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Mississippi State versus Tennessee Baseball Preview

The Bulldogs enter their three game series with the Volunteers in desperate need of wins.

Kelly Price: @HailStatePics

Game Times and Broadcast Info

Game 1

  • First Pitch: Friday, 6:30 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+

Game 2

  • First Pitch: Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+

Game 3

  • First Pitch: Sunday, 1:00 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+

The 2017 Mississippi State Baseball season continues to disappoint. The Bulldogs entered their SEC Opening Series against Arkansas at 12-6, but have since lost four straight after getting swept by Arkansas and losing Tuesday night to Southern Miss.

The early stages of the Andy Cannizaro have not been pretty. The team strikes out way too much, they can’t come up with big hits, and the pitching staff has been decimated with injuries. Could the Bulldogs get some relief from a visiting Tennessee team coming off getting swept in their SEC opener as well?

Tennessee enters the series with an RPI of 30 and a record of 12-5 overall and 0-3 in SEC play. They’ve played some good teams in the non conference portion of their schedule but nothing that really jumps out at you. When they went up against their best competition against South Carolina, they got handled pretty easily. Both teams are hoping to rebound this weekend.

2017 Tennessee Offensive Profile

  • Team Batting Average: .308 compared to Mississippi State’s .283
  • Extra Base Hits: 51 compared to Mississippi State’s 63
  • Home Runs: 15 compared to Mississippi State’s 21
  • Runs Scored: 111 (6.5 per game) compared to Mississippi State’s 136 (6.2 per game)
  • Slugging Percentage: .452 to Mississippi State’s .430
  • On Base Percentage: .401 to Mississippi State’s .365
  • Strike Outs: 120 (7.1 per game) to Mississippi State’s 184 (8.4 per game)
  • Stolen Bases: 21 on 30 attempts compared to Mississippi State’s 44 on 53 attempts

The Tennessee Vols have had a very solid season at the plate. They can hit for power, but most of the power is provided by three players. Jeff Moberg, Jordan Rogers, and Benito Santiago (son of the former Major League Baseball Catcher of the same name) have hit 11 of the team’s 15 home runs.

Two players in the lineup have averages above .400 and the rest of the lineup has been solid. There does not appear to be many holes the Bulldog pitching staff will be able to exploit. The good news is, once the Vols hit SEC pitching for the first time, they only scored 7 runs over three games.

The Bulldogs are starting to get a little more production from the bottom portion of the lineup. Most of the starting lineup is hitting above .200 finally, but the real problem for Mississippi State is there are only three players in the lineup who really scare you. Jake Mangum, Brent Rooker, and Ryan Gridley are all having nice years. Luke Alexander started off really hot, but has cooled off considerably in recent games. Hunter Stovall played well early, but injuries have hurt his production when he has actually played.

The Bulldogs have to get players on base in front of Brent Rooker, and the hitters behind him have to be a threat to do something or opposing pitchers won’t give him anything to hit. He leads the SEC in almost every offensive category. The year he has had has been beyond impressive. But if he isn’t protected in the lineup, it won’t be easy to keep that production up.

Strikeouts continue to plague the Bulldogs. Striking out nearly once an inning isn’t going to cut it. If you can’t put the bat on the ball, then you have no hope of being able to put pressure on the defense.

The biggest problem though, might be the Bulldogs inability to score against high level pitching. In the series against Oregon and Arkansas, Mississippi State only scored 16 runs in three games. A big part of that was strikeouts. The Bulldogs struck out an unbelievable 75 times in those 6 games.

2017 Tennessee Pitching Profile

  • Team ERA: 3.51 compared to Mississippi State’s 4.77
  • Batting Average Against: .237 compared to Mississippi State’s .246
  • Extra Base Hits Allowed: 40 compared to Mississippi State’s 42
  • Home Runs Allowed: 12 compared to Mississippi State’s 11
  • Strike Outs: 141 (8.3 per game) compared to Mississippi State’s 124 (9.7 per game)
  • Walks Allowed: 46 (2.7 per game) compared to Mississippi State’s 106 (4.8 per game)

Tennessee has gotten solid but not amazing pitching from its rotation. They are pretty set with their Friday and Saturday starters. Hunter Martin and Zach Warren have ERAs of 3.49 and 3.80 respectively, good numbers for both of them.

Martin is the ace and will match up against Konnor Pilkington on Friday. He’s struck out 36 in 28.1 innings in five starts with just five walks. He rarely gives up free passes, but teams hit a pretty decent .279 against him.

Warren has pitched well, but his tendency to walk hitters has kept him from going deep into games. He averages less than 5 innings pitched per start and teams only hit .198 against him. The problem is he has walked 11 batters in 23.2 innings. The Bulldogs need to be patient at the plate, but this would be in contradiction to what Andy Cannizaro preaches to his team.

Tennessee has yet to find a consistent starter for Sunday. Will Neely has gotten most of the starts, but he hasn’t performed very well. His ERA is 5.30 and has hit 5 batters and walked an additional 4 in 18.2 innings. His inability to keep runners off the bases has caused him to give up some big innings.

The strength of the team might be its bullpen. The pitchers they use regularly come in and keep runs off the board for the most part. The best case scenario is the Bulldogs get to all three starters really early and force the Vols to put more pressure on the bullpen than what they are accustomed to.

Konnor Pilkington will take the mound for the Bulldogs hoping for a little more run support. He could put together one of the most amazing seasons from a statistical standpoint and end up with a losing record. His ERA is 2.12 and has struck out 46 in 34 innings with just 8 walks. Hitters only hit .174 against him but his record is 2-3. Two of his best performances came against Oregon and Arkansas but Mississippi State only scored 3 runs in those games which caused Pilkington to get the loss in both of them.

How the rest of the pitching staff is handled the rest of the series is just a guess. Peyton Plumlee likely starts on Saturday, but he was hit hard against Arkansas. The coaching staff can’t afford to replace him due to all of the injuries. If he rebounds Saturday, it might not be an issue, but to not have any other options is concerning as a coach.

Sunday is an even bigger mess. Ashcraft has gotten some starts but not performed well in that role. He’s done well out of the bullpen, so expect him to stay in that role. Some thought Denver McQuary might start, but he started Tuesday night and was hammered by Southern Miss. Jake Mangum started last Sunday against Arkansas and threw three solid innings, but it seems like that is a bad plan going forward. I don’t know what happens on Sunday.

Weekend Prediction

Which team rebounds this weekend? Both teams need to bounce back and win this series, and both teams are going to be in possibly inescapable hole if they don’t Geting swept will virtually end either team’s season despite it being just 6 games into the SEC schedule.

If the Bulldogs want to win the series, I think they have to win Pilkington’s start. They don’t have enough healthy pitching to try and win both Saturday and Sunday. Even if they win Friday, there’s no guarantee they will.

I’m to the point with this baseball team that I’m not predicting them to win a series until they actually do it. I’ll give them one game, but I’m not confident enough in this team to think they can yet win a series.