SEC Week 2 Baseball Perspective


Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Well that went well. I will be honest and say that I didn’t know what to expect as Vanderbilt rolled into town this weekend. The Bulldogs certainly had the pitching and talent to match up with a team like Vanderbilt, but the one thing we hadn’t shown as of yet was an ability to play consistently. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is one of the most consistent teams in the country. They came into Starkville with a 15 game SEC series winning streak, and they sported an impressive 29-1 record on Saturday and Sunday during that stretch. For the Bulldogs to snap that stretch shows just how much we have improved from the start of the season, which included a 4 game split to Holy Cross, to this point where we just took two of three from one of the best teams in the country. So what did we learn this week?

What Did We Learn?

When we play our best, we are among the best: There wasn’t a single preseason poll that had Mississippi State outside the top 10. A lot of people thought we were seriously overrated based on the early season performance, but there was a reason that we ranked so high. This team is supposed to thrive on a strong pitching staff with solid defense behind it. The offense is good, but it can’t make up for a subpar performance by the pitching. The bats also have to take advantage of every opportunity they have. Those things happened on Friday and Saturday. As a result, we looked like the top 10 team so many projected us to be.

Last year’s pitching philosophy is officially dead: I think we all knew that the moment that Ross Mitchell was inserted into the starting rotation, but it was definitely confirmed this weekend. Last year, at the first sign of serious trouble, Cohen went and got his starter in favor of a reliever. Cohen had a much longer leash with his starters this past weekend. For example, on Saturday during the fourth or fifth inning, State had a one run lead and Mitchell allowed two runners to reach base. Last year Cohen would’ve pulled the hook on the starter and put in Girodo or Mitchell. Instead, he gave Mitchell the opportunity to pitch out of it, and Cohen’s patience was rewarded.

Strengthening the starting rotation weakens the bullpen: It’s a common sense kind of thing, but outside of Lindgren and Holder, lockdown options in the bullpen are much more limited. Expect us to use Bracewell a lot if one of the starters gets into early trouble, and you can probably say the same thing about Woodruff. Having the starters go 6 or 7 innings is going to be much more important from here on out. On the plus side, I think our weekend rotation can now match up with any other team in the league. None of our starters currently are going to wow the scouts, but they do know how to get the job done.

The SEC might be as balanced as it ever has been: No team in the West is worse than 3-3 in the conference and no better than 4-2. In the East, there are 5 teams log-jammed at 3-3, and then Georgia with a 1-4-1 record and Missouri brings up the rear at 1-5. Pulling away in the SEC is going to be difficult because almost any team can win on any given day. A 20 win season will likely be enough this year to win the overall championship and it won’t be easy to get there.

What State Needs to Accomplish

I believe 20 wins are possible, but getting to that point will be no small feat. Here is what we need to accomplish in the remaining 8 series of the year.

Arkansas (2-1)
at LSU (1-2)
Ole Miss (2-1)
at Missouri (3-0)
Texas A&M (2-1)
at Auburn (2-1)
Tennessee (2-1)
at Alabama (2-1)

That is what it is going to take to get to 20 wins. I also don’t believe that any of those goals are unreachable. If we don’t meet one of those goals, we have to make it up somewhere else. For example, if we lost 2 of 3 to Auburn, we would need to sweep either Tennessee or Alabama to make up for it. Not out of reach, but not a situation you want to be in.

The bottom line is this: if we can learn to play consistently, we can win a lot of games. This team is good, and now that we have reached the conference slate, Cohen isn’t going to mess around with the guys any more. We just can’t wait. Did Cohen hurt the confidence of Woodruff and Bracewell by removing them from the starting rotation? Probably, but they have had plenty of time to figure things out, and they have yet to do so. Maybe they can figure them out during the midweek starts, but until they do Cohen is going to go with guys getting the job done.