The Tide is coming to town this weekend for a series that has serious implications for LSU's ability to host at all in the coming postseason. To get a handle on the Tide, I talked to Roger Myers, who covers baseball for our SB Nation Blog Bros at Roll Bama Roll.
PodKATT: A few weeks ago, this was set to be THE matchup to determine the SEC West, now both teams are looking up at the Mississippis. What do you think is the cause of Bama’s recent slump? (3-7 over last 10, including 2 series losses)
Roger Myers: The reasons for the slump boil down to about three things. Schedule having a lot to do with it. At Tennessee, at South Carolina, Florida at home, at LSU and MSU at home to end the season. There is nothing easy in the SEC, but trade a couple of those for Georgia and Missouri and we might be talking a different talk. The early season schedule was conducive to having a fast start for the Tide. Truthfully when ‘Bama had UT on the ropes for a sweep with an 8-2 lead in the eighth inning and let it get away, the air seemed to come out of the ballon. The team, particullary the bull pen, haven’t recovered from that devastating loss. Also, the lack of on base percentage (at or near the bottom of league) despite an improvement in both batting average and slugging. Simply put this team does not walk, and the situational hitting has been very poor. So many times ‘Bama will get two runners on and strand them, it may only seem this way but it seems like all the rallies start with two outs. I don’t have statistics to back this up, but I would be willing to bet that ‘Bama has seen less pitches than any team in the SEC. In addition, the pitching staff has had problems throwing strikes in the second half of the season. The pitching staff is near the top in walks allowed, and the hitters are near the bottom in batters walked. Also ‘Bama has a hard time getting a sac bunt down.
PK: Bama’s got one of the better power offenses in the SEC this year (if any team can really be called a "power" team in this dead bat era), behind only UK in the SEC in HRs and with most of the starting 9 slugging .400 or better. 1B Austen Smith is leading just about every offensive category but who are some of the guys that make this team go?
RM: Yes these bats are ridiculous aren’t they? Hopefully the change to the minor league ball next year will help somewhat. The ‘Bama "power surge" should be credited to new strength and conditioning coach Ben Ashford. A Scott Cochrane disciple, Ashford took over in the fall from long time coach Rocky Colburn, and has rebuilt the players bodies. They are much bigger, stronger, and faster. The numbers in muscle weight gained are staggering, almost football like. Smith has been outstanding from the start this year. Ben Moore has come on in the last 15-20 games and now is second on the team in BA and leading in home runs (with seven.) Smith has six home runs and leads in RBIs, doubles, ob percentage.. etc, Wade Wass has come on in the clean up spot and leads the team with 17 doubles and is high up in RBI while hitting .300. Mikey White isn’t a prototypical lead off man, but is hitting .300, has five home runs, leads the team in HBP, and is third in walks. Georgie Salem, in the two hole, is hitting around .300 and uses his speed to cover centerfield as well as anyone ‘Bama has had in several years. Kyle Overstreet, gold glove second baseman, is just over .300 and has four home runs.
PK: The Tide’s rotation looks like it has two solid starters in Turnbull and Kamplain and a strong bull pen overall. Who’s likely to start Sunday and who should we fear to see coming out of the bullpen?
RM: Turnbull and Kamplain are solid, but Jon Keller, the Sunday starter, has been the most consistent all year. Turnbull is a power righty, and Kamplain and Keller are "crafty" lefties. Turnbull and Kamplain should be fairly high draft picks, as all three are juniors. (Note: Sunday starter Jon Keller has since been changed to TBA due to Keller having a bicep issue. He may still play, but it's a concern enough for Bama to announce a TBA for Sunday) Turnbull may go in 1st round and Kamplain somewhere from 3rd to 5th. Keller may be a later pick. From the pen, freshman left hander Thomas Burrows has been lights out. He has a 4-1 record with nine saves, and in 22 appearances he has only given up three runs. Obviously he closes. Last years freshman All American closer Ray Castillo, was moved to the rotation to begin the season and struggles mightily and was replaced by Keller. Since then he has carved out a niche as a long man and has done a serviceable job. Two more freshman, Geoffrey Bramblett and Nick Eicholtz have been very good, especially as mid-week starters. Jay Shaw has been a veteran presence and has had a solid season. Fifth year senior Tucker Hawley has excelled in mid-week and can eat innings and throw strikes. Hawley has never recovered his velocity after Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago. Anyone else you may see would be in mop up duty in a blow out game.
PK: Changing gears for a second, Sewell–Thomas Stadium has been one of the lesser stadiums in the SEC for a few years now, but it looks like Alabama is finally willing to spend some serious money on the issue. What’s the renovation plan and how has that new berm they already added this season improved The Joe?
RM: Yes! The stadium is LONG over due. I happen to be a member of the steering committee for the stadium, and it is going to be beautiful. The right field plaza has been a wonderful addition. For weekend series’ it is packed out with 1500-2000 people, mostly students with their coolers and dogs. Over the years the Tide has not had much student attendance, and this has been a welcome benefit of the plaza area. The construction will begin at the end of June, and is planned on being finished in August 0f 2016, which means, no place to play next season. A lot of thought is being given to playing in Hoover at the Hoover Met ( home of the SEC tournament.) The project is slated to be a 35 million dollar one, and although on the same site it will be a complete re do, and will put Bama at or near the top of stadiums in the country.
PK: Top 9, 2 outs, down 1, 1 man on. Who do you want at the plate?
RM: I have to go with Austen Smith, simply because he has been the most consistent all year. I wouldnt fuss with Moore, Wass or Overstreet either, as all have had clutch hits this year, but Smith is my pick.
PK: How do you see the series going?