Baseball Preview: #22 Alabama Returns Home For Tennessee Series
Alabama (13-7, 2-1 SEC) could not have asked for a better start to conference play as it grabbed a series win over LSU in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1996. The Tide scored 15 runs and had 31 hits across the three game series. Both were season highs for a three game series.
But Alabama did stumble in this week's non-conference matchup against UAB and were shutout, 8-0.
Inconsistency has been a trend for the Tide, and they cannot afford to let it continue as they return home for a series with rival Tennessee (13-7, 1-2 SEC).
The matchup with the Vols should be interesting as both teams boast strengths in different areas. Tennessee's strength is at the plate. The five Vol players that have started in all 20 games are all batting .299 or higher. Meanwhile, Alabama's pitching has carried it through the season and currently has the second best ERA (2.39) in the SEC. The Tide's probable starting lineup of RHP Geoffrey Bramblett, RHP Jake Walters, and RHP Nick Eicholtz will look to continue their success.
Bramblett leads the conference in ERA(0.85). He has only allowed three earned runs across 31.2 innings pitched. That consistency has allowed the Tide to jump ahead in almost every series it has played. Walters has come up big in tight situations with his ability to strike out batters. He has a team leading 34 strikeouts, which is 11 more than the next closest pitcher. Against LSU, Eicholtz allowed just three hits across 4.0 innings pitched in his first start since February 28. He still has not allowed an earned run.
The Tide's pitching has been excellent, but something has to give against the hot bats of Tennessee. Two of the most potent Vol hitters are Chris Hall and Nick Senzel. Hall is batting .380 and is tied for the team lead in hits (27). Senzel leads the team in RBIs (27) and has stolen a team-leading nine bases.
Tennessee's team batting average may be the headline, but the team's pitching hasn't been too shabby. Two of their probable starters are left handed pitchers, which may be an issue for a Tide lineup that has struggled. Friday's probable starter is LHP Zach Warren, Sunday's probable starter is LHP Andy Cox, and Saturday's probable starter has not been announced. Warren is the team's ace as he has four wins in five starts. He has a 1.55 ERA and 30 strikeouts on the year. Cox hasn't been nearly as successful. He has allowed 19 earned runs, which has led to a 7.33 ERA.
Tide fans saw what appeared to be a completely different lineup against LSU as the bats seemed to be unstoppable against the Tigers' best pitchers. However, Tuesday night's loss revealed an Alabama lineup that seemed all too familiar. If Alabama plans to compete in the SEC then it needs to show more consistency.
Alabama leads the all-time series over Tennessee 73-35. Friday's matchup will begin at 7:00 p.m. CT. Saturday's game is scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. CT. Right now, Sunday's game is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. CT, but the weather may force a doubleheader on Saturday.