 2 outs recorded, the Commodores banged out key hit after key hit to bury the Tigers and take the weekend series. Kemp, Gomez, Westlake and Casali lead the 11-hit attack with 2 hits apiece. Vanderbilt also drew 4 walks and 4 hit batsmen.

The story of the day was patience and capitalization of late-inning opportunities. After leaving 16 men on on Friday, the Dores turned up the heat in the 6th and 8th innings to really take advantage of a rattled Auburn squad. Garvin moved to 5-1 on the season and lowered his ERA to 2.36.

Sunday: Vanderbilt 6, Auburn 2

I didn’t get a chance to see the Sunday game, as I was traveling at the time, but the box score tells the story. Again the Commodores got a good, but not great performance from one of their troika of stellar starters. Taylor Hill (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, 5 K) left in the 6th inning with the game tied 2-2, but in a battle of bullpen attrition, few will top the Commodores. After Hill departed and Ziomek allowed a single to the only batter he faced, Will “The Weatherman” Clinard (1.2 IP, H, K) entered with the bases loaded and no outs. He struck out the first batter and induced a fly out from the next to escape the inning. Mark Lamm and Navery Moore closed out the game with matching lines of an inning pitched, hit allowed and strikeout.

The Vanderbilt offense was paced by Curt Casali (3-4, R) while Kemp, Gomez and Reynolds each pitched in a pair of hits, to fuel the 12 hit, 4 walk and 4 hit by pitch attack. The Dores struggled to get runners in almost as much as Friday night, stranding 14 base runners. But the lineup came up big in the 7th inning with 4 runs to set up the sweep. With 1 out and the bases loaded, Conrad Gregor pushed everyone 90 feet with a single, followed by a run-scoring wild pitch, a Gomez sacrifice fly and a Westlake RBI single, establishing the final margin.

Anthony Gomez extended his hitting streak to 24 games with the big weekend. Clinard earned his first win of the year to move to 1-0 and he lowered his ERA to 3.50. Outside of Williams (5.12) and Steven Rice (1 IP), Clinard’s 3.50 ERA is currently the highest on the Dores, reflecting the incredible depth of this staff.

Apologies, Corrections and Indignation

This week’s apology goes out to the Skyhawks’ left fielder and shortstop. There was nothing I really feel too apologetic about with respect to my recent posts, but I just feel bad for two kids who played about as poor defensively as one can. Shortstop Cody Terry compounded his three errors in the field with an 0-5 day at the plate, while Eric Larsen at least came back to hit 2-3 after his disastrous first inning in left. Their defense came allowed for 5 unearned runs. In fact, I now do have something to apologize for. I’m sorry I brought it up again at all.

For a correction, we’ll go back to the 6th inning of last Sunday’s game against Arkansas. Gomez rapped a shot past the third baseman and down the left field line. Racing around first, he was gunned out at second by the left fielder. Several folks were surprised when the Arkansas scorekeeper flashed a tough E5 on the play. After Gomez sacrificed in the 8th inning, it was apparent that his hitting streak had come to an end at 19.

Alas, due to the ever friendly ability of a scorer’s discretion to change a ruling on a play after the fact, Gomez got a reprieve. At Vanderbilt’s request, the scorekeeper revisited his card and the video footage, deeming Gomez’ shot a clean single. The streak enters today at 24 games.

For indignation, and in an effort to wrap this up quickly, I’m going to go back to the bunting issue. There’s currently an 85 post thread on VandySports.com rehashing all the ugliness of people’s inability to understand that a 26-3 record does not mean that our over-reliance on bunting is not preventing the Commodores from maximizing on their offensive opportunities. Statistical probabilities do not lie. While bunting may or may not work and there are certain situations where bunting is a good idea, ERT tables and Sabermetrics show that over the long run, bunting stunts offensive output.

Weekly Honors

For more weekly honors, check out AnchorOfGold‘s Rookie of the Year-themed awards.

Because I’m on vacation and want to get back to the pool, I’m merely going to agree with AOG and hand out the awards to the dynamic duo of Tony Kemp and Anthony Gomez on offense and Will Clinard and Mark Lamm on the hill. It is well deserved.

Around the League

The Scoreboard is going to take a break this week, but we’ll note the Commodores’ current rankings:

Baseball America: 1st
ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll: 1st
NCBWA: 1st
Collegiate Baseball: 2nd (Virginia 1st)
Perfect Game: 1st

Warren Nolan Metrics
Simulated RPI: 10th
Nolan Power Index: 3rd
Strength of Schedule: 76th

Boyd’s World Metrics
Simulated RPI: 11th
Iterative Strength Rating: 4th
Strength of Schedule: 92nd

Boyd’s RPI Needs Page predicts that Vanderbilt needs to finish 19-6 for a top 8 RPI (for National Seed purposes) and just 12-13 for a top 16 RPI (for hosting purposes).

The Week Ahead

Vanderbilt hosts Middle Tennessee State this afternoon at the Hawk. The Blue Raiders are just 8-18 on the year against the 191st hardest schedule. They allow 7.0 runs per game against just 5.2 scored. In other words, it isn’t pretty, nor is their 2-8 record against top 100 RPI teams. They have yet to play any top 50 RPI teams. They are coming in off their best week of the year so far, going 3-1 against Austin Peay and South Alabama. They are led by Will Skinner (.349, 6 HR, 21 RBI) and Justin Guidry (.345, 2, 17) at the plate, but have just a .282 team average while their opponents hit .301. They will counter Vanderbilt’s 2.36 team ERA by throwing out reliever Joey McClung in his first start of the season. McClung leads MTSU with a 3.98 ERA in 20.1 innings on the year. Once Vanderbilt get’s into the MTSU pen, they’ll face a corps with a 6.48 team ERA.

While anything can happen in a single game (evidenced by MTSU’s victory over Vanderbilt’s last #1 team in 2007), a more stout opponent is offered by Alabama in Nashville this weekend. The Crimson Tide are 21-9 and tied with Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida at 7-2 in SEC play. They 5-6 against top 50 RPI teams and 7-9 against top 100 RPI teams. For the year, they have an RPI of 29 against the 48th ranked schedule, powered by a runs scored per game ratio of 5.7 for to 3.9 against. Last week they went 3-2 with a weekend series win against Arkansas. The Crimson Tide split midweek games with a win against Alabama State and a loss to Southeast Louisiana.

Alabama is paced by Brock Bennett (.357, 12 RBI), Taylor Dugas (.355, 2 HR, 11 RBI) and Jared Reeves (.339, 1, 23), leading a team hitting .279 overall. But pitching has been the key for Alabama, with a 3.23 team ERA and holding opponents to a .237 batting average (by comparison, Vanderbilt’s opponents hit .217).

The rotation is led by the diminutive but excellent Nathan Kilcrease (4-1, 1.90 ERA) on Friday. Adam Morgan (4-1, 4.10) will face Grayson Garvin on Saturday, while Tucker Hawley (5-2, 3.32) will tangle with Taylor Hill on Sunday. Each team’s starters will go Right-Left-Right for the weekend. If Alabama has a lead late, look for Jonathan Smart to close things out. In 25.1 innings on the year, he is 1-0 with 7 saves and a stellar 1.78 ERA.

Game times for the weekend are 6 PM Friday, 2 PM Saturday and 1 PM Sunday. Friday’s match up will be televised on CSS.

Reading List

Baseball America Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)

VandySports.com Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)

Vandy BlogoSphere – Anchor of Gold and VandySportsLine

College Baseball DailyVanderbilt Tag (including Drew Fann’s weekly blog)

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