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SEC Tourney Preview: Opening Round

I noticed something the other day.  Living here in Tuscaloosa, almost no Bama baseball is televised.  Not even the local non-network-affiliated Channel 23, which shows football games the day after they're played and multiple times during the week, will touch them.  Only when the Fox regional sports affiliate decides to broadcast them will the games actually be on television.  Not surprisingly then, even though the SEC Tournament is played locally at the former Hoover Met, there is no television coverage of the event until Friday, the third day of the tournament.

As a result, if I want to see the opening rounds of the baseball games, I have to get off my butt and go to them.  I'm not confident that will happen, given my schedule this week.

Anyway, LSU will open the tournament against Vandy, and honestly this is not that good of a matchup for us.  Vandy has a very good left-handed ace pitcher in Mike Minor, who sports a sub-4.00 ERA.  That doesn't sound great, but keep in mind there are only 8 pitchers with more than 8 starts who have sub-4.00 ERAs in the conference.  We also don't have any head-to-head data, as this is the one SEC team we did not play this year.

Given our struggles against left-handed pitching, which I previously thought we might have corrected, but which reared up again in the last couple weeks, we may be looking at a low-scoring pitcher's duel here.  Minor has, however, struggled lately, as Vandy has given up 10, 6, 8, 2, and 8 runs in Minor's last 5 starts.

Fortunately, we have just the guy for a pitcher's duel.  Or rather, just the two guys.  Our usual Friday starter is Anthony Ranaudo, but I'm not 100% certain we should go with him.  It all depends on scheduling and priorities.  The SEC Tournament is this week, and that's a lot of fun, and while I happen to think conference tournaments are important, Paul Mainieri will certainly be looking to set up his rotation for the Regional we will undoubtedly be hosting later.

That is to say, I don't know if Paul Mainieri will want to try to pitch either Ranaudo or Coleman twice this week.  We could end up playing as many as 6 games this weekend, though.

Let's also not forget that when we go into the Regional, we may well be facing a very weak team that Mainieri may not want to use an ace on, giving either Ranaudo or Coleman an extra day of rest.  I don't envy Mainieri the job of managing the pitching staff this week and next.

Back to the game.  Assuming Vandy goes with Minor, which they almost surely will because they don't have a second pitcher nearly as good and our vulnerability to left-handed pitching is well-known, we will be in a fight to win this one.  This means we need to look at the Vandy offense.

Vandy has some nice players on offense, but their production is somewhat limited.  Vandy actually can boast of having the SEC batting champion, Aaron Westlake, who finished the season batting .382 and edging out Rich Poythress.  Steven Liddle, Curt Casali, and Riley Reynolds all have batting averages over .340.  This is a team that can hit a little.  In fact, they have the 4th best team batting average in the conference, one place behind LSU's.  

So what's the problem?  Well, a definite lack of power is one problem.  They have the weakest power numbers in the conference in terms of number of home runs hit.  They have hit 44 home runs on the season.  The second worst home run hitting team in the conference is Ole Miss with 52.  LSU has hit almost twice as many and we're only mid-pack.  Vandy's slugging percentage is .448, which is almost 80 points worse than LSU's, and is also within a hair's breath of being the worst in the conference.  As a result, while they hit for good average, they are only 7th in the conference in runs scored.

Vandy plays small ball.  They steal a lot of bases.  They sacrifice bunt more than LSU does (strange, in looking at the statistics, that the two teams that bunt the most failed to make the tournament).  They hit doubles, but not home runs.  They don't strike out very much.  

Mike Minor, much like Anthony Ranaudo, usually goes about 7 innings in a start.  When we get into the bullpen, there is not a lot there.  Russell Brewer is a solid right handed reliever, but the most frequently used relievers all have ERAs well over 4.5 and most have ERAs over 5.00.  Ranaudo will have to have one of his better games and we will have to figure out how to get to a left-handed pitcher.

Whatever happens, we will face either South Carolina or Bama in the second round.