Struggles continued for the Diamond Dogs in a midweek series against Western Kentucky on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It looked as if another blown lead would cost the team again in a tight contest on Tuesday, but the heroics of John Holland led the Bulldogs to a walk-off win in the 10th inning.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks in part to a Reid Humphreys homerun, but quickly saw it fade away in the 8th and 9th innings. Western Kentucky trailed 4-3 before its last at bat but took the lead after two solo dingers.
Seth Heck reached on a base hit to start the bottom of the 9th before coming in to score on a wild pitch. The Bulldogs then took advantage of a one-out walk in the 10th when John Holland brought in the winning run with a single to center field.
In the Wednesday contest, the good fortune finally ran out. Freshman Paxton Stover failed to record a single out before being yanked in the first inning. The Hilltoppers gained an early 1-0 lead on an infield fielders choice to Wes Rea.
The Dogs tied the game in the bottom half of the third when Rea dropped a single in right field to score Cody Brown. It would be the last run of the night for the maroon and white. Western Kentucky added runs in the 6th and 8th innings to complete the win.
It was the fourth loss in the last six games for MSU, who is reeling before the SEC opener against Alabama.
There's not just one problem that can be singled out as the issue. Poor hitting, pitching, and untimely errors have all plagued John Cohen's team in this recent slump.
The biggest concerns have to be hitting with runners in scoring position, which has been almost non-existent, and the back end of the bullpen, which was supposed to be the strength of the staff before the season.
A total of 37 runners were stranded on the base paths in the four losses, something that they can't afford to have happen against better competition. After a red-hot start to the season offensively, the bats have cooled off big time. The team had seven or less hits in three of the four losses.
Some lineup changes may be imminent if things don't turn around soon. Reid Humphreys will struggle to keep a place in the lineup hitting .214. He has struggled hitting off-speed pitches and that's against average competition. SEC pitchers will over match him if he doesn't change his approach.
Cohen will not want to play three left-handed hitters in the outfield, but that may be the best option. Jacob Robson, Jake Vickerson, and Cody Brown have all been the most consistent. Once Michael Smith makes up for lost time and reaches 100 percent, he will vie for a spot in the outfield as well.
You need your best players on the field against the SEC. As much as this team needed a power bat like Humphreys' in the lineup, it just hasn't come together for whatever reason.
John Holland was a liability offensively for much of the season as well, but he is starting to pick things up. They need him to keep progressing. Ryan Gridley can always move over and play second base, but that wouldn't solve the problem. Spruill or Britton would have to play third, neither of which stand out at the plate over Holland.
Holland is an elite middle infielder and forms a solid tandem with Seth Heck. If he can hit just .280 to .290 in league play, they will certainly be benefitting by having him in the lineup.
MSU should be fine offensively. While they are in a slump and showing flashes of last season, I don't think it's something that will last. If Cohen makes the right moves and plays the best players, the team that started off 13-0 might just show back up.
For that to happen, it will take more than run production. Butch Thompson will have to solve the bullpen problem that has reared its ugly head.
He knows what he's getting out of his starters. Preston Brown, Austin Sexton, and Vance Tatum have done all you can ask for. They have all been pleasant surprises for Thompson.
But when it comes to the bullpen, things have been more or less disappointing as of late. Leads of four runs or more were blown against Sand Diego and Western Kentucky. Opposing teams scored the go ahead run in the 8th inning or later in three of the four losses. That hasn't been Mississippi State baseball's reputation under John Cohen. It's been the opposite. They just don't blow leads late in games.
What has been the most surprising is that veterans like Ross Mitchell have struggled. For the bullpen as a whole, it has been a combination of walks, pass balls, untimely hits, and just bad luck at times.
Players like Trent Waddell, Dakota Hudson, and Zac Houston are still relatively inexperienced, and they will struggle at times. Ross Mitchell, Daniel Brown, and Trevor Fitts will have to carry the team on their back until those young guys get more experience.
The starters going five to six innings every game always helps. If they can keep that up during the SEC season, and Ross Mitchell can pitch multiple times in a weekend, those young guys won't be forced to log too many innings.
This season has resembled 2013 in every way. A hot start followed by a slump before league play. The chances for a regional host have took a hit in the past week, but will ultimately be determined by the rest of the year. The Diamond Dogs have to finish near the top of the SEC if they want to host. It all starts this weekend when Alabama comes to town. Assuming the rain stays away, it should be a fun series.