Florida Baseball: Gators clinging to top eight hopes with Vanderbilt in town
It is almost inconceivable that Florida baseball won’t be a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament and be in line to host a potential Super Regional if they make it out of Regionals. The Gators, sitting at 37-12, have the second-most wins in the country and the seventh-fewest losses.
But with the margins being so tight and the field to get a top-eight bid getting ever more crowded, this weekend’s series against Vanderbilt could either lock the Gators in or turn into a nightmare scenario.
Florida Baseball: The one sport Vanderbilt is good at
The Commodores come to Gainesville ranked fifth in the country by D1Baseball.Com with an overall record of 35-13, and 17-7 in SEC play. They are coming off a series loss to Alabama last weekend.
Florida, meanwhile, is coming off a series loss to Texas A&M, and it has the Gators in an uncomfortable position while trying to lock down a Super Regional hosting opportunity. Florida baseball was dropped to seventh in the polls. They are also 10th in RPI.
Most “bracketology” sites have Florida pegged as a seventh or eighth seed nationally, but a repeat performance from what happened against South Carolina could drop the Gators out of the top eight.
The lineup for Vanderbilt isn’t super scary from top to bottom. RJ Schreck is the main threat, batting .349 with 13 home runs. But beyond that, the Commodores have just two other players, Chris Maldonado and Enrique Bradfield, that are hitting over .300. As a result, Vanderbilt ranks just 148th nationally in team batting average.
With a team ERA of 4.03, ranking 16th nationally, the strength of Vanderbilt comes from its pitching. Devin Futrell has an ERA of 2.42, the 18th best in the country, while Hunter Owen and Carter Holton both average over a strikeout per inning with ERAs of 3.16 and 4.11, respectively.
This series will be a battle between Gator hitting vs Commodore pitching, and it is not out of the realm of possibility for Florida to not top-five runs in any of the three games. That makes the key for Florida the same as its been all season, throw strikes.
During their 15-2 meltdown loss to Texas A&M, Gator pitching gave up ten walks and hit a guy. During the 3-2 loss, Jac Caglianone only made it 3.2 innings in part because he gave up three walks, forcing Florida into its bullpen early. The game eventually ended on a walk-off balk.
If Gator pitching can hold, it might only take one or two big swings for Florida to get over the hump.
A series win and Florida can feel at ease when the seedings come out.
But a series letdown will make for some uncomfortable moments.