Two weekends ago, the Volunteers were losers of three-straight Southeastern Conference series and sitting with a 5-10 record in league play. Today, Tennessee sports a seven-game win-streak and have swept two league opponents back-to-back.
What did we learn about the Vols while sweeping Mississippi State? Let’s take a swing at the weekly 3-2-1, featuring three observations, two questions and one thought for the week ahead.
The offense wasn’t the issue for Mississippi State
Tennessee was able to overcome two very different obstacles to win game one and game two. The Vols blew a six-run lead on Thursday before walking off in the bottom of the ninth inning. Tennessee overcame a five-run deficit on Friday to capture the series. In both of those games, Mississippi State’s offense was not the problem. Rather, it was one of the weakest pitching staffs in the league that gave the games away.
We knew Hunter Hines had a lot of power and he showcased that accordingly with three home runs in the series. Colton Ledbetter launched two long balls in the series and Dakota Jordan drove in five runs over the weekend. The Bulldogs in total tallied seven home runs and combined for 23 hits in the series, jumping out to an early lead in all three games.
The Vols responded quickly in each game, however, hammering Mississippi State’s starting pitching to the tune of 14 runs over a combined 9.2 innings in the three starts. Give credit where credit is due – the Vols took what was given to them.
New-look top of the order getting it done
For the longest time, Christian Moore hitting second and Blake Burke third just made sense. I think those two guys are perfect for those slots in the order. However, maybe not for this team. You’ve got other guys capable (now) of hitting towards the top of the order, allowing more base runners for the aforementioned pair to drive in runs at cleanup and fifth in the order.
Christian Moore came alive this weekend, totaling hits and six RBI, three home runs and five runs scored. Burke played well this weekend, too – especially with a three-hit, three-RBI effort on Friday in the cleanup slot. The heart of the order looks good right now and so do the top three of Maui Ahuna, Hunter Ensley and Jared Dickey.
That trio combined for 14 hits over the weekend and eight RBI, hitting first, second and third. Jared Dickey, who is capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup, homered twice over the weekend and drove in three runs. This is the second weekend we’ve seen this order and the results have spoken for themselves.
There’s a reason Christian Scott is playing right now
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten the past few weeks is why Tennessee continues to play Christian Scott when Dylan Drieling, Griffin Merritt (now) and a healthy Kavares Tears need at-bats. That’s a fair question to ask, especially when Scott is giving you little at the plate. But that’s not the case right now as he’s easily your best glove in the outfield and he’s quietly one of your better bats the past few weeks.
Scott drove in two runs on a single to left on Thursday, doubled and scored two runs on Friday and launched one of the three, three-run homers in the series-finale on Saturday. All this at the bottom of the order. He also made at least two ‘elite’ catches in right field over the weekend. With the above average glove and the hits coming at the plate right now, Scott is giving some pop to the bottom of the order and allowing some quality pinch-hitters to come in later in ballgames to help when needed. Also, don’t look now but he’s hitting .295 on the year and .277 in SEC play.
What’s up with Kavares Tears?
It’s a shame the season that’s unfolding for the Tennessee outfielder. He’s begun getting every day at-bats in conference play, but two injuries have slowed him down along the way. First, it was a hamstring injury and now it’s an oblique suffered last week.
“He has been doing whatever he’s got to do rehab wise. It is kind of like a hamstring injury where you don’t want to go two steps forward and one step back,” Tony Vitello said after game two. “Better to be cautious and he is making progress. I think it will be fun to add him into the mix late in the year, but I don’t think it will be any time over the next two games that he would play for us.”
Sounds like he’s still a little way off. I’ll continue to ask around as the week goes on and we get closer to the Georgia series, but for the meantime, at least you have Drieling and Merritt who are hitting it well. Both guys are capable of being the designated hitter or coming off the bench of a key pinch hit late in ballgames.
Is Tennessee in a position now to….host?
Are we really talking about the chances of hosting a regional right now? The world was falling two weeks ago, but with as many games as you play in conference – it can all change in a hurry. That’s what is happening right now as Tennessee has swept in back-to-back series, moving above .500 in league play (11-10) for the first time this year. There’s still work to be done, but yes, it’s attainable.
Coming up, Tennessee is on the road at Georgia before coming back home against Kentucky. The Vols finish the regular season at South Carolina. That’s nine more conference games and you’re at 11 wins right now. Getting to 16-14 in conference play with a top-30 RPI will probably get the job done. Especially if you have a decent showing in Hoover for the conference tournament. According to D1 Baseball, Tennessee is currently ranked 23rd in RPI. Can the Vols get five more wins in nine games? We will see.
As far as the just making the NCAA Tournament field of play, Tennessee needs 14 wins to feel good. That’s putting you at nine more games to pick up three additional conference wins.
One Cainer Thought for the week ahead
Georgia is a bit of a mystery here of late. The overall record (24-20) isn’t worrisome, nor is the SEC record (8-13), but the Bulldogs swept Arkansas two weekends ago at home and are 5-4 in conference games at Foley Field. They are also 15-10 at home this season, which is far from automatic. But Tennessee is just 1-9 on the road this season in true road games. Can the Vols finally win some games on the road and show they are capable of playing good baseball away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium? Hosting a regional is obviously no guarantee, so proving once again to themselves they are different now than a few weeks ago is a must for this weekend.
Outfielders Charlie Condon (4.10, 19 HR, 57 RBI) and Connor Tate (.373, 13 HR, 46 RBI), along with first baseman Parks Harber (.285, 15 HR, 48 RBI) won’t be easy outs at the top of the Georgia lineup. But once again, there’s opportunities to get after the arms with Kolten Smith (2-1, 4.91 ERA), Charlie Goldstein (3-1, 4.50 ERA) and Liam Sullivan (4-2, 4.73 ERA) as the Georgia starting trio.
Prove you’re different. Continue helping yourself out. Go win on the road.
The post The Baseball 3-2-1: Tennessee is doing what it needs to appeared first on On3.