There are two ways to view Ole Miss' series loss in Starkville over the weekend, and which one you default to depends on your general outlook on life.
From the optimist's perspective, the Rebs avoided a damning sweep with Sunday's redemptive 8-5 win, salvaging some momentum that'll be channeled into the upcoming home series against Arkansas. Sure, they started SEC play 3-6 and the team batting average ranks 11th in the conference, but over the last two weekends they've had to face three of the SEC's top five pitchers in terms of ERA.
The pessimist (or realist, really), will point out that State just can't pitch worth a damn on Sundays: Clanga has had two starters average just 1.2 innings per outing in its three SEC Game 3s, all of which have been losses. Regardless, Ole Miss, after jumping out to a 20-2 start, has lost five of its last six games. Sure, the competition has been tough, but such is life in the SEC West. Nine of the Rebs' remaining 15 division games are against teams that came into the weekend ranked.
Friday: Mississippi State 3, Ole Miss 1 (box score)
Saturday: Mississippi 6, Ole Miss 2 (box score)
Sunday: Ole Miss 8, Mississippi State 5 (box score)
3 big takeaways
1. Ole Miss pitchers aren't matching their opponents in duration.
Volume-throwing Brady Bramlett got pulled one out into the sixth on Friday; Chad Smith, who hasn't made it more than five innings in his last five starts, got yanked in the second after giving up four runs on Saturday; Sean Johnson's Tommy John-related fatigue issues limited him to three frames on Sunday.
Meanwhile, State didn't have to touch its bullpen until the third game. An impotent Rebel lineup allowed Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton to throw complete games on Friday and Saturday, respectively, the latter marking the third time an SEC opponent has gone at least eight innings against Ole Miss. The order just sat with bats on shoulders while Hudson and Sexton mowed it down, combining for 19 strikeouts without walking a single batter.
But State doesn't have a third starter or much in the way of relievers, so they abruptly ran out of pitching on Sunday (Daniel Brown went just one inning). Had Ole Miss gotten into the bullpen on Friday or Saturday, its a lot more likely they could have come back in later innings.
The combination of an ineffective offense and short-lived starting pitching is a problem moving forward. Through nine SEC games, Rebel starters are averaging 4.0 innings per outing, while opponents are averaging 5.2. True, the Rebs' deep bullpen makes them better suited to pull a starter early, but its not a sustainable practice, particularly once tournament play gets here.
2. Errol Robinson is lost at the plate.
It's a bit unfair to single out any one hitter among an order that's batting .239 in SEC play, but Errol's struggles are accentuated by lofty expectations. The preseason All-American is hitting .208 overall and, wait for it... .135 against SEC pitchers. He went 0-of-8 in the first two games against State before slapping out a couple of hits on Sunday.
In a frankly overdue move, Bianco dropped Robinson near the bottom of the order in Games 2 and 3. If it weren't for his defense and the fact that backup shortstop Ryan Olenek is only hitting .200 in SEC play, I'd argue that Errol should spend a few games regrouping on the bench.
Oh, by the way, seven of the 11 Ole Miss players with at least 10 at-bats are hitting at or below the Mendoza Line in conference.
3. Cameron Dishon made a cool catch on Sunday, so there's that.
Yo @SportsCenter ... Cameron Dishon with the Superman pic.twitter.com/uXtnFGBIYc— Jeff Gray (@Jeff_GraySBN) April 3, 2016
Around the SEC
The silver lining from the weekend is that most of the West teams tripped up, which means the Rebs are still only two games out of second place.
- No. 2 Florida swept No. 1 Texas A&M
- No. 3 Vandy took two of three from No. 5 South Carolina
- No. 15 LSU took two of three from Auburn
- Mizzou took two of three from No. 18 Arkansas
- Georgia took two of three from Bama
- Kentucky took two of three from Tennessee
Tuesday: vs. Southern Miss in Pearl
Friday-Sunday: vs. Arkansas in Oxford