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Top-Ranked Aggies Host Mississippi State

The Aggies now sit with a record of 31-2 and are ranked #1 in the country by multiple polls. Next up is Mississippi State for a 3 game series at Olsen Field this weekend.

Courtesy: @Statboy203

After a rain-shortened two-game sweep on the road at Kentucky last weekend and a big midweek come-from-behind victory over Rice, the Aggie Baseball train is flying down the tracks and showing no signs of slowing down. A&M now sits at 31 wins at this point in the 2015 season, a point which the Aggies did not reach until May 11 last year. We're also finally getting to the point in the season where I begin feeling more comfortable including RPI rankings when discussing the Aggies and their opponents. The most recent RPI (Rating Percentage Index) as of April 9 has A&M at #3 in the country, and the D1 Baseball Midseason Field of 64 Projection has the Aggies pegged as the #1 overall national seed.

On the flip side of things, Mississippi State comes to College Station this weekend sitting at #118 in the RPI and currently on the outside looking in as far as the postseason projections are concerned. The Bulldogs did win an important series at home against South Carolina last weekend, but between A&M this weekend in College Station and Florida (RPI #9) in Starkville next weekend, State is quickly running out of chances for quality series wins to make a big move up in the RPI. Although they do have a home series with LSU (RPI #15) still on the schedule, their other remaining opponents are Arkansas (RPI #92), Ole Miss (RPI #39, boosted largely by the #1 rated strength of schedule despite a 16-18 record) and Tennessee (RPI #47). I don't know that I'd go so far as to say this is a must-win series for Mississippi State, but I do think it's important for their postseason chances to avoid being swept by the Aggies this weekend.

As far as how the Bulldogs' season has gone up to this point, it's been a bit all over the place. They actually won their first 14 games of the season, although their best wins during that stretch were a pair against Arizona (RPI #127), before dropping a home series to San Diego (RPI #77). After that series, State really began to struggle as they began conference play; the Bulldogs dropped their first 3 series of the season to Alabama, Kentucky and Auburn before finally taking 2 of 3 games against South Carolina last weekend. The last 3 midweek games have not gone well for MSU either as they have dropped their last 3 contests: 3-0 against Southern Miss (RPI #93), 8-7 against South Alabama (RPI #95) and then 7-1 this week against Memphis (RPI #50).

All of this is to say that while the series this weekend certainly seems to favor A&M on paper, we all know that the games aren't actually played on paper. Mississippi State should be coming to Olsen Field hungry to steal a series that would kick start a possible run at getting back into the postseason picture. For the Aggies, this series is about continuing to take care of business at home against teams that they are expected to beat. Let's take a look at how the 3 games shape up this weekend.

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 6:35pm

Grayson Long (6-0, 2.45) vs Lucas Laster (4-1, 2.53)

TV: SEC Network+; Radio: 12th Man TV, 1150AM

Grayson picked up his 6th win of the season in the first game of a rain-shortened doubleheader last weekend in Lexington. Long worked 4.1 innings of the 7-inning contest, allowing 1 run on 6 hits and 3 walks along with 6 strikeouts. The stat line certainly could have looked worse, as he left with the bases loaded and just 1 out in the 5th inning, but Andrew Vinson came in and slammed the door on the Wildcats with a pop out and a fly out. Grayson's strikeout numbers continue to be impressive, as he leads the team with 56 in 44 innings pitched, and he's allowing opponents to hit just .207 against him, but he'll surely want to cut down on the number of walks he's issued, another statistic in which he leads the team with 18 issued on the season.

Going up against Long will be a Bulldogs senior southpaw who is coming off his best outing of the season last weekend. LHP Lucas Laster tossed a complete game in the Friday night win over South Carolina, allowing 2 earned runs on 8 hits to go with 8 strikeouts and a walk in the full 9 innings. Laster has been the Bulldogs' best and most consistent starter this season, striking out 36 batters and walking just 7 in 46.1 innings of work, although opponents are hitting for an average of .250 againt him.

Saturday, 2:05pm

Kyle Simonds (2-0, 0.00) vs Preston Brown (4-3, 4.18)

TV: SEC Network+; Radio: 12th Man TV, 1150AM

Due to the cancellation of one of last weekend's games against Kentucky due to rain, Coach Childress elected to give the second game of the doubleheader to Matt Kent, so Kyle Simonds did not actually see any action against the Wildcats. Childress did call on Simonds out of the bullpen in Tuesday's win over Rice, but he only threw 16 pitches in 1 and a third innings of work so that shouldn't affect his start this weekend. Simonds did not earn a decision in the first start of his A&M career the previous weekend against Missouri, giving up just 3 hits in 5 innings but walking 3 and allowing a pair of unearned runs. Simonds has worked 27 innings on the season and opponents are hitting just .172 against him, so you have to imagine Childress hopes to keep him in the rotation.

Mississippi State will go with redshirt junior RHP Preston Brown, who leads the team in a number of statistical categories so far this season. Brown has pitched the most innings for the Bulldogs (47.1), leads the team in strikeouts (45), but also has issued the most walks (17) and thrown the most wild pitches (17). His record and ERA, then, are not particularly surprising given some inconsistencies this season. Brown's last start was good enough to earn him his 4th win of the year, but that's due in part to the Bulldogs putting up a 6 spot on offense in the second inning. Brown worked 7.1 innings and allowed 5 earned runs on 10 hits and a walk while striking out 5 batters. Opponents are sporting a .265 batting average against Brown this season, so I'm sure the A&M hitters will be looking to get some good swings in.

Sunday, 1:05pm

Matt Kent (6-0, 3.14) vs Vance Tatum (3-1, 3.83)

TV: SEC Network+; Radio: 12th Man TV, 1150AM

After an impressive outing against Missouri the previous weekend, Matt Kent again struggled in his start in the second game of last weekend's doubleheader against Kentucky. Kent was unable to make it out of the 4th inning, finish with 3 and a third innings of work and 3 earned runs allowed on 5 hits with 2 strikeouts. A solo HR tallied the Wildcats' first run off Kent in the second inning, but he worked himself into trouble in the 4th and Coach Childress wasted no time in going to the Aggies' stellar bullpen. A single and a stolen base plus a throwing error was followed by an RBI single and a sacrifice bunt, and that was all for Kent. The runner Kent was responsible for at 2nd would come around to score on an RBI single allowed by Ryan Hendrix. There's really no secret about how Kent is going to pitch teams - he pitches to contact, as is evidenced by opponents hitting .289 against him. The key is always going to be keeping the ball on the ground and having the defense behind you make plays.

Sophomore LHP Vance Tatum will take the mound on Sunday, and he will most certainly be looking to bounce back after a rough outing in his most recent start last Sunday. Tatum did not make it out of the second inning against South Carolina, allowing 4 earned runs on 5 hits and a walk as the Gamecocks roughed up the State pitching staff to avoid the sweep in Starkville. Tatum has generally been solid through 2015, however, allowing opponents to hit .238 and striking out 37 batters while walking 14 in 44.1 innings of work. He is tied for the team lead in extra-base hits allowed with 11, so there is certainly potential for some crooked numbers given the Aggies' potent lineup.

Here's how the Aggies and Bulldogs match up across some of the primary statistical categories.

Texas A&M (31-2, 9-2) Mississippi State (21-14, 5-7)
Batting Avg .319 .281
Avg Runs/Game 7.6 6.1
Home Runs 38 15
Stolen Bases 23 36
Top Hitters

RF Nick Banks (.425, 3 HR, 22 RBI)
DH/C Mitchell Nau (.381, 3 HR, 30 RBI)
3B Ronnie Gideon (.350, 6 HR, 27 RBI)

CF Jacob Robson (.363, 8 RBI)
DH Reid Humphreys (.241, 5 HR, 21 RBI)
1B Wes Rea (.279, 2 HR, 20 RBI)

Team ERA 2.11 3.85
Batting Avg Against .234 .252

After the gorgeous weather we had at Olsen Field for the last home series against Missouri, the baseball gods decided to even things out as the forecast looks less than promising this weekend. There's essentially at least a 50% chance of thunderstorms all weekend, although Sunday is looking like it might have the highest likelihood of rain during the weekend. Cross your fingers that we're able to get in 3 games of baseball, and get out to Olsen and support your #1 Fightin' Texas Aggies. BTHO State!