Vanderbilt Baseball: Tenth Week Behind, Week Ahead
Well, the Dores stewed for about four days, chomping at the bit to get a chance to head back out to avenge their first series loss of the year. It didn’t take long once they were out there, making this a fun weekend for Commodore fans. Add in that two games were televised and you’ve got quite the weekend. So let’s jump into it.
The Immediate Progression
Due to traffic on the Long Island Expressway and getting back to the City late, I’m going to crib on the Immediate Progression this week. The victim of my thievery will be a fellow Vandy fan on Twitter, @GREGuthrie, who compiled in-conference stats for the Commodore starting rotation after Saturday’s win over LSU. While Taylor Hill’s in-conference stats are solid (2-0, ERA around 3.5), we’ll glance at the Commodores’ two pitchers competing for SEC Pitcher of the Year honors.
Click on through to keep reading.
Sonny Gray has wins against Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama and LSU, and a pair of tough luck losses to Arkansas (8 IP, 2 ER) and South Carolina (7.2 IP, 3 ER). Overall, in six starts, he has an ERA of 2.20, WHIP of 1.317, a batting average against of .228 and 44 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched.
For as good as Gray has been, Grayson Garvin has been even better. In six starts, the tall lefty out of Georgia has six wins. Opponents have been limited to a .184 average and just eight walks in 40.2 innings pitched. Garvin has a 1.55 ERA and microscopic 0.861 WHIP, with 35 strikeouts.
It is true that UCLA’s dynamic duo of Gerritt Cole and Trevor Bauer may one up the Commodore pair – at least according to draft rankings, with both expected to go in the top 10 of the Major League Draft, while Gray in that same range and Garvin lasting perhaps to the second round. Nevertheless, it would hard to imagine any Vanderbilt fan wishing for a better pair to kick off any weekend. With no mid-week game this week, this segues very nicely into the recaps.
The Week Behind
Friday: Vanderbilt 11, LSU 3
It had been about three weeks since Sonny Gray really brought his A-stuff to the mound. Against Auburn, his outing ended early with a blister on his throwing hand. The following weekend, wildness bit him in the win against Alabama, forcing up his pitch count. He recovered to throw very well against South Carolina, but was singled to death with five infield hits in the loss. The Tigers, on the other hand, saw Sonny with his best stuff. The four-seam fastball was at 94-96, the two-seamer was moving at 92 and the hammer curve was devastating. A misplayed fly ball to center field in the first allowed the Tigers to strike first, but Gray dominated for the next four innings. In the sixth, a temporary inability to find the strike zone helped the Tigers plate two more runs. By that time, the game was already in hand and Gray returned for a dominant seventh inning, before giving way to TJ Pecoraro (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 K), who blistered through the LSU batting order.
The Commodores struck early and often to bury the Tigers early. Against the first of two LSU freshman starters, Vanderbilt pelted Kurt McCune in the first inning for five runs on five singles, two walks and a hit by pitch. The Commodores pushed the lead to 8-1 on a Mike Yastrzemski two run double and a Curt Casali single. Vanderbilt added another run in the sixth and two more in the seventh on a Jason Esposito triple. Casali led the way with three hits and two RBI, while Esposito, Yastrzemski and Riley Reynolds added two hits apiece. Aaron Westlake scored four runs on the day, aided by three bases-on-balls.
The story of the day was, perhaps, the starkness with which Vanderbilt exceeded the Tigers in talent and depth. It may not be politic to say, but there aren’t many arms that LSU flashed that could make Vanderbilt’s roster. Certainly none could compete with Gray (7 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 K) on this day.
Saturday: Vanderbilt 10, LSU 1
While Friday was domination from beginning to end, Saturday’s jaunt was a bit more even through the first five innings. Grayson Garvin was, well, Grayson Garvin. Featuring a fastball that seemed to have a bit more zip (hitting 94 and 95 on the stadium gun a couple of times), and the LSU bats wilted, managing only a run in the fourth inning. For the evening, Garvin went seven innings, permitting just six base runners and striking out eight.
For the first five innings, LSU freshman righty Kevin Gausman was solid, if not spectacular. He was impressive, with a fastball that ranged from the low- to mid-90s. Though Vanderbilt got batters on, only Yastrzemski struck with an opposite field home run in the second over Hawkins Field’s Green Monster, modeled after the Fenway wall mastered by his grandfather, Carl. The Hall of Fame Yastrzemski was in attendance to watch his grandson, who had three hits, three runs and four RBI under the watchful eye.
In the sixth inning, things fell apart for Gausman as the Commodores strung together six singles in the inning and scored four runs. Vanderbilt kept the pressure on with three more in the seventh and another in the eighth. Conrad Gregor paced the Dores with three hits, a run and three RBI, while Reynolds pitched in three hits and an RBI and Esposito had two hits and three RBI, extending his batting streak to 20 games.
Will Clinard closed out the last two innings, allowing just one hit in support of Garvin (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K). The Commodores stole four bases, with Yastrzemski swiping his 15th of the season. The story of the day was, perhaps, the faltering of South Carolina against Mississippi State, allowing Vanderbilt and Florida to rejoin the Gamecocks atop the SEC standings.
Sunday: Vanderbilt 10, LSU 7
Sunday was a day for men left on base. Vanderbilt pounded out a season high 20 hits, walked six times and took one hit by pitch. All told, they left 17 on base, including several in the first two innings, after which the game was tied at one. With two out in the third, Vanderbilt clicked and nine straight Commodores reached, highlighted by a two run home run by Gregor and an RBI double by Jack Lupo. LSU tried to close the gap by scoring two in the fifth and four in the seventh, but the Commodores added three later runs, to get the game to the dynamic duo of Mark Lamm and Navery Moore for the eighth and ninth innings.
Taylor Hill was throwing hard (hitting 95 on the gun in the fifth inning), but had mixed results. Over five innings, he permitted six hits, four walks and three earned runs, against two strikeouts. Corey Williams entered in relief and had a quick sixth inning before struggling in the seventh, loading the bases with two outs. Pecoraro and Kevin Ziomek each entered for single batters. Pecoraro gave up a two run double off the wall from LSU star Austin Nola and Ziomek had a spat of bad luck when a routine, sharp grounder took a freak hop over Gomez’ head at shortstop for a two RBI single. Clinard entered to quell the rally on one pitch. Lamm threw a perfect eighth and Moore worked around a two-out walk and error to close things out for his ninth save.
Gregor (4-5, 2 R, 2 RBI), Lupo (4-4, 3 R, RBI) and Gomez (4-6, R, 3 RBI) paced the offense. Every Commodore starter had a hit other than Yastrzemski, who walked three times. Esposito tallied two hits to extend his batting streak to 21 games. Hill moved to 3-0 on the year with the win and the Commodores should keep their third ranking in most of the national polls.
Apologies, Corrections and Indignation
Apologies this week go out to Joe Loftus. This form of sorry is that of ill tidings, rather than wrongdoing. Much like Pedro Alvarez against Rice in 2008, Loftus fractured the hamate bone in his left hand swinging the bat last Friday in Columbia. Loftus did pinch run last Sunday, but that would be his last action for a while. After successful surgery on Monday, the right fielder should miss three to four weeks of action. A shame as his bat was coming around after a slow, and injury plagued start of the year.
Corrections this week address two tweets I posted during Saturday’s live-tweet @VUHawkTalk. I commented first that I thought the Jack Lupo experiment would come to an end after Lupo lost a fly ball in the sun for a double that led to a run. Combined with his 1 for 17 start at the plate, I didn’t really foresee the talented outfielder continuing to stick ahead of slumping starter Connor Harrell. Lupo clearly has talent. He has good base running and defensive instincts and is right there with Tony Kemp and Harrell for fastest foot speed on the team. Well, on Sunday, he tore the cover off the ball, almost certainly earning a third straight start when the Dores head to Western Kentucky on Tuesday.
The second tweet was a bit harsher, arguing that none of the seven relievers Louisiana State had thrown at the Dores could make the Vanderbilt 35 man roster. That’s not terribly fair to the crop of Samuel Peterson, Daniel Brashaw, Nick Rumbelow, Forrest Garrett, Kevin Berry, Tyler Jones and Chris Cotton. Although none of them really impressed (even Rumbelow who struck out the side in his one inning of work), there is some talent there. In particular, the freshman Garrett proved to be quite talented, though he didn’t pitch well over the weekend.
Indignation is directed at Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks and Paul Manieri’s Tigers this week. I picked Arkansas to claim the SEC West and LSU to finish second. While Arkansas has generally done its job, carrying a 13th ranking into the week and a spot in a three-way tie atop the West, they dropped a series to cellar-dwelling Kentucky this weekend, greatly damaging their chances at a regular season division title. Somehow, they remain in a three-way tie atop the division at 9-9 (now with Ole Miss and Auburn), but they passed on the opportunity to take a commanding two game lead into the seventh weekend of conference play.
As for LSU, well, what can you say? I’m not going to complain about Arkansas dropping a series to the Dores or LSU for getting swept, but the 4-14 start to conference play is a real low point for the Tigers program. Their one #1 ranked recruiting class is a disappointment, to say the least, and Team USA members Austin Nola and Mikie Mahtook won’t be back for 2012. The hot seat is deserved for Paul Manieri, for reasons other than spoiling my preseason predictions.
And for those wondering where the indignation is toward LSU running back / left fielder Spencer Ware, well, that goes without saying.
For more weekly honors, check out AnchorOfGold‘s Rookie of the Year-themed awards.
Best Offensive Player
The Dores were strong with the bat this weekend, making pegging one for honors a difficult task. In particular, Riley Reynolds went 7-10 with a run, two RBI and a walk. Curt Casali, Jason Esposito, Anthony Gomez, Tony Kemp and Mike Yastrzemski also enjoyed fine weeks, but Conrad Gregor just mashed all weekend. He went 8 for 13 with three runs and six RBI. He flexed some muscle with a double and a home run and, ironically, only failed to gather his typical base-on-balls. The freshman raised his batting average to .346 and his OPS to .947, both third best on the team.
For the Tigers, though I’m loathe to honor a designated hitter (we’ll ignore, for the moment, that I just did so with Gregor), Trey Watkins gets the nod. Though he was only 2-9 against Gray and Garvin, he was a monster on Sunday, going 2-3 with two walks and two runs scored.
Sonny Gray of the Week
While Gray was dominant this week, even if he were eligible for his namesake award, he’d fall just short of Grayson Garvin, who likely moved up a few draft spots with some extra pop and great command in front of a scout-filled Hawkins Field.
On the other side of the ledger, there were few positives for the Tigers pitching staff. But one pitcher in particular showed potential. Kevin Gausman has great stuff and the ability to get SEC-level batters out. If there is one thing to look forward to for Manieri’s legion, it’s the promise of two solid freshman starters in Kurt McCune and Gausman.
Rankings and Metrics
Baseball America: 4th (UVA, SCarolina and Oregon St) (LW: 4th)
ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll: 2nd (UVA) (LW: 3rd)
NCBWA: 2nd (UVA) (LW: 3rd)
Collegiate Baseball: 3rd (UVA and SCarolina) (LW: 3rd)
Perfect Game: 3rd (SCarolina and UVA) (LW: 3rd)
Warren Nolan Metrics
Simulated RPI: 3rd
Nolan Power Index: 2nd
Strength of Schedule: 38th
Boyd’s World Metrics
Simulated RPI: 5th
Iterative Strength Rating: 2nd
Strength of Schedule: 53rd
The Week Ahead
Vanderbilt starts off the week on the road for their penultimate mid-week game. It’s a return trip to Western Kentucky to pay the 25-16 Hilltoppers a visit. Back on March 1, Vanderbilt barely escaped with a 6-5 victory at Hawkins Field and this WKU team will be looking for revenge. They are talented and will be looking for this big win to boost a postseason resume that currently needs some help. They have an RPI of 65 and Nolan Power Index ranking of 72 against the 102nd best strength of schedule. They are scoring 7.1 runs per game while permitting 5.0 per game. They have been in the receiving votes category of the Coaches poll twice this year (weeks 9 and 10) and will be looking to get back on track after allowing 29 runs while getting swept at Troy last weekend.
The Hilltoppers are led by Matt Rice (.366, 8 HR, 45 RBI), Kes Carter (.371, 5, 31), Jared Andreoli (.348, 3, 32) and Logan Robbins (.331, 2, 22) at the plate. Andreoli and Robbins also present very real base path threats, with a combined 26 thefts in 33 attempts. As a team, they bat a stout .312 and have 32 home runs as a team.
On the hill, weekend starters Tanner Perkins, Justin Hageman and Brian Edelen should all be unavailable for the Tuesday action, leaving the probable starter as Taylor Haydel (5-3, 6.99 ERA in 46.1 innings). Haydel started but lasted only three innings in WKU’s 11-8 home win against Kentucky last week. As a staff, the Hilltoppers have a 4.23 ERA and .271 batting average against; however, a lot of that is depressed by the performance of Perkins (1.88 ERA in 67 innings) and Hageman (3.23 in 64). Key reliever Ross Hammonds (2-1, 2.83) will figure to see some action against the Dores.
For the weekend, we have the dreaded I-40 battle. The annual match up with Tennessee is a brutal thing for me to endure. If there’s one thing I hate more than Kentucky basketball, it is Tennessee baseball. Two years ago, I was in attendance as we permitted Todd Raleigh to save his job by sweeping us at the Hawk. With Curt Casali captaining this team, that memory won’t be lost and the Dores will come out prepared. On paper, that should be enough for a sweep.
Tennessee will come out without much of a rest after falling to Georgia 2-1 in a series last weekend. They take on MTSU and Tennessee Tech in midweek action Tuesday and Wednesday. They enter the week at 22-17 (5-13 SEC) and with an 82 RPI and 128 NPI. The record is skewed by a very week out-of-conference slate that permitted them to build a 17-4 non-conference record. Their record is not nearly as skewed as their stats (e.g., UT is hitting .291 as a team, but was batting just .226 in SEC play entering their series with Georgia last weekend).
As an offense, the Vols are led by Khayyan Norfolk (.367, 3 HR, 32 RBI), Matt Duffy (.343, 5, 35) and Zach Osborne (.360, 1, 17). As noted, they bat .291 as a team, and have hit 21 home runs. That said, they rank near the bottom of the SEC in runs scored at 5.5 runs per game, and they allow 4.5 per game.
The pitching staff is helmed by a weekend rotation of Steven Gruver (4-4, 2.71 ERA), Rob Catapano (2-4, 5.61) and Nick Blount (1-1, 3.68). Last weekend, Gruver pitched well, going 7.1 innings and allowing eight hits and four runs. Saturday starter Catapano was less successful at 3.0 innings, six hits and five runs. Blount similarly struggled, allowing five hits, four walks and five runs in just 4.2 innings. Supporting Gruver, the Tennessee bullpen has been surprisingly strong, with five relievers having an ERA under 3.70 with at least 11 innings pitched. They have generally shared closing duties and contributed to a staff ERA of 4.19.
It should be an exciting weekend, hopefully with a result similar to the 31-11 lashing the Dores laid on LSU this past weekend.
VandySports.com – Mike Rapp’s full 150 photo gallery from Sunday (great shots in here)
College Baseball Daily – Interview with Navery Moore
Baseball America - Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)
VandySports.com - Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)
College Baseball Daily – Vanderbilt Tag (including Drew Fann’s weekly blog)
Let me know what you think, as I always appreciate feedback (even if just to note a typo). You can comment below, share this article on Twitter or Facebook. And remember to follow me on Twitter (my baseball tweeting account or this website’s feeds).
And a special thanks to Mike Rapp at VandySports.com. He is the best photographer of Vanderbilt sports and an even better person. Without him, this site wouldn’t have most of its sports art.