17 April 2011
We've reached the halfway mark and before I break down the standings and schedules I have a gripe. I really don't like the way the SEC baseball schedule is set up. There really is no logical reason why each team doesn't play all eleven conference opponents. I understand that 11 series would mean uneven home and away games, but you can alternate divisions each year. One year the West teams will play 6 away series, the next year they get 6 home series. That would be more fair than what we currently see, which is an unbalanced schedule that puts certain teams at a decided disadvantage.
And the team with the major disadvantage this year is State. They have to skip Kentucky, the worst team in the SEC. Meanwhile, the teams they will be competing with to make the SEC tournament will be fellow West rivals that won't have to play the powerhouses like Florida, Vandy and South Carolina. This could mean as much as a 3 game swing in the standings which could easily be the difference between making the tournament and spending late May at home. The schedule needs to be changed.
Now, on to the midseason breakdown. State salvaged one of three this weekend and while they needed two they at least set themselves up for a postseason chance. They are 3 games under .500 in the conference. In fairness, the first half schedule was brutal. Of the 5 top SEC teams in the standings, State played four of them. Three of those were on the road. The only non-top 5 team was Auburn, and State swept them, a good indication that they are better than their record shows. So we have reason to be optimistic. Finishing that stretch at 6-9 isn't bad.
However, if the season ended now, State would miss the SEC tournament. So they have some work to do.
Right now there are four teams that will be in barring a meltdown: SC, Vandy, Florida and Georgia. There are 3 teams that are pretty much done: Kentucky, Tennessee, and (believe it or not) LSU. That leaves 5 teams fighting it out for 4 tourney spots. State is only one game behind Auburn for the last spot, and they own the tie-breaker in head-to-head competition. Arkansas is playing hot right now but I honestly don't think they're as good as their record shows. Alabama lost 2 of 3 to Tennessee and may be slumping. TSUN swept Kentucky but could have easily lost 2 of 3. They're 8-7 now but aren't playing like an above-.500 team. Two games separate 5 teams in the West. It is wide open.
Keep in mind the West champ will be the 2 seed in the tourney, and with State just 2 games out of first in the West they could find themselves as high as the 2 seed, or out of the dance altogether. Last year, LSU was the 8 seed with a 14-16 record. That means State would have to win 8 of their last 15 SEC games to be in the same position. They have SC and Bama up next, both at home. Then it's at Tennessee, at TSUN and back home for LSU. That's nine of their last 15 at home. Eight wins in that stretch is more than possible, especially with State's younger pitchers really starting to gel. They could get eight wins against TSUN, LSU and Tennessee.
Auburn has TSUN, SC, Georgia, Bama and Tennessee. Their target would be winning 7 of those, not out of the question. But remember, if they win 7 and State wins 8, the Dogs have the tiebreaker.
TSUN still has Auburn, Florida, SC, State and Arky left. That may be a tough stretch to win 6 games (enough to put them at 14-16). Obviously, the key series will be State, which is gonna be played in Oxford. They have by far the most difficult second half schedule.
Bama has lost 7 of their last 10 games and has Florida, State, LSU, Auburn and SC remaining. They're no lock for the postseason.
Arky has Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, SC and TSUN. There's a nine game stretch against the top 4 in the SEC. They also have some work to do.
So it's shaping up to be a heck of a race in the West. State is fifth right now after the toughest of schedules and play their next 6 at home. This race could flip flop several times before it's finally set. State has the most work to do but has the easiest schedule. TSUN has the toughest. Bama is struggling. It's anyone's guess right now who will be in and who will be out. I think State is growing and each weekend they're just one play away from winning two or three. I think they turn it around and, yes, I still think they make the tournament.
So how about it? Does MSU get in? Who gets left out?
Does LSU come storming back or are they done?
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