Mississippi State lost to Jacksonville State 2-1 on Wednesday night. Lucas Laster gave a fine start with seven shutout innings, but left the game with only a 1-0 lead (Alex Detz solo home run). Then a number of wild pitches and passed balls gave away two runs off our best pitchers (Lindgren and Holder) – a bad loss to a 100+ RPI team.
This team seems to have manic depression. It was a rocky non-conference but we started SEC play 6-3. Then go to Baton Rouge and lay an egg, followed by a poor series vs. OM. All of the sudden we’re 7-8 in the SEC but after a swift kick in the pants by Cohen the team responded by winning six in a row which included a sweep at Missouri and the Governor’s Cup. But now they’ve lost the last two games vs. A&M and to Jacksonville State. In the process they’ve gone from the edge of the hosting discussion and talks of a chance at the SEC Championship to on the bubble of even being in a Regional.
What’s the problem? A bit of everything.
Going into the year I detailed in our previews how we would be less potent offensively but could (and should) make up for it with pitching. Simply stated, the replacements in the lineup for Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier were not going to come close hitting-wise. The hope was that Wes Rea would continue to improve to make up for that loss, and guys like Reid Humphreys and Daniel Garner would soften the burden as well.
Not only has this team not even come close to Renfroe and Frazier’s production, but Rea has gone backwards (big time), and Alex Detz who was a big contributor last year (.318/.397/.449) has not been the same (.238/.311/.350).
MSU hit 104 doubles last year. This year’s team is on pace for 70. We’re on pace to hit 1/3 the amount of home runs. Half the amount of triples. Only 75% the amount of base hits. Total bases and slugging percentage isn’t in the same stratosphere. We’ll end up scoring about 100 less runs than last year – that’s well over a run per game.
The pitching was supposed to make up for the loss in offensive production (granted it wasn’t supposed to dip that much). The starting staff looked stout with Brandon Woodruff, Trevor Fitts and Dakota Hudson. Then there were guys like Ben Bracewell, Austin Sexton and Will Cox looking to pounce on a starting role if they could.
None of those guys, with the exception of Trevor Fitts, has worked out in the weekend rotation. Will Cox had to have Tommy John’s surgery (along with John Marc Shelly and Paul Young) but all the others had their chances and were mediocre at best. There are several power arms in there. Guys like Woodruff and Lindgren were brought here to guide us through postseasons and get to Omaha. Lingo has been great out of the ‘pen this year – but as we saw when he got a quasi-start vs. A&M he is a different pitcher when not in relief.
We knew Ross Mitchell would be solid. He will probably go down as one of the best MSU pitchers of all-time. But he was going to be that innings eater out of the bullpen just like last year. Now we need him to start.
The good news was that we were so loaded with pitching we had Preston Brown come out of nowhere to pitch great replacing Woodruff. But then he got hurt. His role going forward is still in question due to his injury status.
The pitching hasn’t been bad – they are adequate and perhaps as good as last year’s team. But they aren’t what we had hoped – they aren’t good enough to make up for the offensive deficiencies.
Our fielding percentage has been at the top of the league all year. This is not a problem. There have been a number of passed balls that were unacceptable, and we miss Hunter’s arm in RF, but there’s no real issue. I don’t think it’s so good that it’s making up for many offensive problems, but the defense is not a problem in itself.
It’s offense and pitching, but it’s especially offense. A lot of folks like to harp on Cohen – either his managerial style or the players he recruited or both. Some even point to the Adidas bats or the beards (or lack there of). I think it’s just lack of player performance. Aside from the pitching injuries, we have guys who just aren’t producing like we thought they would. The talent is there, it’s just not getting results. You can blame coaching and that might be fair, but when a coach has a track record of success (SEC regular season and tourney championship, 5 Regionals, 2 Super Regionals and a CWS runner-up in 10 SEC seasons) I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The season isn’t over. There are nine SEC games left, then the SEC Tournament. Still plenty of time to get things rolling and make a run. A trip to the Super Regionals or Omaha and all these struggles will be forgotten.