Baseball Preview: Alabama Looks For Confidence in Lexington
Alabama (18-11, 5-4 SEC) completed a doubleheader sweep over Alcorn State on Tuesday night. The wins over the outmatched opponent may seem unimportant, but they should prove to be a confidence booster for a team that struggled on the road last weekend against Georgia.
The Crimson Tide will be on the road once again this weekend as they travel to Lexington to take on a tough Kentucky team. The Wildcats (20-8, 6-3 SEC) have series wins in each of their SEC meetings this season, which includes Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida.
All of Kentucky's SEC losses have come on Friday nights. This is good news for the Tide seeing that Friday night starter Geoffrey Bramblett has proven to be one of the best pitchers in the SEC. Bramblett has not lost a game this season, and he boasts a team best 2.14 ERA. Meanwhile, RHP Zack Brown, the Wildcats' Friday night starter, has a 1-5 record and a 7.12 ERA.
This is not to say that Alabama has a guaranteed win on Friday. It just means that they have an excellent opportunity to jump out to an early lead in the series.
Alabama's probable starters for the rest of the weekend will likely be RHP Jake Walters and RHP Nick Eicholtz. Walters is among SEC leaders in both ERA (2.54) and strikeouts (46), but those numbers seem to be overshadowed by his 2-3 record. However, it is easy to attribute most of his losses to a lack of run support.
Eicholtz had his first rough outing of the season last weekend in Athens when he allowed six earned runs on nine hits across just 3.0 innings of work. Eicholtz has still proven to be one of the Tide's most consistent pitchers and that probably won't change anytime in the near future.
Rounding out starting lineup on Saturday and Sunday are RHP Dustin Beggs and RHP Kyle Cody. Beggs has an SEC-leading seven wins on the year. His 2.74 ERA and 43 strikeouts lead the team. Cody's win column (3-1) and ERA (5.66) are not as impressive as Beggs, but Cody has gotten the job done against some of the country's best baseball teams.
The difference maker in this series for Alabama is, and will continue to be, hitting. The Tide's struggles at the plate have weighed down an excellent pitching staff. One could argue that they would have at least two more wins on the year had they provided just a little run support.
Alabama will need to rely heavily on hot bats and, as of right now, no bat is hotter than the one shortstop Chandler Avant is swinging. The sophomore was benched in favor of Daniel Cucjen in last weekend's series with Georgia, but Avant went 6-for-9 with three RBIs and four runs scored in Tuesday's doubleheader. Granted, Avant was not seeing the same level of pitching that he will face down the road, but any solid day at the plate is a sign of positivity for this team.
Kentucky's team batting average of .298 is not much better than Alabama. The difference being that the Wildcats have two playmakers in their lineup that could make all the difference in this series. Left fielder Zach Reks, designated hitter Gunnar McNeill, and first baseman Evan White all rank in the top 15 of the SEC in terms of batting average.
The Tide's plate presence has been a glaring issue since the season began, but it is also worth noting that the team's .968 fielding percentage ranks among the worst in the SEC. However, Kentucky also boasts the same fielding percentage.
Alabama leads the all-time series over Kentucky, 58-38. Friday's first pitch will be at 5:30 p.m. CT. Saturday's game is slated for a 1:00 p.m. CT start, and Sunday's matchup will be at 12:00 p.m. CT.