Ahead of this weekend's series with the Bulldogs, I talked with Justin Sutton of For Whom The Cowbell Tolls to get a fan's take on Mississippi State.
PodKATT: State had tremendous and deserved hype in the preseason coming off a great season as the CWS runner up, but OOC losses to Holy Cross, Memphis, and a terrible showing in an Arizona tournament lowered expectations before SEC play started. Since then, the Bulldogs have won all three weekends, including an absolute demolition of the Vandy pitching staff. What were the growing pains of the preseason and what do you think of your team now at the halfway point of the season?
Justin Sutton: I think there were many fans and folks knowledgable about baseball expecting big things early out of Mississippi State, but for whatever reason (maybe the hang over from last season) Mississippi State could not get going early. Many folks hit the panic button, but I think they forgot this team struggled a bit for much of last year as well. I don't see anyway to downgrade this team now, especially after the Vanderbilt series.
PK: As bad of a slump as LSU’s been in at the plate, State actually has a lower BA at just .270 (.255 in SEC play to LSU’s .212). Who’s your leader at the plate and is Wes Rea still the giant "baseball movie cliche’ Yankee bad guy power hitter" from our nightmares?
JS: Wes is still a guy that you would feel good about coming up in the clutch. Alex Detz has been very solid as well recently, and he has the last two home runs of the year for Mississippi State. Rea has not necessarily done what we saw in the post season last year, but he will stay dangerous.
State announced that Ross Mitchell is getting the saturday start due to an injury worry with Preston Brown and then later the same day, Paul Mainieri found a very convenient reason to push LSU’s ace Aaron Nola’s start to Saturday as well. EDIT: It's been in flux since Thursday morning, but as of press time, Nola is going Friday against Mitchell. Any worries about Brown playing at all with an injury? And who is the best bet to see in Sunday’s TBA start?
JS: Figuring out the pitching matchups this weekend has been crazy. I think moving Ross Mitchell to the Friday night spot tips that Preston Brown may be healthy enough by Sunday to start this weekend. Brown has been a solid starter in SEC play, and the Bulldogs would want him to take the mound if possible. Trevor Fitts will take the Saturday start, so we should expect to see Jacob Lingrin pitch as well. That has been a combo that John Cohen has liked.
On Sunday, I expect Brown to start. If not, Brandon Woodruff may get the nod. The only caveat will be the weather. If double headers get scheduled, that could jingle the starters. Also, if coaches get a feel that they may start, but only get 30-40 minutes in before a long delay, we may see middle relief guys get starts with starters waiting to come in after the delay. With Aaron Nola now back up for Friday, we get to watch a game that might last 90 minutes. With tons of rain looming, coaches would be nuts not to get their aces in on the day with the most certain weather.
PK: Certain college baseball publications love to say that Clemson-USC is the best rivalry in this sport, but you and I know better. What is it about LSU-Miss State that makes this such a powerful baseball rivalry?
JS: It's hard to believe how much this series can go under the radar. I guess with it not being a rivalry in all sports, that is what happens. How could someone not love this rivalry. You have two schools with an amazing baseball tradition, great fans, and great venues. Both have enjoyed a ton of success, and LSU has reached the mountain top. The teams bring out the best in each other, and we are all lucky to just get to watch.
PK: 2 outs. Top 9, down 1, 1 on. Who do you want at the plate?
JS: Right now, give me Alex Detz after his weekend against Arkansas.