by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
Two of the top three teams in the country will meet this weekend as #3 Mississippi State (28-8, 10-5 SEC) travels to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt (29-6, 11-4 SEC), the #2 team in the country. Both teams enter the weekend having lost just one series apiece with the Commodores falling to Georgia, and Mississippi State suffering a sweep at the hands of Arkansas in Starkville.
Vanderbilt enters the series in the top ten in the country in ERA, WHIP, shutouts, strikeouts per nine innings, batting average, doubles, triples, and home runs. This team does not have very many weaknesses and has perhaps the best Friday and Saturday starters. Kumar Rocker is 8-1 on the season with a 1.64 ERA, has 81 strikeouts compared to 15 walks, with batters hitting .151 against him. As if those numbers are not ridiculous enough, Tim Corbin then gets to send Jack Leiter out on Saturday. Leiter is 7-0 with a 0.98 ERA while striking out 94 and walking 22. Opposing batters are hitting just .094 against Leiter.
The Commodores Sunday starter has been the biggest question mark this season, a role that was recently given to Patrick Reilly. The freshman is 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA on the season, but will have his hands full Sunday against the Bulldogs. From the bullpen, Nick Maldonado has been lights out for Coach Corbin in his 13 appearances, tossing 20 innings with 25 strikeouts with 2 saves.
Year in and year out, Vanderbilt produces one of the best offenses in the country and this year is no different. The Commodores are batting .306 as a team, which is ninth best in the country, and has seven starters that are batting .300 or better.
Dominic Keegan leads the team with a .394 average and is second on the team with seven home runs and 32 RBI. Carter Young leads the way with nine home runs and 33 RBI. Opposing pitchers cannot afford to make many mistakes against Vanderbilt because they are very disciplined, drawing nearly five walks per game, a Tim Corbin staple.
Fortunately for Mississippi State fans, the Bulldogs should be able to hold their own on the mound this weekend, as they also boast one of the best pitching staffs in the country. The Bulldogs boast a 3.38 team ERA and 13 strikeouts per nine innings, good for second best in the country.
Christian MacLeod anchors the Bulldogs rotation although he is just 3-2 on the season. MacLeod, a high swing and miss pitcher, has a 2.38 ERA while striking out 63 batters in 41.1 innings of work. You will not want to miss the MacLeod and Rocker matchup on Friday night.
Will Bednar has been consistent as the Saturday starter with a 2-1 record and 3.55 ERA, but he will need his best stuff on Saturday to calm down the Vanderbilt offense.
Coach Lemonis has experimented with the third starter this year, but freshman Jackson Fristoe has settled into the role as of late. Fristoe is 3-2 with a slightly elevated ERA at 4.08. The Bulldogs have a very deep bullpen that will be heavily relied upon this weekend in order for them to make some noise in Nashville.
Mississippi State does not have quite the offensive stats as the Commodores, but they play a fun style of baseball and can score runs in a hurry. They are 19th in the country in runs scored with just over seven per game, although they only have three qualified batters over .300.
Tanner Allen is putting together an impressive season for the Bulldogs in right field, batting .344, but there is a big drop from him to Rowdey Jordan, who is batting .311. Coach Lemonis teams always play with a lot of passion and will put a lot of pressure on the other team. They will try to get Rocker and Leiter as uncomfortable as possible by their aggressiveness on the basepaths, but they have to find a way to get runners on first.
Matt’s Prediction: I almost picked Tennessee to beat Vanderbilt but stuck with the Commodores. They proved me right last week, but I do not quite trust their pitching on Sunday. I believe the Bulldogs can steal one of the Friday or Saturday games and win the rubber match. Vandy is still playing in front of a limited crowd, roughly 700 fans for home games, so Mississippi State will not have to worry about a home field advantage.