Alabama will host Vanderbilt at the Hoover Met to conclude the regular season on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Commodore won the NCAA Championship last year and are currently ranked 7th in the country. The Tide is riding a six-game winning streak and has a 29-24 record (11-16 in the SEC.) Vandy is 37-16 overall and 18-9 in league play.
As indicative of their record and ranking, Vanderbilt does everything well: batting .294 (4th in the league), 3.01 ERA (2nd in the league,) and fields at a .975 clip (5th in the league.) The 'Dores have a league-leading 112 doubles to go with 20 triples and 48 home runs (tied for 2nd in the SEC,) in addition to being second in stolen bases with 82 out of 113 attempts.The one weakness of the 'Dores is that their batters have struck out more times (453) than any team in the SEC. That is offset by the fact that Vandy pitchers have struck out the most batters in the SEC, with 522 and have given up the second fewest hits (386) in the league.
Vanderbilt boasts six players hitting above .300 on the season, led by Dansby Swanson at .346 with 17 doubles, nine home runs, 47 RBIs and 12 stole bases. He leads the team with 34 walks and 59 runs scored. Zander Weil checks in at .330 and adds 14 doubles, 11 home runs, 11 stolen bases, and leads the team with 49 runs driven in. Rhett Wiseman is hitting .311, leads the team with 12 home runs, has driven in 36 and stolen nine bases. Will Toffey has a .306 average, with 13 doubles and seven stolen bases. Bryan Reynolds batting average is .305, and he has 38 RBIs, to go with 13 stolen bases. The last member of the .300 club is Jeren Kendall at .303, to go with a team-leading 14 stolen bases.
The Vanderbilt pitching staff starts with their next-in-line first round draft pick, Carson Fulmer. Fulmer has a sparkling 10-1 record with 1.56 ERA in 86.2 innings, allowing only 59 hits with 33 walks and 118 strikeouts, while letting opponents hit only .192 on the year. The junior right-hander has tossed two shutouts and leads the SEC in wins, strikeouts and ERA. He is in line to win the prestigious triple crown of pitching.
Another junior right-hander, Walker Buehler, is another highly-regarded prospect and carries a 3-1 record and a 3.14 ERA in 63 innings of work. John Kilichowski has a 2-3 record and a 3.14 ERA in 53.2 innings. Philip Pheifer will start on Friday and has a 3-4 record and 4.35 ERA in 60 innings. Kyle Wright has thrown 42 innings and has only allowed 28 hits and has struck out 44 with a 1.29 ERA and a 4-1 record. Ryan Johnson has tossed 47 innings and has a 5-0 won-loss record and a 1.91 ERA. Ben Bowden is 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA and two saves in 29 innings with 35 strikeouts. Jordan Sheffield has pitched 48.2 innings and has a 4-2 record and 42 strikeouts. In other words, the Commodores just keep coming at your with wave after wave of big, hard throwing arms out of the bull pen.
Alabama is hitting .283 as a team, good for seventh in the SEC, and is tied for third in the conference with 99 doubles. The Tide also has 20 triples and 26 home runs with 58 stolen bases in 78 attempts. 'Bama has the third most strikeouts (417) in the league, and has walked only 176 times (the third fewest in the league.) The Tide is 9th in the league in ERA at 4.04 in 479 innings pitched. 'Bama has struck out 428 batters, fifth in the SEC, and has walked 228 - the second most allowed by any staff in the SEC.
Offensively 'Bama is led by junior shortstop Mikey White, who is hitting .344 with a team leading 67 hits, 18 doubles, six triples, 43 runs, .559 slugging percentage, .447 on base percentage and is tied for the lead in total bases with 109. In addition, the Spain Park graduate adds four home runs, 33 RBIs and eight stolen bases. Sophomore right fielder Casey Hughston is second in average at .340, land leads the team in hits (71,) RBIs (41,) and is tied with White for the total base lead (109.) The Baker High (Mobile) graduate also has 12 doubles, six home runs, four triples with a .522 slugging percentage, a .397 on base percentage and 11 stolen bases. The strong-armed outfielder has also thrown out five runners on the bases this season.
J.C. Wilhite is the only other regular above .300 at .311 with two home runs and 20 runs driven in. Kyle Overstreet is hitting .290 and is second on the team with 35 RBIs and has 12 doubles. Two freshman, Chandler Avant and Cody Henry are hitting .290 and .286, respectively. Avant has added 10 stolen bases, while Henry has 11 doubles and two triples. After a slow start, hitting just .218 after 27 games, Georgie Salem has gone on a tear (39-117, .333) to raise his average to .280 with 11 doubles, four triples, three home runs and a team leading 17 stolen bases. Will Haynie, although on the verge of breaking the school record for strikeouts in a season, and hitting only .201, leads the team with seven home runs and has driven in 27. The sophomore catcher hit two key home runs at Auburn this past weekend, both of the tape measure variety.
Junior left-hander Taylor Guilbeau has thrown 79.2 innings for the Tide and has a 2-5 record with a 3.73 ERA and leads the team with 72 strikeouts. Guilbeau will match up with Fulmer on Thursday night. Freshman righty Jake Walters will pitch against Pheifer on Friday and has the team's best ERA at 2.17 with a 4-3 won lost record in 49.2 innings with 55 strikeouts. Geoffrey Bramblett leads the team in wins with his 7-3 record and 4.18 ERA, and is tied with Guilbeau for the most innings pitched (79.2.) Ray Castillo has relieved in 21 games and has a 3-0 record with a 2.89 ERA in 43.2 innings, with 39 strikeouts and has notched four saves. Thomas Burrows has the most appearances on the team with 24, and leads the team with five saves, with a 1-3 record and a 3.55 ERA in 33 innings with 34 strikeouts. Mitch Greer has pitched in 17 games and has a 1-1 record and a 3.98 ERA in 20.1 innings. Jay Shaw has appeared in 16 games and has a 2-0 record with a 4.30 ERA in 23 innings, with 21 strikeouts.
Wilhite has also seen action 10 times out of the bull pen and has a 0-1 record with two saves and a 3.95 ERA. Will Carter, who began the season as the Saturday starter before being replaced by Walters, pitched for the first time in over two weeks on Tuesday, and had his best outing as a Tider, earning the win against Mercer with five outstanding relief innings. The junior right hander has a 3-5 record and a 4.92 ERA in 56.2 innings. Nick Eicholtz, Jake Hubbard and Alex Watkins could all be used in the weekend series. Bramblett is typically the teams third starter, but for now the Saturday slot is listed as TBD, depending on what transpires in the first two games. If the Tide were to win on Thursday and Friday, there is a good chance Bramblett would be held out to start the first game of the SEC tournament on Tuesday. If that is the case someone like seldom-used Tyler McMurray could conceivably get the nod on the hill on Saturday.
Currently the Tide sits in the 11th spot in the SEC, ahead of Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi State, and holds the tie-breaker over both sets of Bulldogs, by virtue of winning the series against each earlier in the season. 'Bama and the Vols did not play each other this season. MSU and UT play each other this weekend, while UGA plays Arkansas. If Georgia sweeps Arkansas and the Tide gets swept the 'Dogs would pass the Tide, while if MSU and UT both sweep they would be tied with the Tide, if 'Bama were to be swept. Basically, win one game and Alabama is in the tournament without any question, and if Tennessee loses even one game, they cannot catch the Tide.
After a long frustrating season, 'Bama is playing their best baseball of the season down the stretch, but will truly be tested this weekend against a top notch, quality opponent. If the Tide plays as well in all aspects of the game like they did in their sweep of Auburn, they will have a chance. The team will need to continue to have productive at-bats and strike out less. 'Bama has had several key two out hits over the six game winning streak that they were not getting earlier in the season. However the arms for the Commodores are elite, with several set to be high draft picks in the MLB draft, so the task will be tough, but can be done.
The Thursday and Friday games will start at 7:00 p.m and will be available on line with SEC Network Plus. Saturday the game will begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. All times are CDT.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it!
Follow @rogerpatmyers on twitter for live, in game updates