The remaining field in the 2015 SEC baseball tournament will shrink from four to two by the time today's games are completed.
The Vanderbilt Commodores will meet the Texas A&M Aggies in Saturday's first game, while the LSU Tigers and Florida Gators will clash to conclude the semifinals.
The four teams occupy the top four seeds in the conference, so neither game should provide a lopsided result.
Here's a look ahead to the action.
|SEC Tournament—Saturday Schedule|
|Game #||Matchup||Time (CT)||TV Info||Live Stream||Prediction|
|15||No. 2 Vanderbilt vs. No. 3 Texas A&M||12 p.m.||SEC Network||Watch ESPN||TAMU, 4-2|
|16||No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Florida||TBD||SEC Network||Watch ESPN||LSU, 5-1|
No. 2 Vanderbilt vs. No. 3 Texas A&M
The last time Vanderbilt and Texas A&M met, the Aggies pulled out a 6-1 victory on the strength of a complete game from starting pitcher Matt Kent. The A&M offense also got to Vandy starter Carson Fulmer early, dropping five runs on him through the first two innings.
Vanderbilt responded to that defeat well, run-ruling the Alabama Crimson Tide to the tune of a 16-1 win that was over after seven innings.
"We kept the momentum on our side most of the day," said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin, per Adam Sparks of the Tennessean. "The kids kept the gas pedal down."
Unfortunately for the Commodores, they can't take any of those runs with them today.
According to Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com, Aggies head coach Rob Childress tabbed Andrew Vinson to start today's game. It's an intriguing gambit since Vinson has pitched just 48.1 innings this year and hasn't started a single game.
The junior right-hander does boast a 1.12 earned run average and has struck out 48 batters. Opposing hitters are also batting a paltry .192 against him.
In its press release ahead of the game, Texas A&M noted that the longest Vinson has gone in a single outing is 4.2 innings. Childress is certainly thinking outside the box as he looks to give his team an advantage.
With Kent throwing a complete game Thursday, his bullpen should be fully fresh, though. Should Vinson get hammered early, Childress can pull the hook and not worry about whether his relievers can close things out.
Texas A&M's offense should also help give Vinson a nice cushion. The Aggies rank ninth in the country in team batting average (.309), eighth in slugging percentage (.475) and seventh in average home runs per game (1.16).
Unless Vinson completely unravels, the Aggies should get their second win over Vandy in less than a week.
Prediction: Texas A&M 4, Vanderbilt 2
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Florida
Few teams are better offensively than LSU. The Tigers are third in the country in batting average (.321), 10th in slugging (.470) and eighth in runs (414). They're also 10th in stolen bases (1.93 steals per game), which helps to compensate for the fact that LSU isn't a great home run-hitting squad.
If that offense was all LSU had, then the Tigers would still be a very good team. What makes them great is their overall balance.
Paul Mainieri's team is a respectable 15th in team ERA (2.96) and 10th in hits allowed per nine innings (7.68).
As if that all isn't intimidating enough for the Florida Gators, they'll be opposing Alex Lange, the freshman right-hander who won SEC Freshman of the Year. SEC Network provided some his stats:
What that tweet doesn't show is that Lange's 91 strikeouts came in just 81 innings, and opposing batters are hitting just .208 off him. In short, the Tigers couldn't ask for a better player to take the hill in such a critical game.
Ross Dellenger of the Advocate in Baton Rouge wrote that Lange starting now also benefits LSU down the line:
He's in line to pitch LSU's second game next Saturday in the Baton Rouge NCAA regional – presumably the winner's bracket final if LSU can win the first game against a No. 4 seed.
Mainieri suggested he'd "pitch off" against a No. 4 seed, saving Lange for that second game and Jared Poché, presumably, in Game 3, the regional title game.
"Lange for Game 2 assuming he throws well tomorrow," Mainieri said. "You'd like if you get to a winner bracket game and can pitch off in Game 1, (but), hey, I don't even know who we're playing!"
The Gators shouldn't be dismissed offhandedly. They're coming off a 10-0 drubbing of Arkansas, firmly getting their revenge after the Razorbacks beat them back on Wednesday.
Still, LSU is the better team from top to bottom, and that quality should shine through in the semifinals.
Prediction: LSU, 5, Florida 1
Note: Stats are courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.