After taking another L in Pearl against Southern Miss, the Ole Miss Rebels (16-17, 5-7 SEC) will now travel to Nashville to see if they can upset another No. 1 ranked team, the Vanderbilt Commodores (27-7, 10-2 SEC), in a weekend series starting tonight.
Last weekend's home series loss to Tennessee really hurt the Rebels' postseason chances in the eyes of the bros at D1Baseball as they released their midseason NCAA Tournament projections Thursday morning. As you can see, the Rebels are no longer projected to make a regional despite having a top 50 RPI. This is where these midweek losses are starting to add up.
The next couple weeks is an important stretch for Mike Bianco's club as they will face Vandy, UT-Martin, Auburn, Central Arkansas, Memphis and Alabama. Other than Vanderbilt, you could say when Ole Miss plays their best brand of baseball, those are all winnable series/games. Best case scenario, you swipe one from the Dores this weekend and six more before facing Mississippi State in the Governor's Cup on April 28th. That would put their record at 24-21 and 10-12 in the SEC.
Then, if the Diamondbearz can win seven more to close the season, you could be looking at a 31-25 (15-15 SEC) record and a very nice position to be in heading to Hoover for the SEC Tournament. Now, with that being said, I'm counting on series wins at Auburn, at Alabama, at Missouri and against Mississippi State. Tall order? Yes, especially the way the Rebels have been playing. Impossible, not at all.
Starting tonight, the Rebs will take on one of the more complete ball clubs in America. The Dores pitch it (3.02 team ERA), hit it (.309 team batting average) and field it (.972 team fielding percentage) as well as any one in the country. Tim Corbin's club will be led offensively by the All-American and shortstop Dansby "best Vanderbilt name of all-time" Swanson (.372, 5 HR, 30 RBI), Zander Wiel (.355, 6 HR, 36 RBI), Bryan Reynolds (.352, 2 HR, 28 RBI) and Rhett Wiseman (.345, 6 HR, 34 RBI).
Vandy will look to drive the ball the opposite way and will utilize Corbin's well-known brand of small ball baseball and will bunt, hit and run and sometimes triple steal in order to make you make mistakes and generate offense. The Dores are second in the conference in on base percentage (.405), stolen bases (56), walks (168), hits (368) and triples (16). In their 34 games this season, Vandy has had runners on base in 78.5% of the innings they've been at the plate. They've scored 48.5% of that time. Yeah, it might be a long weekend.
On the mound, what can you say? Vanderbilt is damn good. Their ace, Carson Fulmer, leads the conference in strikeouts (67), their second starter, Walker Buehler, averages 9 K a start, their third starter, Jordan Sheffield, is first in the SEC in opponent's batting average (.160) and their top reliever, Philip Pfeifer, has 45 Ks in 36.1 innings pitched. Did I mention they were really damn good?
How to watch
When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m. CT
Ole Miss: LHP Christian Trent (5-2, 3.83 ERA, 35 K, 10 BB)
Vanderbilt: RHP Carson Fulmer (5-1, 2.25 ERA, 67 K, 33 BB)
When: Friday, 6:30 p.m. CT
Ole Miss: RHP Brady Bramlett (4-2, 2.17 ERA, 53 K, 10 BB)
Vanderbilt: RHP Walker Buehler (3-0, 2.76 ERA, 28 K, 8 BB)
When: Saturday, 2:00 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Ole Miss: RHP Will Stokes (0-3, 5.40 ERA, 14 K, 7 BB)
Vanderbilt: RHP Jordan Sheffield (3-0, 2.66 ERA, 34 K, 31 BB)