In case you missed it, the Ole Miss baseball team blew a 4-0 lead against Southern Miss on Wednesday night, eventually losing 7-6 in a game that carried significance for the Rebs' chances of landing a national hosting site. Mike Bianco trotted out a whopping 10 pitchers to the mound in an attempt to stockpile arms while looking ahead to this weekend's home series against Arkansas. And in case you missed it, there are a lot of folks -- myself included -- that aren't happy with that.
Bianco came into the game with a plan to go through a parade of pitchers, indicating in the process that he did not consider the game to be important.*
For starters, let's dispel the notion that this was some meaningless midweek game. Admittedly, we as fans tend to over-invest in games, especially when they're against in-state rivals that we perceive to be of greater value than they actually are. Wednesday night's game was not important because it was against Southern Miss. It was important because it was against a team with an RPI of 67. The loss drops the Rebs from No. 4 to No. 7 in the RPI, which you would rather not do in the midst of a dog fight to be one of maybe three SEC teams that will earn a national seed.
With the importance of the game established, let's examine Bianco's treatment of pitchers. He started freshman Evan Anderson, who, outside of one walk, was spotless through two innings as Ole Miss built a 3-0 lead. Then he was pulled. Bianco cited a decline in velocity and inexperience pitching longer innings, which, even if true (Anderson had pitched 3, 3.2 and 3 innings in his previous three starts), goes to prove that Bianco never intended on leaving him in more than a few innings and reaffirms the notion that he was planning on a platoon approach.
Then came Jacob Waguespack, who gave up just one hit in the third before being yanked as well. What that indicates to me is that the ensuing procession of pitchers was not just the result of struggling arms, but a prearranged design.
Up 4-0, Austin Blunt came to the mound in the fourth, and that's when things turned to shit. Blunt, Preston Tarkington, Scott Ashford, Cheyne Bickel and Hawtin Buchanan combined to allow five runs off seven hits over the next three innings.
With the game suddenly tight, Bianco reached for the real stoppers, throwing Josh Laxer and Wyatt Short in the eighth and ninth. It was the usually reliable Short that gave up the losing run.
Here's Bianco after the game, via Hugh Kellenberger:
It's got to be the most pitchers I've ever thrown in a game, and just disappointing. Someone has to get them out besides the guys that pitched on the weekend all the time. We're a little limited today in the sense of the guys we can use, but the other guys are supposed to get them out too. ...
That's not to say that this game is not important. Their midweek guys pitched and got us out, our guys didn't.
Look, I understand the concept of saving arms for a big SEC series. But let's be honest, you're not going to throw Evan Anderson this weekend. Give him another inning or two before you yank him. If you don't think he can get you further than that, start someone who can (usual midweek starter Jeremy Massie was unavailable after throwing last Sunday in Lexington) or have a reliever behind him ready to eat up innings.
There's also the "well we need to get these guys experience heading into the postseason" argument. You've had an entire season to get guys experience. Furthermore, can you really call one inning "experience?" Do we really think any of the nine relievers benefited from that shit show last night? And even if they did, was it worth a three-spot drop in the RPI?
What happened on Wednesday was Bianco looked past Southern Miss, a team that had beaten us six out of the last seven meetings and who we needed to beat to hold our RPI steady. It's not as if this loss dropped us from the running for a national seed, but it sure as hell didn't help. You won't see us use a use a platoon against Arkansas this weekend. That's because Bianco knows those games are important. He should have known this one was as well.
Of course, we're not even having this conversation if several reliable relievers don't collapse on Wednesday night. But you know what they say: that's baseball.
* Before anybody jumps the gun, I'm in no way calling for Bianco's head or labeling this season a failure. This is an examination of one game and the factors surrounding its shit-iness.