SERIES TO WATCH
No. 2 Virginia at Pittsburgh: The Panthers have turned things on in Atlantic Coast Conference play the past couple of weeks. Though they began league play with a tough series loss to Virginia Tech, they've responded with back-to-back series sweeps over Duke and Georgia Tech. Pitt has a solid collection of starting pitchers going into the weekend, including Joseph Harvey, who has a 2.91 ERA in 34 innings, and Rhys Aldenhoven, who has a 3.79 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, for the Cavaliers, closer Nick Howard has been terrific this season. He's appeared in 13 games and has a 1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings along with 23 strikeouts and four walks.
THE PICK: Virginia
No. 3 South Carolina at Arkansas: The Gamecocks always seem to be at their best at the end of games. Head coach Chad Holbrook hopes that continues this weekend as they hit the road to face a Razorbacks club in need of an impressive home series win. Freshman righthanded pitcher Wil Crowe has been terrific for the Gamecocks this season, while catcher Grayson Greiner, who’s hitting over .360, has not only been a consistent hitter, but also an outstanding option in clutch situations. For the Hogs, the big key to the weekend is the offense getting on track. Arkansas is hitting .261 as a club with just Joe Serrano (.326) and Brian Anderson (.321) hitting over .300. Meanwhile, righthanded pitcher Chris Oliver is someone the Hogs love relying on this season. Oliver, who has a big-time arm, is having little trouble meeting expectations as a starting pitcher, entering the weekend with a 2.41 ERA in 37 1/3 innings, along with 26 strikeouts and nine walks.
THE PICK: South Carolina
No. 6 Vanderbilt at No. 25 Tennessee: There’s always a lot on the line when the Commodores and Volunteers meet in any sport, but this weekend is most important to UT, which must take care of business at home to avoid yet another Southeastern Conference series loss. The Vols began league play with a road series win over Missouri, but are 1-5 in their last six games, including back-to-back series loss to Auburn (at home) and South Carolina (on the road). Taylor Smart (.344) and Scott Price (.327) are having productive seasons at the plate, while talented freshman Nick Senzel (.318) has cooled off a bit. Meanwhile, for the Commodores, though righthanded closer Carson Fulmer continues to shine, the evolution of sophomore righty Tyler Ferguson has been most impressive. Ferguson, who can get up to 94 with his fastball and has good overall stuff, has a 1.36 ERA in 39 2/3 innings, along with 33 strikeouts and 10 walks.
THE PICK: Tennessee
No. 16 UC Santa Barbara at No. 5 Cal Poly: This Big West weekend battle features, at least at this point, the league’s two-best clubs in the Mustangs and Gauchos. With Cal State Fullerton slipping on the national stage the past few weeks, someone has an opportunity to take charge. Cal Poly is led by one of the nation’s elite lefthanded pitchers in Matt Imhof, who sits anywhere from 89-92 with his fastball, has good overall stuff, and has a 1.05 ERA in 51 2/3 innings, along with 77 strikeouts and 16 walks. Meanwhile, the Gauchos have a very solid one-two punch in lefty Justin Jacome and righthander Austin Pettibone, who returned to the weekend rotation a couple of weeks ago. Pettibone has allowed a run on five hits in eight innings of work in a pair of starts.
THE PICK: Cal Poly
No. 11 Oregon at No. 18 Washington: Boy, here’s a series that has increased in the level of intrigue since before the season. While the Ducks entered the season as the team everyone expected to make some noise in the Pac-12, the Huskies have taken the league by storm the first couple of weeks with an 8-1 league record and 20-5 overall mark. Washington has a solid collection of hitters with Brian Wolfe (.370) and Andrew Ely (.370) leading the charge, while the bullpen is strong and righthanded pitcher Jeff Brigham has risen to the occasion and met expectations with a 1.59 ERA in 39 2/3 innings, along with 17 strikeouts and six walks. The Huskies have a chance to make yet another statement in the Pac-12.
THE PICK: Washington
No. 9 Mississippi State at No. 14 LSU: You hate to call anything this early in the season a must-win situation, but the Tigers desperately need to get back on track after getting swept on the road by Florida last weekend. The Tigers hope lefthanded pitcher Kyle Bouman can return this weekend from an ankle injury, while a big key to the weekend is getting the LSU offense rolling. The Tigers had a successful midweek at the plate, and will need Alex Bregman (290/2/18) to step up his game a notch. For the Bulldogs, the weekend rotation will have a wrinkle this weekend with sophomore righthanded pitcher Preston Brown gone for the weekend because of shoulder soreness. With that, coach John Cohen will move lefty Ross Mitchell to the Friday role, with Trevor Fitts getting the ball on Sunday. There’s not a lot of love lost between the Tigers and Bulldogs, and it all begins this weekend at Alex Box Stadium.
THE PICK: LSU
Auburn at No. 21 Ole Miss: The Tigers haven’t been great the past couple of weeks, coming off back-to-back series losses, including last weekend at home against Missouri. However, this team is more than capable of getting back on track this weekend as they face Ole Miss on the road. Auburn’s Dillon Ortman, and, especially freshman righthander Keegan Thompson have been fantastic this year. Ortman has a 2.05 ERA in 48 1/3 innings, while Thompson has been the most reliable arm with a 1.03 ERA in 52 innings, along with 42 strikeouts and 12 walks. For the Rebels, righthanded pitcher Chris Ellis continues to shine on Friday, while Sam Smith (2.36) and Christian Trent (2.91) also have been strong in their respective role. This is an important series for both clubs, as the Rebels, for instance, are coming off an 0-3 weekend at Alabama last week.
THE PICK: Ole Miss
No. 24 Florida at No. 17 Kentucky: Fresh off an impressive home series sweep over LSU, the Gators hit the road this weekend to face Kentucky in a series that could have major implications in the SEC Eastern Division. UF has one of the top young pitchers in college baseball in righthander Logan Shore. Shore has a 1.35 ERA in 40 innings, along with 28 strikeouts and seven walks, while the Gators just pump out premier arm after premier arm. Also keep an eye on UF reliever Aaron Rhodes, who has a big-time arm with a fastball up to 94 and good overall stuff. For the Wildcats, Midseason Player of the Year A.J. Reed is having an outstanding season both at the plate and on the mound, while righthanded pitcher Chandler Shepherd is one to watch. Yet another good prospect on this UK club, Shepherd has a 3.26 ERA in 47 innings, along with 35 strikeouts and 12 walks.
THE PICK: Kentucky
Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: This series could very well be the deciding factor when it comes to NCAA postseason bids at the end of the year. The Red Raiders dropped a tough home series to Texas last weekend, while the Cowboys hope to build off a home series win over TCU last weekend. Tech has a really good one in lefthanded starting pitcher Chris Sadberry, who has a 2.50 ERA in 36 innings, along with 22 strikeouts and two walks, while Jonny Drozd is a power arm out of the bullpen who has appeared in 13 games and has a 1.39 ERA in 32 1/3 innings. As for the Cowboys, veterans Zach Fish and Gage Green continue to be forces at the plate. Fish, a physical hitter, is batting .330 with five homers and 20 RBIs, while Green has a .330 average, a home run and 11 RBIs.
THE PICK: Oklahoma State
Duke at Georgia Tech: Much like the Texas Tech and Oklahoma State series out of the Big 12, this is one to watch from a postseason standpoint in the ACC. Duke responded from a tough weekend at Pittsburgh two weekends ago by sweeping North Carolina at home for the first time since 1994. First, the bad news, as righthanded starting pitcher James Marvel, who has missed his past few starts, is out the rest of the season because of Tommy John surgery. However, the Blue Devils welcome back talented veteran lefthander Trent Swart, and power righthander Michael Matuella is back and finally healthy after working his way up to a full pitch count the past couple of outings. As for the Jackets, they fell into the same trip last weekend that Duke did a couple of weeks ago at Pitt. Georgia Tech has one of the league’s premier relievers in senior Dusty Isaacs, who has a 2.31 ERA in 23 1/3 innings, while righty Matt Grimes has a 3.90 ERA in 27 2/3 innings, along with 13 strikeouts and nine walks.
THE PICK: Georgia Tech
One thing we take pride in at PG is an accurate portrayal of how the postseason picture looks each week down the final stretch of the regular season. Though we’re still a couple of weeks away from doing NCAA projections with the RPI still not completely adjusted, it’s never too early to take a stab at the top eight national seeds, with reasoning behind the numbers, of course.
1. South Carolina
vs. RPI Top 25: 6-3
vs. RPI Top 50: 9-3
vs. RPI Top 100: 15-3
— What’s there not to like about the Gamecocks’ resume? They played a respectable non-conference schedule, have taken care of business in the SEC, and the overall resume from a record standpoint is very impressive.
2. Florida State
vs. RPI Top 25: 4-4
v.s RPI Top 50: 9-5
vs. RPI Top 100: 13-5
— Everything about the Seminoles’ resume is impressive, except for the .500 mark against RPI Top 25 teams. Though the numbers will fix themselves as the season progresses, this is where the two midweek losses to Florida being to show up.
vs. RPI Top 25: 3-1
vs. RPI Top 100: 15-4
— The Cougars still have a couple of tough series ahead this spring, namely next weekend’s home series against Louisville, but this resume looks stellar. Everything you want out of a national seed has been done thus far: good midweek wins, consistency, and of course, a good strength of schedule.
vs. RPI Top 25: 5-1
vs. RPI Top 50: 8-5
vs. RPI Top 100: 11-5
— One thing the committee really will like is Vandy opening the season on the West Coast. How many Southeastern schools did that to begin the season, or even did that during non-conference? The good news for Vandy? Not only did it go 3-0 against Long Beach State, the Dirtbags have since played a much better brand of baseball.
vs. RPI Top 25: 7-2
vs. RPI Top 50: 13-5
vs. RPI Top 100: 17-7
— Barring a surprise down the stretch, it looks like the Longhorns are back, at least from an RPI standpoint. UT captured a big road series win over Texas Tech last weekend, and has an outstanding resume with that 7-2 mark vs. RPI Top 25 clubs standing out. Another plus for the ‘Horns is a strength of schedule of No. 8 nationally.
vs. RPI Top 25: 0-1
vs. RPI Top 50: 4-2
vs. RPI Top 100: 10-3
— There’s no doubt the Cavaliers are one of the nation’s elite teams, but if you’re the NCAA Division I Committee, and ranking teams based on RPI resumes is your thing, the Cavaliers don’t deserve to be any higher at this point. Virginia simply hasn’t played enough RPI Top 25 clubs, and its non-conference schedule wasn’t particularly strong, as evidenced by a 64 SOS.
vs. RPI Top 25: 2-2
vs. RPI Top 50: 2-3
vs. RPI Top 100: 8-4
— Here’s your surprise of the year in the Pac-12. Though there’s no doubt the Huskies have a tough row to hoe the rest of the season, they’ve started league play on a hot note, and with that, have the most impressive resume out of that power conference. I still think Oregon State will be the national seed out of the Pac-12 by season’s end, but the Beavers currently have an RPI of 37 after losing a series to Arizona State a couple of weeks ago. Speaking of ASU, the Sun Devils climbed to 19 in the RPI last week, but are just 7-7 vs. RPI Top 50 clubs.
8. Cal Poly
vs. RPI Top 25: 0-0
vs. RPI Top 50: 5-2
vs. RPI Top 100: 9-3
— The Mustangs’ resume definitely has some holes, such as no games against RPI Top 25 clubs so far this spring. However, that will change as the season progresses. It’s also not Cal Poly’s fault UCLA has stumbled a bit since winning that series in Los Angeles not too long ago. Poly has series against Hawaii (43) and Cal State Fullerton (39) the next two weekends.
* San Diego has a good 19-9 overall record, but will need some guys to step up down the stretch after losing lefthanded pitcher Troy Conyers for the year because of an injury. Conyers will need Tommy John surgery, and his loss is significant. The talented lefty had appeared in seven games, all starts, and had a 2.72 ERA in 39 2/3 innings, along with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks.
* Cal State Fullerton plays host to UC Davis in what should be a series win this weekend. But the big story is once again being without sophomore righthanded pitcher Justin Garza. Garza has missed his last three starts because of shoulder soreness, and Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook says he’ll miss this weekend, too. Garza has made four starts this season with a 2.45 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, along with 26 strikeouts and three walks.
* Mississippi State hits the road this weekend to face LSU in a rivalry series, and is forced to shift its rotation up a day without sophomore righthanded pitcher Preston Brown missing the weekend because of some soreness. Brown has been a bright spot for the Bulldogs since logging more innings, sitting with a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings, along with 29 strikeout and 13 walks.
* Indiana has been forced to overcome some serious adversity this spring. First, the Hoosiers began the season a little slow, then lost Ryan Halstead for the season because of an ACL injury. Now, coach Tracy Smith’s club must move on without veteran lefthanded pitcher Kyle Hart, who has a partial tear of his UCL. Hart had made nine appearances this season, including six being starts, and had a 2.29 ERA in 35 1/3 innings, along with 25 strikeouts and 14 walks.
* The American Athletic Conference head baseball coaches and athletic directors formally approved a proposal to increase the number of NCAA postseason teams from 64 to 72. The league presented that proposal to the Division I Baseball Committee, which now has the option to take it up as potential legislation. This proposal likely will meet stiff resistance from some of the smaller conferences around the country, and here’s why: As it stands in the proposal, the eight additional spots would be made up of eight teams, who join the No. 4 seeds of the top eight national seed NCAA Regionals, and thus compete in a play-in game. So, if you had Southern Miss as one of those eight additional teams, it could potentially knock Binghamton (an example) out of the tournament, thus giving a national seed a tougher opponent, in theory, of course. Color me a fan of increasing the NCAA postseason field, but at what cost? I’m not so sure yet.