If you asked Gator Baseball fans how they felt about the season on April 7th, you wouldn’t hear some promising things. You’d probably hear things like “there’s always next year” or “we are a very young team”. On April 13th however, less than a week later, Gator Baseball looked to be on the brink of a hot streak. The Gators have been nothing but hot since the South Carolina series ended on April 13th. Before the USC series, Florida went on the road to 9th ranked FSU and won 2-1. The Gators then swept the Gamecocks in three games, a USC team that was the number 8 ranked team in the nation and was a postseason favorite for 2013. The Gators earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory in game one, overcame a 3-1 deficit in game two in a three run inning to win it 4-3, and game three featured a ten run inning resulting in a 14-5 victory. Florida then went on the road to Florida Gulf Coast, a team who swept the Gators in February, and won 4-3. Then followed series wins on the road against Missouri, and beating Tennessee in two games last weekend. The Gators have been so good lately that Southeastern baseball (SEBaseball.com) has the Gators a projected 2 seed in a Clemson regional. Now they face arguably the toughest opponent on their schedule, the LSU Tigers.
The Tigers are the #3 ranked team in the Nation in the USA Today’s Coaches’ poll, and comes into the series with just 6 losses on the year. They stand at the top of the SEC West standings. They only have one series loss in SEC play, the Tigers dropped two games to South Carolina just last weekend. While the Gators swept the same Gamecocks, LSU is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with in 2013. Let’s break down the Tigers and see just how hard it will be for the Gators to pull out a series victory.
First off, the game will be played in Baton Rouge. I know what you’re thinking- haven’t the Gators won on the road before? While this is true, Alex Box Stadium ain’t your mama’s ballpark. The stadium is a beast that’s been around for just 4 years. Box Stadium holds up to 10,150 people, and the attendance is close to that number each game. 10,150 people. That’s roughly how many people attended Florida Football’s spring football game. Not to mention, all three games of the series will be televised, with Thursday night’s game featured on ESPNU as the Thursday Night SEC Baseball Game of the Week. Friday night’s game will be on Cox Sports, and Saturday’s game will be on ESPN 2. And we can all agree Thursday-Saturday series are always fun.
LSU’s pitching statistics are so good they’re almost scary. Tiger Head Coach Paul Mainieri will start sophomore lefty Cody Glenn Thursday, who has a 3.13 ERA in 10 appearances. He will face Florida’s Jonathon Crawford, who was speculated to start Saturday due to soreness in the junior’s ankle, but it was announced that he will start Thursday. Crawford gave up just two hits in 4 innings in his Saturday start against Tennessee, and has had impressive outings in SEC starts. LSU’s Friday starter, right hander Aaron Nola has just 2.12 earned runs in 11 games. Friday’s Gator starter will be lefty Bobby Poyner, who gave up three runs last weekend against Tennessee Sunday. Tiger Junior Ryan Eades will start Saturday, coming in with a 7-1 record. No Gator starter has been named yet for Saturday.
The LSU bullpen has been dominant all season. The Tigers come into the weekend with four pitchers who have under a 2.00 ERA in at least 9 appearances. Chris Cotton has 9 saves on the year. Not to mention the Tiger pitching staff has the second-best ERA in the entire SEC at 2.39.
Florida’s bullpen will have to continue to be productive in this weekend’s series, if the starters can’t get it done. Freshman Danny Young, who we have seen start in many SEC series, will be used in the bullpen. Young had a scary moment Friday night on the mound against Tennessee- a line drive hit him straight in the mouth and he received 25-30 stitches according to Gator head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Sully said that he is fine, but using Young from the pen as opposed to starting him is more of a comfort-level decision. Jay Carmichael, a freshman right hander has been bothered by an injury to his pitching arm in the last couple of weeks. If Carmichael (2.64 ERA, 3-1) is ready to go, he will be sure to see a lot of innings, and he could even get a start on Saturday. Johnny Magliozzi has been electric as Florida’s reliever this season. The sophomore has been clutch all year, and he comes into this series with 11 saves on the year.
Florida’s offense has been extremely productive since the USC series. The return of freshman Richie Martin has helped the Gators tremendously. After missing four weeks due to a broken finger throughout most of March, he didn’t miss a beat in his return last month. When he first returned, he was the designated hitter, but has moved back to his usual lead-off spot in the lineup. Martin has been so good in fact, that the Gators have a record of 11-4 since Martin’s return, and he’s had 18 hits in his last 16 games. Justin Shafer, batting at .315, has been consistent at seemingly every at bat this season. The sophomore also leads the SEC in doubles, with 17. Taylor Gushue, the usual Gator 3-hole hitter, leads the team in RBI with 30. Gushue had a homerun in the series opener against Tennessee last Friday. Zack Powers is riding a nine game hitting streak, and freshman Harrison Bader has 13 RBI on the year. Vick Ramjit and Casey Turgeon have both been producing at the plate as well, both with more than 50 hits on the year.
The LSU pitching staff should be the toughest the Gator offense has seen all season, but Florida’s bats have come alive this past month, and have been doing a much better job at getting runners home as opposed to the early part of 2013. If Florida can get going early offensively, they could very well beat LSU. Especially if they get a multiple-run inning- the Gators have nine victories in sixteen games when they have at least one multiple-run inning since the beginning of April.
LSU’s offense is a strong unit across the board. The Tigers are second in the SEC in batting average at .307 and second in home runs with 34 on the year. Five guys in their batting order are hitting over .300. The Tigers, much like Florida’s Richie Martin, have an outstanding freshman shortstop hitter in Alex Bregman. Bregman leads the Tigers hitting .395, and leads the SEC in triples with seven. He also leads the team with 12 stolen bases. Senior first baseman Mason Katz right behind Bregman in the lineup leads the Tigers with an SEC best 61 RBI, and 13 home runs on the year. Junior third baseman Christian Ibarra is hitting at .349 with 11 doubles as well. The LSU offense doesn’t just stop there. In fact there is just one guy on the roster who is hitting less than .200 or better. Florida’s pitching has to be lights out against this powerful Tiger offense. If the starting pitching for Florida doesn’t let the runs get out of hand early, Florida’s offense could match up solidly against LSU’s.
This is a very important series for the Gators. A series win on the road in Alex Box stadium would surely turn some heads, and might even convince some that the Gators are even a CWS potential team. The Gator offense must continue to do what they have been doing, and the starting pitching has to start off well all weekend. Of course I make it sound so much simpler sitting behind my computer.
Morgan Moriarty is a sophomore Telecommunications major at the University of Florida, and covers college football and recruiting for NBC Sports Radio in Gainesville. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter here @moriarty343