|VANDERBILT STARTING LINEUP|
|SOUTH CAROLINA STARTING LINEUP|
|SOUTH CAROLINA ROTATION|
About the Gamecocks
The back-to-back national champions' 1-5 start to Southeastern Conference play has been
well, stunning. Two weekends ago, South Carolina was swept at Kentucky, won game one vs. Florida last weekend, then dropped the last two.
Of course, when the combined record of those two opponents is 48-3, that provides an adequate context. Still, with the Gamecocks returning so much pitching, including college baseball's best pitcher in Michael Roth, a little more was expected of a team that most thought had a chance to contend for a national crown once again.
On the other hand, Carolina did lose the heart of its perennially-outstanding defense up the middle. Gone is center fielder Jackie Bradley, shortstop Peter Mooney, second baseman Scott Wingo, catcher Brady Thomas, and even third baseman Adrian Morales. Bradley, Mooney and Wingo, in particular, were about as good defensively as you could find in college baseball.
Carolina has recovered nicely defensively, making just 18 errors and fielding .980 (by contrast, VU has made 43 miscues and fields just .954). But the offense is down a bit, scoring 5.1 runs a game, and four per contest in SEC games.
The big bat is first baseman Christian Walker, who could be picked in the MLB draft's first few rounds this weekend. With a hit this weekend, he'd be one of 25 Gamecocks in the school's 200-hit club.
The only other familiar veterans in the lineup are center fielder Evan Marzilli, who leads the team in runs (19), hits (34), total bases (46) and steals (six), and captain Adam Matthews, who's struggled so far.
Coach Ray Tanner re-built his infield up the middle with second baseman Erik Payne and shortstop Joey Pankake, a sophomore and a freshman, respectively. Both have hit well and have some pop in their bats, but fielding - an .886 percentage for Pankake, and .961 for Payne - has been problematic at times.
Another freshman, Tanner English, has started every game in left, and is tied for second on the team with 17 runs.
The pitching, though, has mostly been outstanding, as the Gamecocks sport a 2.75 ERA. Roth, who turned in a tremendous (and very unexpected) key performance in the College World Series two years ago, posted a 14-3 record and a 1.06 ERA in 21 games with 112 strikeouts in 145 innings pitched last season, and is performing at about the same level this season.
Last season, he was CollegeBaseballInsider.com's national Player of the Year. USC's Friday starter isn't getting the love from MLB scouts - he was the 938th pick of last summer's draft, and came back for his senior year - and doesn't throw hard, but is as good at changing arm angles and speeds to keep hitters off-balance as you'll see at this level.
Forrest Koumas and Colby Holmes also returned as weekend starters from last year, but Koumas's struggles (5.93 ERA and 11 walks in 13.2 innings) have relegated him to the bullpen. Holmes, a junior, compiled a 7-3 record with a 3.69 ERA in 18 games last year, striking out out 77 batters with 21 walks in 85.1 innings pitched.
Tanner has not named a Saturday starter, because the plan depends on ace reliever Matt Price's status. The team's closer last year has been pulling double-duty between the rotation and the pen, and if the Gamecocks don't use him to close on Friday, he'll start Saturday.
After going 7-3 with 20 saves and a 1.83 ERA last year, Price has been more mortal this season: a 3.73 ERA in 31.1 innings, with 37 strikeouts and 14 walks.
Closing in his absence has been freshman Evan Beal, who has 23 strikeouts and five walks, plus four saves, in 14 2/3 innings pitches.
Tanner's bullpen isn't quite as deep with experienced arms as it has been the past two years - especially if Price is in the rotation - but he still has dependable veterans Tyler Webb (1.93 ERA) and Nolan Belcher (2.45) available.
Analyzing the match-up
Vanderbilt is finally starting to look more like the team we thought it would be after winning three straight games. The Commodores' pitching has been outstanding for four-straight games, and VU will need the outstanding performances it got from Kevin Ziomek and Tyler Beede last weekend once again.
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