It has been a rather uninspiring start to the season, but there's no more time to get things fixed - the Aggies jump right into their first-ever SEC series against the Bulldogs this weekend.
Georgia (8-9) at Texas A&M (11-7)
After 3 consecutive 2-loss weekends, the Aggies will look to get back on the winning side of things as they begin SEC play against Georgia. This will be the first-ever matchup between the Aggies and Bulldogs, not to mention the first-ever SEC baseball series for Texas A&M. Both teams were picked to finish 5th in their respective SEC division in the preseason coaches poll. Georgia has not exactly gotten off to an impressive start to 2013, similar to A&M, and in fact the Bulldogs lost their first two weekend series to Georgia Southern and Belmont to go along with losses to Georgia State, Western Carolina, Liberty and Appalachian State.
Although the Bulldogs actually sit just above the Aggies in the most recent RPI ratings, with Georgia at #72 and A&M at #75, this is a series that A&M needs to win. Badly. It feels a little odd calling the first conference series a must-win, but from a confidence standpoint and in terms of starting to position for a hopeful NCAA tournament appearance, that is essentially what this weekend has become for the Aggies.
Friday (6:30pm CST):
RHP Sean McLaughlin (3-0, 1.80, 18 K, 6 BB)
RHP Kyle Martin (1-2. 4.07, 24 K, 4 BB)
McLaughlin is a true freshman from Johns Creek, GA who was drafted in the 38th round of last year's MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves. McLaughlin is a two-way player for the Bulldogs, having appeared in 11 games this season as a position player, but he has not been a DH when he pitches this season. Sean has gotten off to a very strong start in his first collegiate season, giving up just 4 earned runs and 2 extra-base hits in 20 innings on the mound. In his most recent start last weekend against Liberty, McLaughlin threw 6 scoreless innings and gave up just 4 hits along with 7 strikeouts and a walk. In his last 3 starts combined, McLaughlin has given up just 2 runs and 10 hits, although he has not thrown more than 6 innings in any start this season. Opponents have hit for an average of .208 against Sean in 2013, so the Aggies could have their work cut out for them in this one. Sean has a private Twitter account and a pretty useless Facebook account, so I don't have any fun facts about him. Thanks a lot, Sean.
Martin did a nice job of bouncing back against Fullerton last weekend after a rough outing in his previous start against Houston, and he picked up his first win of the season and as a starter for A&M. KMart went 6 2/3 innings against the Titans last Friday, allowing just 1 earned run on 6 hits with 4 strikeouts and 2 walks.
Saturday (2:05pm CST):
LHP Patrick Boling (1-2, 4.37 ERA, 26 K, 6 BB)
RHP Daniel Mengden (3-1, 2.03, 24 K, 5 BB)
Boling is a redshirt junior who actually redshirted last season for the Bulldogs and has had an inconsistent start to the 2013 season. Boling began the 2011 season as a setup guy out of the Georgia bullpen but was moved into a midweek starter role later in the year, so this is his first year as a weekend starter as well. His first 2 starts this season did not go particularly well, as he lasted a combined 6 1/3 innings and gave up 7 earned runs in those 2 starts. He has improved since then, though, allowing just 1 earned run and striking out 5 in 6 innings in his most recent start against Liberty. Boling did throw 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief on Wednesday in Georgia's loss to Appalachian State, so he may not have a very long leash should he show signs of tiring on the mound. Patrick appears to like Pat Green and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as the movie Austin Powers, so pretty good tastes it seems.
Mengden continues to be the best and most consistent starter this season for A&M, although he picked up his first loss of the season against Fullerton last weekend despite pitching extremely well. Lack of run support costing a pitcher a win after a strong start? We've never heard that one before. Mengden gave up just 1 earned run on 5 hits to go along with 6 strikeouts and no walks in 6 innings against the Titans, but the Aggies were unable to score any runs in the game.
Sunday (12:05pm CST):
RHP Luke Crumley (1-2, 6.91, 9 K, 2 BB)
TBA... Likely either Grayson Long or Jason Freeman
Crumley is a sophomore for Georgia who, like both McLaughlin and Boling, is in his first full season as a weekend starter for the Bulldogs. Crumley did see some time as a weekend starter towards the end of last season, starting 5 games for Georgia and making 16 appearances from the bullpen. Crumley finished 2012 with a 3-2 record and a 3.86 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. Luke's first start of 2013 was a forgettable one, giving up 7 earned runs on 7 hits in just 2 innings in a big loss to Georgia Southern. After settling down a bit in his next 2 starts against Belmont and UAB, Crumley lasted just 2 innings last weekend against Liberty and gave up 2 earned runs on 6 hits and a walk. Luke, like Sean, has his Twitter account protected and not much of anything on his Facebook. Y'all are no fun at all, Georgia pitchers.
What a mess the Sunday starter spot has become for A&M. The Aggies list the spot as To Be Announced after Rafael Pineda had a pair of nightmare starts the last 2 weeks, facing just 7 batters combined in those 2 starts. I know that Coach Childress tries to give his guys every chance to keep their spot, but he is also a coach that will not tolerate pitchers not being able to throw strikes. Frankly, if Pineda takes the mound on Sunday instead of Grayson Long - who did not get the midweek start against HBU this week - or Jason Freeman, I would be absolutely shocked.
What to Watch
Georgia comes into the series hitting a relatively impressive .306 as a team with 47 extra-base hits. Leading the way offensively for Georgia is senior 3B Curt Powell, who comes into the weekend on a 13-game hitting streak and is batting a Mikey Reynolds-esque .509 over that stretch. The Bulldogs' leadoff hitter 2B Nelson Ward has also started the season well, and the sophomore brings a 10-game hitting streak of his own to College Station. Senior SS Kyle Farmer is leading the team in RBI by a comfortable margin with 20 on the season so far, not to mention a team-leading 8 doubles. Let's compare some offensive stats, shall we?
The most reliable bullpen option for Georgia so far this season has been senior LHP Blake Dieterich, who has pitched 18 innings over 8 appearances and allowed just 1 earned run while striking out 16 and walking 5. LHP Jared Walsh has also been strong in his 7 relief appearances, earning 2 saves and allowing just 1 earned run in 10 innings along with 13 strikeouts and 5 walks. To the pitching (and fielding) stats!
One other thing worth noting - the Bulldogs are just 5-for-11 on steal attempts, but they have allowed their opponents to steal 22 bases on 28 attempts. Look for the Aggies to be aggressive on the bases this weekend, perhaps even more than usual.
If I had to take a guess at what sort of lineup Georgia will feature, here's my best shot:
2B Nelson Ward (S) (.400, .493, .452, 3 2B, 2 3B, 10 RBI, 2 SB)
3B Curt Powell (L) (.419, .514, .450, 5 2B, 1 3B, 10 RBI)
SS Kyle Farmer (R) (.359, .484, .403, 8 2B, 20 RBI)
LF Hunter Cole (R) (.288, .424, .388, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI)
1B Daniel Nichols (R) (.192, .250, .288, 1 HR, 7 RBI)
DH/C Brett DeLoach (R) (.276, .500, .403, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB)
RF Jared Walsh (L) (.347, .551, .360, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI)
C Zack Bowers (L) (.294, .676, .359, 1 2B, 4 HR, 9 RBI)
CF DJ Smith (L) (.222, .222, .391, 3 RBI)
This is a series that I had been expecting to be able to predict an A&M sweep in, especially considering Georgia's struggles early in the season against teams they should be beating. Unfortunately, the Sunday pitching issue and persistent problems hitting with runners in scoring position for A&M has left me concerned with the Aggies ability to win all 3 games in a series.
Georgia has been fairly solid offensively, albeit against not quite the level of opposition that A&M has faced, but their pitching has been extremely inconsistent so far. I think Rob Childress and the guys know how much is at stake this weekend, and I fully expect the team to come out prepared and hopefully have some guys step up with some clutch hits. Having said all of that...
I'll take A&M winning 2 games out of 3. This would still be a positive result for the Aggies moving forward, but if they could somehow get a sweep of the visiting Bulldogs that could be a big momentum builder. I'm just too worried about the Sunday pitching situation to call that happening.
See y'all at Olsen, and BTHO Georgia!