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Mississippi State versus Kentucky Baseball Preview

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The Bulldogs welcome 8th ranked Kentucky to Dudy Noble Field for Super Bulldog Weekend.

Kelly Price: @HailStatePics

Game Times and Broadcast Info

Game 1

  • First Pitch: Friday, 6:00 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network +

Game 2

  • First Pitch: Saturday, 6:00 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 has been quite the roller coaster. The team entered conference play with a solid but not outstanding 12-6 record. After leaving Fayetteville, the Bulldogs were 0-3 in conference play, and after a loss to Southern Miss, the team was 12-10 entering their series with Tennessee.

That’s when the roller coaster went back up the track. The Bulldogs swept Tennessee, got a midweek victory, and then swept Ole Miss in Oxford for the first time since 2003. Everything is great right?

Well, the Bulldogs lost to Florida International Tuesday night. This is being written before Wednesday night’s game, so we don’t yet know how it went, but we do know the team suffered another pitching injury on Tuesday.

Graham Ashcraft had to leave the game early Tuesday due to a groin injury. It’s another setback in an area where the team can’t afford to have setbacks. Is this the start of another trip on a down slope on the track? We don’t yet know, but with 8th ranked Kentucky coming to town, it’s not encouraging.

2017 Kentucky Offensive Profile

  • Team Batting Average: .320 compared to Mississippi State’s .293
  • Extra Base Hits: 108 compared to Mississippi State’s 92
  • Home Runs: 27 compared to Mississippi State’s 29
  • Runs Scored: 235 (8.1 per game) compared to Mississippi State’s 184 (6.1 per game)
  • Slugging Percentage: .491 to Mississippi State’s .450
  • On Base Percentage: .426 to Mississippi State’s .365
  • Strike Outs: 169 (5.6 per game) to Mississippi State’s 257 (8.6 per game)
  • Stolen Bases: 41 on 55 attempts compared to Mississippi State’s 49 on 64 attempts

Kentucky has been an offensive juggernaut. The Wildcats lead the SEC in SEVEN major offensive categories. The one shining light for the Bulldogs is these numbers could be elevated by the park they play in. Cliff Hagan Stadium is tiny and very hitter friendly.

But their stadium doesn’t inflate their numbers so much that they turn a bad hitting team into a great hitting team. These guys can hit the ball. You just hope the offense is stifled enough away from their stadium that the Bulldogs will be able to keep up.

There are threats all up and down the lineup for the Wildcats. They have 11 players hitting over .300, and 7 of those players are regulars in their starting lineup. Kentucky’s .426 on base percentage is 24 points higher than the second highest team in the SEC, and their .491 slugging percentage is 34 points higher than Arkansas, which is the second highest. They’re constantly getting on base, and when they do, they put pressure on the opposing pitcher. Kentucky is third in the SEC in stolen bases.

Mississippi State has a good offense as well, but they enter the series with Kentucky in a little bit of a slump. The Bulldogs have only scored 14 runs in their past four games (this doesn’t include Wednesday’s game, I had to write this before it) which is about half what they’ve been averaging.

Mangum, Rooker, and Gridley continue to dominate the opposing pitching staffs. The good news is the rest of the lineup seems to have figured things out as well. They might not be hitting like those three, but they’re doing a nice job. If Mississippi State wants to keep up with Kentucky, they’ll need to be clicking on all cylinders this weekend.

2017 Kentucky Pitching Profile

  • Team ERA: 3.19 compared to Mississippi State’s 4.39
  • Batting Average Against: .222 compared to Mississippi State’s .245
  • Extra Base Hits Allowed: 72 compared to Mississippi State’s 58
  • Home Runs Allowed: 23 compared to Mississippi State’s 16
  • Strike Outs: 262 (9.03 per game) compared to Mississippi State’s 288 (9.6 per game)
  • Walks Allowed: 79 (2.72 per game) compared to Mississippi State’s 141 (4.7 per game)

Nick Mingione, former hitting coach for now AD John Cohen, must be making John Cohen proud. Why do I say this? Because he is taking a completely unorthodox approach to his pitching staff, and John Cohen is the master of unorthodox baseball moves.

Mingione does not pitch his ace on Friday night. He does not pitch his second pitcher on Friday night. He pitches his worst pitcher on Friday night. That would be Sean Hjelle, he of a 4.98 ERA and batting average against him of .263 That’s not very good.

But he has pitched well enough to win. He’s 4-1, and Mingione’s approach is simple. His first and second pitchers can match the opposition, but they won’t do it every single time. Hjelle can’t go pitch for pitch with just about any pitcher in this league. So instead of possibly wasting performances by his two top starters, why not throw his worst guy on Friday and hope the offense roughs up the other team’s ace. Then he has a pitching advantage on Saturday and Sunday.

With a 21-8 record overall and a 7-2 record n SEC play to start, it’s worked. Will it work this weekend? We’ll have to wait and see.

Mississippi State’s pitching continues to suffer injuries. The latest is the previously mentioned Ashcraft injury. I’m not sure how many more the team can handle.

Konnor Pilkington will continue to start on Friday. But if you want reason to be concerned, you can find a few. In SEC play, his ERA is 4.91. He’s suffered from big hits. 7 of the 15 hits he has surrendered have been for extra bases. He’s got to manage the big innings better. Going up against a talented Kentucky lineup, that’s easier said than done.

Who pitches on Saturday has suddenly become very unclear. Peyton Plumlee had been filling that role, but he only pitched a 13 of an inning against Ole Miss. Plumlee pitched 2.1 innings against Florida International and gave up four earned runs as well. In normal circumstances, he might be replaced in the rotation, but these aren’t normal circumstances with all the injuries on the team. So who knows if he sits.

Jake Mangum has been the Sunday starter for a few games in a row. I’d expect him to continue that role. But if the injuries continue to mount, the coaching staff might need him to start going deeper into ball games.

Weekend Prediction

Mississippi State is 3-9 in its last 12 games on Super Bulldog Weekend. The previous two have been sweeps. Looking closer at the results, I think Super Bulldog Weekend is cursed. If you want to know why, go to Bulldog Sports Radio and listen to the newest episode of It’s Always Sunny in Starkville to find out why.

I’ll go with Kentucky winning 2 of 3. I’ve predicted the same thing the last two SEC series and the Bulldogs have won both of them. Let’s see if I can keep that up.