The BatCats are in need of a big weekend against #7 South Carolina following a series of bad losses. Kentucky has dropped out of the top 25 and now sit on the bubble heading into the final three weeks of the season. Before anyone jumps overboard, let’s take it a game at a time and look into this weekend’s series against the best team in the SEC record-wise.
JaVon Shelby’s approach has improved
Shelby did not have a hit from April 10th until the 26th and went almost a month without a multi-hit game. Stats like that show it might be time for a new approach at the plate. Shelby looked to be loading up early and was swinging at bad breaking balls in the dirt. Something clicked last week for the junior third baseman. Shelby has seven hits in his last three games and four home runs in the last week. Those are huge numbers for a guy that saw his average drop to .205 during the Arkansas series. I still think the best swing he had all season was his second double of the game on Saturday. It was clean and moved well through the zone. Here are a couple clips:
— KYwildcatsTV (@KYwildcatsTV) May 1, 2016
— KYwildcatsTV (@KYwildcatsTV) May 3, 2016
Carolina’s Clarke Schmidt has been ridiculous on Friday nights
There are very few guys pitching on the level that Schmidt has been on in 2016. Schmidt has bumped his fastball up to 92-96 this season and has walked only ten batters. His 1.99 ERA is almost unheard of a someone in the SEC who has started 11 games. The improved command has Schmidt at 91 strikeouts in 77 innings and an 8-1 record headed into his final three regular season starts. There was a bad start in that amazing stretch. Schmidt allowed six runs against Vandy, but still managed to throw a complete game. The Dores jumped on him early and gave their starter some breathing room. UK will need to do just that if they want to win Friday night. Here’s a look at what Schmidt brings to the table.
That tape is early in the season, but here is some video from the rough start at Vanderbilt. He allowed Ro Coleman and Will Toffey to tag the fastball, but the tail of his slider is nice. It would be great to get some runners on and rattle him like Vanderbilt did last month.
What about Braden Webb?
The freshman starting pitcher is on his way to the SEC Freshman of the Year title if he pitches well for the final few weeks. Webb struck out 14 against Ole Miss and 11 in a win over Vanderbilt. This kid is scary good for a freshman in a weekend rotation. Adding in Adam Hill, South Carolina has a great roation that has a combined record of 23-3 this season. Each weekend starter is averaging more than nine strikeouts per nine innings and none have an ERA over 3.05. The Gamecocks also don’t walk a ton of guys, so UK will need to scratch and claw for baserunners this weekend.
Will Kentucky’s Pitching hold down Carolina’s tough lineup?
USC has a great lineup that includes John Jones, Alex Destino, Gene Cone, David Thompson-Williams, and Marcus Mooney. All those players are hitting over .300, including Cone who is at .379 with his 30-game hitting streak. It will be a tough matchup for Zack Brown, Dustin Beggs, and Kyle Cody. I don’t doubt that the UK rotation can shut down a good lineup, it’s just that last weekend’s performance is worrisome. Beggs wasn’t sharp and the bullpen allowed their share of runs as well. This would be a great weekend for Brown to get that bulldog-style start where he just balls out. There needs to be some intensity on the mound at this point in the season and ZB can bring that mentality. The one thing to watch is that short wall at Cliff Hagan Stadium. USC has some guys who can crush the ball, and that wall is only 320 from home. UK’s starters have allowed 58 extra base hits on the weekends. With as many solid hitters as Carolina has, all three guys will need to be sharp for UK.
What does this series mean?
For South Carolina, a big series win would help them to wrap up the one seed at the SEC Tournament and help them to get a top eight seed in the NCAA. For Kentucky, it could mean a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The BatCats need to win two of their final three series and all their midweeks to feel good about making the postseason. A really big series for UK could help them to get a bye in the SEC Tournament. A lot has to happen for that to happen, but UK has a habit of playing to the level of their competition. I’m sure UK fans wouldn’t mind the BatCats playing at the level that Carolina has been at this season.
Dates, probable pitchers, times
Friday (Schmidt vs Brown) SECN+ 6:30
Saturday (Webb vs Beggs) SECN+ 6:30
Sunday (Hill vs Cody) ESPNU 3:00