The Bulldogs finally got over the hill- for the first time since 1997, Mississippi State finished the regular season with 40 wins. To me, 40 is a special number if you are a college baseball team because it means that you are pretty darn good. It’s the equivalent of winning 10 in college football, or 100 in a Major League baseball season. And even more impressive to me is the fact that this was accomplished despite playing what is to me without question the most difficult SEC schedule this season. And not only that- MSU did it without their most talented pitcher in Brandon Woodruff. A 13 win season would have been certainly understandable. However, for the second year in a row, MSU had a winning record in SEC play. If you couple that with the quality non-conference wins that MSU had over Ole Miss, South Alabama, Austin Peay, Memphis, and Rhode Island- there is no doubt that MSU should host a regional.
This weekend, the starting pitching was a little bit better- but it was still not quite where it needs to be. We need all of our starters to get past the fifth inning at least. Kendall Graveman was the only pitcher in the rotation to do that. Fortunately, we have a very strong bullpen that was able to hold South Carolina down more often than not. Ross Mitchell just goes out there and gets outs. He defies statistics and then gets the win. A lot of that is because while he may give up contact, it’s usually not quality contact and is easily fielded by our defense, which is pretty athletic and very good. Jonathan Holder set a MSU record for saves in a season earlier in the week and has a good chance to become the MSU career leader in saves possibly this year and if not then, probably early next season. The SEC single season record is 21, and again, Holder may have a chance to break that this year depending on how deep MSU goes in the postseason. The SEC career record is 43 and again, Holder may have a chance at that at some point in his career. Daryl Norris has made the transition to the bullpen, and I think it is a really good move for him. He was throwing 92-94 against Oral Roberts, and I think he could be a secret weapon of sorts for us in the postseason even though he allowed a game winning home run against South Carolina.
It’s really hard to fault Norris for that simply because he should not have been put in that position. Now here is my- “I think John Cohen is a great coach, and I like what he is doing at MSU” preface to what I am about to say- I really do believe that he is a good coach and I am happy overall with what he is done. That said, everybody has a bad day. Even Tony LaRussa?- yep. Remember when he brought in the wrong pitcher in the World Series? Even Nick Saban?- yep. Remember when he kept trying to kick long field goals against LSU a couple of years ago even though neither of his kickers were in the area code and it cost them an undefeated season? Friday night was not a good day for John Cohen. MSU was down on Friday night, and then Brett Pirtle hits a key single to give MSU the lead. So, I’m thinking- Holder is going to finish this out. So, out trots Chad Girodo- not a bad decision, he has been effective. The first man reaches, and I’m thinking- “alright here comes Hol…..CT Bradford?” As I said on twitter- closers are like fire extinguishers. You use them when you need them and as you need them. When it’s the eighth inning, and the tying runner is on base- you get your closer. You don’t wait until the fire gets out of control. So, right on cue- CT allows a single and his replacement who came off the bench cold in Jacob Robson misplays it allowing the runners to go to third with nobody out. WHY? Then we bring in Holder- and he promptly throws a wild pitch to tie the game.
Now about CT pitching- I actually don’t mind him pitching in a match-up situation. In fact, this was the first time all year I can remember the CT shuffle not working- or at least not working at a key time. BUT this was NOT A MATCH UP situation. I do think some of our fans may not like it for whatever reason- maybe it’s a little too different, they think it’s silly, you lose the DH- or whatever. But with the scholarship situation in college baseball what it is, it’s a pretty creative idea to get basically two players for one scholarship. And like anything else- it has to be done correctly. In this case, it was NOT done correctly.
To make matters worse, we then start substituting guys en masse, and before you know it- it’s Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, and our second string out there. And then we have to bring Daryl Norris out there, and disaster ensues. I wouldn’t get too down on Daryl though. I really think he has a chance to be a very good pitcher for us. And I applaud for doing this. Sometimes being a hitter doesn’t work out, and a guy will decide that they want to try pitching. As you might imagine, it’s a big transition and it takes time to learn and get into pitching shape. The fact that he is throwing in the low 90’s is very promising going forward.
Today Hunter Renfroe won the Ferris Trophy which is awarded to the top collegiate player in Mississippi. And he had some pretty stiff competition this year from Bobby Wahl and Stuart Turner of Ole Miss, and Andrew Pierce of USM, and to be honest, I think Holder and Adam Frazier should have been finalists as well. It is well documented that he is slumping right now. I really think he is pressing because it is pennant time for us, and also he knows that scouts are watching him and he is going to be a first round pick. Every at bat could make or cost him money. What he needs to do, is relax and stop trying to hit everything 600 feet. Sometimes power hitters forget that it’s OK to drive in two runs with a single. I would not be surprised if Hunter and Cohen had a talk about that on the way to Jackson for the trophy presentation. Just like anything else in life, when you press at something, you typically aren’t as effective at it.
I do like how this team is performing as a whole. We are starting to get some come from behind wins like Friday, and then to come back on Saturday and beat South Carolina like we did after a tough loss is the sign of a good team. One thing I have always liked about Cohen is the competitiveness that his teams display, and you have to have that to win a championship. If you look at the greats is Major League history, pretty much all of them are extremely competitive people to the nth degree. You can’t be out there worrying about not offending the other team or how classy you look, or what your stats say. You want guys that want to win more than anything else in the world. I haven’t seen it mentioned very much, but the team we just beat and in all honesty should have swept has won two out of the last three National Titles and has been in the Championship round of the CWS three years in a row- and we just basically outplayed them.
Next up for MSU is the SEC Tournament and Missouri. To me, the SEC Tournament is probably the most grueling tournament in the country because it is so crammed together. Is it better to lose and go home and rest or play five games and win it? With four days of rest, I think most teams are going to be able to recover from the SEC Tournament. Also, when we went to Omaha in 2007, we went 0-2 in the SEC Tournament. I don’t think we lost our regional last year because we won the SEC Tournament and were tired. I just think Chris Stratton had a horrible outing and it put us behind the eight ball, and then we made some mistakes against Samford and we paid for it. I honestly don’t think we have the starting pitching depth to win the SEC Tournament because if you can get complete games out of your starters, it helps immensely. Not to mention the fact that now most teams have to win five game to win the SEC Tournament. The key is to stay in the winner’s bracket as long as possible because if you do- then you have a shot.
How will the SEC Tournament affect our hosting potential? It’s hard to say- to me the issue is we are more than likely going to have to play South Carolina again. If they defeat us, we may switch spots in the RPI pecking order- but even then I would still feel good about our chances of hosting. If we were to win the SEC Tournament, could we get a National Seed? I still think that’s probably a long shot, and a lot of that would be out of our control because I think certain teams would have to do poorly in the ACC Tournament and we would also have to possibly play certain teams like Vanderbilt and LSU to even have a remote chance. But- one game at a time.
I have been to the SEC Tournament before, and I highly encourage everyone to go and support MSU. Traditionally, we have traveled well to Hoover, and I have no doubt that this year will not be an exception. As a footnote- I have not 100% decided how I am going to cover the SEC Tournament. I may do game by game or just lump it all together.