by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
For the first time this season, the Commodores will travel outside of Nashville to take on the Cowboys in Stillwater in a series that has the potential to have a Super Regional-like feel to it. #2 Vanderbilt enters the series with a 10-1 record, their only loss coming from Georgia State, while #16 Oklahoma State is undefeated at 10-0-1, although they have a tie to Grand Canyon due to a travel curfew. This series has the potential to be a low scoring affair with many high profile arms on display, showcasing two teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation in ERA.
Vanderbilt comes into the series with a team ERA of 2.00, led by household names Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, who were both named College Baseball Nation Preseason All-Americans. Through their first three starts, it is shocking how similar both of their numbers are. They are each 3-0, both have the same ERA (0.60), have both thrown 15 innings, and they have issued 7 walks. Leiter has the slight edge in strikeouts with 26 as opposed to 25 for Rocker. Thomas Schultz, the Commodores third weekend starter, has also put together a nice start to the season, but has been overshadowed due to the company he keeps in the rotation. Schultz is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA while striking out 14 batters in just 10.1 innings.
Luke Murphy, who has made four appearances on the mound, recorded two saves, and has not allowed a run this year, will not be available for the Commodores. Coach Tim Corbin announced on Wednesday that Murphy will not be available due to COVID related issues, which is a huge loss for the bullpen. This is something to keep an eye on as the Cowboys could take advantage of his absence, but look for Hugh Fisher to play a big role from the bullpen this weekend.
The Commodores have been no slouch at the plate either, batting .325 as a team, which is good for 14th in the country. They have yet to play a game against a fellow power conference school, but their offensive stats have been impressive to date. Five Vanderbilt batters are above the .300 threshold, led by Dominic Keegan who boasts a .548 average with 4 home runs and 15 RBI. Unfortunately for the Commodores, Keegan will not be making the trip to Stillwater due to COVID related issues, which will be a big loss for the offensive attack. Who will step up in his absence? Coach Corbin has plenty of options, starting with Carter Young, Enrique Bradfield Jr, Jayson Gonzalez, and Parker Noland, but it will not be easy against a stout Cowboys pitching staff. It will take a group effort to replace Keegan, but the Commodores lineup is more than capable of taking on the challenge.
The Cowboys come into the series with a team ERA of 1.91 which is slightly better than Vandy at this point in the season. Oklahoma State has recorded four shutouts in their last 6 games, which is tied for best in the country. It does not matter who you are playing, those are strong numbers. The Cowboys weekend rotation currently has a combined 5-0 record, led by Parker Scott, who is 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA. Justin Wrobleski leads the rotation with a 0.69 ERA with a 1-0 record. After striking out 19 batters against Oral Roberts on Tuesday night, the Cowboys staff is averaging 15.5 K’s per 9 innings.
Fortunately for Coach Holliday, the pitching staff has been lights out because the offense attack from Oklahoma State has been less than ideal in this early season. They are currently ranked just inside the top 200 in team batting average at .242. The Cowboys have just one batter above .300, Jake Thompson, who is leading the way with a .364 average. Christian Encarnacion-Strand has put together a nice start to his sophomore year with 5 home runs, 13 RBI, while batting .289. Oklahoma State currently ranks 16th in home runs with 16, making up 18% of their hits on the year.
Matt's Prediction: The Vanderbilt pitching staff is going to be too much for an offense that has been struggling against lower competition. The Cowboys staff may keep them in the series, but I do not see their offense putting up enough runs to win it. It will be a test for the Commodores who will be playing their first games away from home, but give me Vandy all day in this one.