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April 14, 2008

Wait 'Til Next Year

The Weekend That Was

by Bryan Smith

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The television industry tells us that May is sweeps month, but college baseball's sweeps weekend apparently is a month earlier. The story of this weekend, as you'll read below, was simply the good teams sweeping the bad teams, taking care of their business and validating their high standing. It's become clearer than ever that we are going to walk into May with about 8 of the clearest Omaha favorites as we have had in awhile, as only one member of the top nine had a losing weekend, contrary to a week ago, when things were in far more disarray.

Broom Sales Rise in East: In case it wasn't apparent which three teams were best in the SEC, the teams did their work to clear it up this weekend. While we could argue for days about which team is best, we know the battle is between South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Georgia. My vote for this week goes to the Bulldogs, who came up huge with their eighth straight weekend victory in a sweep of Kentucky. Georgia was operating on all levels--Trevor Holder and Stephen Dodson turned in two quality starts, the bullpen pitched 10 innings and allowed just 2 hits, and the offense around Gordon Beckham supported their superstar, who also turned in a big home run on Sunday. Kentucky didn't score a run after the sixth inning all weekend, which is a trend: only Georgia Tech (who beat Georgia 9-4 on Wednesday) has in the Bulldogs last 12 games. Georgia's heightened legitimacy only helps South Carolina, who rebounded from last week's sweep against the Bulldogs to break out the brooms of their own against Auburn. The Gamecocks only won the series by 4 runs, winning Friday and Sunday 7-6, with an 8-6 victory on Saturday, proving six runs is not enough against these South Carolina bats. Reese Havens and Justin Smoak were their usual brilliant selves as Smoak set the school's home run record on Friday, but the real difference was senior Phil Disher, who had two doubles Friday, two home runs on Saturday and another run-scoring double on Sunday. Auburn could do nothing but throw up their hands on Saturday when freshman Parker Bangs hit his first career home run and recorded a save in the same game.

Difference Conference, Same Story: In contrast to the SEC, we never really had questions about the best three teams in the ACC, as you could argue that Miami, North Carolina and Florida State are the best three teams in the country. While this weekend lacked the sexiness of an upset in the ACC, it was validating to re-affirm just how good these teams are. Miami handled their first big road test of the year--at Georgia Tech--with ease, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 34-13 to win the weekend. The top of Miami's order is simply just the best in college baseball, as both Blake Tekotte (9-for-15) and Jemile Weeks (7-for-13) paced the Hurricanes. Also, for Freshman of the Year purposes, note that southpaw Chris Hernandez is now pitching on Friday nights, and moved to 5-0 beating the Yellow Jackets, holding Tech's star freshman, Derek Dietrich, hitless in three at-bats.

North Carolina had a similar test this weekend, traveling to Clemson to face a tough Tiger team on the road. Like Miami, it proved an easy sweep for the Tar Heels, but UNC's best asset proved to be their pitching depth. North Carolina's starters pitched just 10.2 innings on the weekend--star freshman Matt Harvey lasted just one on Sunday--leaving the bullpen responsible for 16.1 innings against a solid offense. The result was just three runs allowed total as Mike Fox proved he has as many options to turn to as anyone in the nation. Also, don't ignore second baseman Kyle Seager (7-for-13, 3 HRs) in your All-American chart, as the middle infielder is now hitting .397/.450/.671.

Finally, we won't make too much of Florida State's big weekend against Boston College. The Seminoles lineup has been getting a big boost from leadoff hitter and freshman Tyler Holt, who went 9-for-16 on the weekend powered by five hits on Friday. The last thing the ACC needs is for Mike Martin to find more bats on his roster. Also, Sunday may have been Elih Villanueva's best start of the season.

Outrageous Box Score of the Year: Friday night was supposed to belong to Aaron Crow. Entering the game with a 42.2 inning scoreless streak, Crow was aiming to become the first Division I pitcher on record with 50 straight scoreless innings. However, after just two outs the story quickly turned away from Crow and onto the wind, howling towards center field at more than 30 mph. The result: a 5-run first inning for Texas, and a come-from-behind 31-12 (yes, you read that right) victory for Missouri. It was only fitting that quarterback Chase Daniel threw out the first pitch for the Tigers, as the football score was a result of a four HR day by first baseman Jacob Priday. The game had nine home runs in all, as the wind was what the doctor ordered for struggling Texas outfielder Kyle Russell, who hit two. I called on the man with the baseball beat for the Columbia Missourian, Sam Miles, for some thoughts on the mess Friday: "There were two very amusing things, for me: 1) Absolutely any ball hit up in the air had a chance to go out--or at least so the crowd thought. At least three of Missouri's homers were total wind creations--though three of Priday's four and both Kyle Russell's were totally legit." Haters of college baseball will say that no winds at Wrigley Field could produce 31 runs for the Cubs, but that's not exactly apples-to-apples. I commend Texas coach Augie Garrido for realizing the situation, and attempting to save the morale of his better relievers--Missouri's last 13 runs were against pitchers that entered the game with a total of 6 previous appearances on the year.

Elsewhere, in the Big 12: It wasn't a 43-run game, but believe it or not, the best Big 12 series played this weekend didn't involve the Texas Longhorns. No, the best Big 12 game played this weekend was Friday's 1-0 Oklahoma State victory over Nebraska, setting the tone for a tough weekend series win by the Cowboys. Friday's game featured just two pitchers and seven hits, as Nebraska's Johnny Dorn and OSU's Andy Oliver traded zeroes until OSU shortstop Jordy Mercer singled in a run in the sixth. Oliver was just a bit better all game, allowing just three singles against him while striking out 10 Huskers. Oliver has had some of the toughest Friday matchups in the nation this season, as he's now seen the Big 12's best on Friday nights--Aaron Crow, Dorn and Kendal Volz--and walked away with two victories in three chances. The rest of the weekend in this series consisted of blow outs, as Oklahoma State won 19-2 on Saturday before losing their chance at sweeping 14-5 on Sunday. Every member of the starting nine had at least two hits on Saturday as the Cowboys ended Thad Weber's string of good starts very abruptly. NU returned the favor on Sunday, taking advantage of Oklahoma State's command problems--the Cowboys gave away nine walks, striking out just 6 batters in the game. Nebraska wouldn't hit a home run all weekend, but the free passes were enough on Sunday to salvage something from the series. While the SEC and ACC did us a favor clearing things up over the weekend, the Big 12 is a mess. Oklahoma State will travel to Austin next weekend to attempt to make some sense out of the convoluted standings.

As Impressive as Sub-.500 Gets: Since returning from a trip in South Carolina on March 11 to sweep Winthrop, the Southern California Trojans are 9-12. While that month of baseball includes being swept by Long Beach State and Arizona State, it also includes series wins over Arizona, UCLA, and most recently, Cal. Mid-week losses to UC Irvine and Loyola Marymount are counterbalanced with wins over UC Riverside, San Diego and Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday. The weekend win over Cal was probably most impressive, as the offense woke up with three straight double-digit scores, winning with outputs of 17 and 11 before losing 13-11 on Sunday. Since demolishing Florida International in the opening weekend, the Trojans had scored more than ten just twice. They couldn't have done it without star sophomore shortstop Grant Green (9-for-12, SB, triple, 2 HRs) and senior first baseman Derek Perren (10-for-14, 2 doubles, HR). The bugaboo for USC continues to be Sundays, however, as they are 2-5 since the easy series sweeper against FIU. Since a three-hitter against Arizona on March 22, junior right-hander Ryan Cook has struggled, and coach Chad Kreuter will need to right Cook's ship to be a postseason contender.

This Week's Win Streak Sure to Be Jinxed: Last week, I jinxed the Georgia Bulldogs by calling their seven-game win streak the most impressive in the nation. The streak subsequently ended with mid-week losses to Winthrop and Georgia Tech, but after sweeping Kentucky, I think Rob Childress would be okay if I dedicated some space to the Texas A&M 13-game win streak. While I won't get too hyperbolic about a streak heavy on the Big 12's bottom feeders, the Aggies offense has been making serious noise. The bats have averaged 9 runs a game during their win streak, scoring more than 10 in five of their last six games, including a Tuesday victory on the road against Houston. The offense is now hitting .327/.422/.504, as extra bases have proven the remedy for bad baserunning and inconsistent starting pitching. However, A&M held Oklahoma to just five runs in the final two games, a good sign for a team not far from becoming elite. Star freshman Barret Loux looked back to his early season form with 9 strikeouts and two earned runs allowed in 7.2 innings, earning his first Big 12 victory. Command artist Clayton Ehlert was brilliant Sunday, allowing just one earned run in a shortened 7-inning complete game, as the Aggie bats did the work for the sweep, winning 12-2. You might be hearing about the upcoming series against Baylor later this week, as it comes as Texas A&M's first big step towards solidifying their legitimacy.

The BP College 12
1. Miami
2. Arizona State
3. North Carolina
4. Florida State
5. Missouri
6. UC Irvine
7. Nebraska
8. Wichita State
9. Stanford
10. California
11. Georgia
12. Vanderbilt

Bryan Smith is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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