Often you hear about the "gauntlet of the SEC West" that football teams face in the fall. Those teams have nothing on what the Alabama baseball team is going up against. After winning two of three vs. 15th ranked Mississippi State this past weekend, the Tide welcomes the undefeated (22-0) #5 Texas A&M Aggies to Birmingham this weekend followed by a road trip to #2 Florida before hosting #1 LSU the week after that. Current #3 Vanderbilt looms on the schedule as well.
The Aggies are one of those teams that do everything well, hitting .309 as a team with a .415 on base percentage and a SEC-best 21 home runs, while carrying a sparkling 1.66 team ERA on the mound. The team has seven regulars hitting over .300, led by Nick Banks with a .425 average. Mitchell Nau is next at .386, Ronnie Giddens checks in at .347 and Logan Taylor leads in home runs with five to go with a .333 average. Eight players have at least 14 RBIs, led by Hunter Melton with 18. A&M has slugged 39 doubles and three triples, is 15-22 in stolen base attempts, has drawn 114 walks, has been hit by pitches 29 times, and has struck out 116 times as a team.
The three starting pitchers for the Aggies are outstanding, striking out a combined 90 batters against only 15 walks. Junior right hander Grayson Long will start on Friday and is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA. Matt Kent, a junior lefty, will start on Saturday and is 5-0 with a 2.80 ERA. He will be followed on Sunday by Turner Larkins, who is 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA. As good as the starters are, the bullpen is even better with eight pitchers sporting a 0.00 ERA. A.J. Minter is 2-0 with four saves and a 0.43 ERA. Ty Schlottmann has appeared in 13 games and has a 0.66 ERA. The staff has pitched 200 innings and has walked only 50, while striking out 205 and allowing 162 hits. Opponents are hitting .220 against the Aggies.
Offensively the Tide has been led by Casey Hughston and Mikey White. Hughston is leading the SEC in batting average at .473, and leads the team with four home runs, 24 RBIs, 10 doubles, 35 hits, 61 total bases, a .824 slugging percentage and a .517 on base percentage. On top of that the sophomore from Mobile is 8-8 in stolen base attempts and has thrown out four runners on the base paths from his right field spot. White is close behind with a .420 average and leads the nation in triples with five. White also has eight doubles, two home runs, 21 RBIs, and has scored 23 runs, all the while playing shortstop spectacularly, committing only one error on the season.
J.C. Wilhite is next for the Tide, hitting .304 on the season.Riley Colburn has started the past seven games and is hitting .321. Kyle Overstreet checks in at .276 and is third on the team with 17 runs driven in. After a slow start, Chandler Avant has rebounded and has his average up to .261. Georgie Salem leads the team in stolen bases with 10, and his hitting .242.The junior from Vestavia surpassed his previous career high of nine steals, set in 2013. Salem has gone 83 straight games in center field with out making an error. The school record is 84 held by Jeremy Brown of Money Ball fame.
The Tide is hitting .288 as a team with 42 doubles, eight triples, and nine home runs. 'Bama has a .363 on base percentage and a .420 slugging percentage. Alabama is 29-37 in stolen base attempts, and has drawn 62 walks, has been hit by pitches 20 times and has struck out 139 times.
Pitching-wise the Tide is led by Friday starter, lefty senior Taylor Guilbeau, and the bullpen duo of junior right hander Ray Castillo and sophomore southpaw Thomas Burrows. Guilbeau has a 2-1 record with a 2.56 ERA and leads the team with 31 strikeouts. Castillo is 2-0 with two saves and a 1.53 ERA and in 17 innings has struck out 18 and walked five. Burrows leads the team with four saves and has an 0-2 record with a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings with 19 strikeouts and seven walks. Junior right hander Will Carter, 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA starts on Saturday, and Geoffrey Bramblett, sophomore righty from Hoover starts on Sunday and has a 3-1 record with a 3.90 ERA. Wilhite doubles as a relief pitcher and has a save and a 3.18 ERA. Mitch Greer has thrown well in his six appearances and has a 1.59 ERA. Jay Shaw is rounding into form after recovering from a concussion. Freshman Jake Walters started his first game Tuesday against Samford and threw a very good five innings, striking out nine, lowering his ERA to 1.86. Jake Hubbard strained his elbow last weekend and most likely will not be available for this series.
The team ERA is 3.91 in 168 innings pitched. The Tide has allowed 143 hits and has struck out 154 batters, while walking 90 and hitting 20 batters. Teams are hitting .238 against the 'Bama staff, which has only allowed two home runs all season.
Winning two of three from Mississippi State was a great start to the SEC slate, and was much needed given the murderous schedule the Tide will face the rest of the way. 'Bama will have to play clean games on defense and the base paths plus throw strikes on the mound to have an opportunity to be successful this weekend. Walking 12 batters in one game and eight in another, like the team did this past weekend, will come back to bite you more times than not. Hughston and White will need some help offensively from Salem, Overstreet, Vincent and Avant for the Tide to break the Aggies' long winning streak. When the line up is clicking on all cylinders the team can be dangerous. The starting pitchers need to go deep into the game to allow the back end of the bullpen to close the game out. Throwing strikes and limiting walks will be the key, keeping pitch counts down and allowing the starters to go longer.
Game one has a 7:00 p.m first pitch,
game two is Saturday at 3:00 pm (don't forget the RBR tailgate at 11 am) and the series will wrap up Sunday with a 1:00 p.m. game. All times are Central and all games will be available on SEC Network Plus.
<strong>[Ed. Note: Owing to weather, the Sunday tilt has been moved up to Saturday for a double-header. Game One will begin at 1:05 p.m. CDT, with Game Two starting forty minutes after the last out. As of 11:45 a.m. CDT, despite some rain in BHM, Friday night's game is still a go for 7:00 CDT.]</strong>
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