It was only a matter of time, right?
Ole Miss baseball has finally cooled off a bit and are slowly making their way back down to Earth with the rest of us normal folk after dropping two-of-three to Vanderbilt on the road in the typical frozen April Nashville tundra.
Now, when I say falling back to Earth, it’s not that bad, just that the hottest start in school history has humbled the boys a bit. The Rebs now sit at 29-8 overall and 8-7 in the Southeastern Conference at the halfway mark. They are well within shooting distance of a landing spot in the top eight for a national seed, hosting a regional, and still finding itself on the right side of things come May and June.
But, sheesh, it was a brutal Sunday.
Too many blown chances
After blowing the...Dores off Vanderbilt on Friday, 11-3, and pissing off all 875 of the fans in attendance that weren’t Road Rebs, it was tough sledding for the Rebs on Sunday. In extremely gut-wrenching, Ole Miss lost back-to-back seven inning games by the score of 8-7. It seemed that every single time the Rebs would answer a Vanderbilt rally with a punch, the Commodores would return with a haymaker of their own.
In game one, Ole Miss was one strike and out away, but a tough, slow-roller to second was booted and the game was eventually lost a few innings later. It was a tough play, but elite teams make that play. And Jacob Adams would probably tell you he makes that one 9-out of-10 times. And I think he does, too.
In game two, the Rebs took a two-run lead after big-time hits from Ryan Olenek (more on him in a bit) and Nick Fortes, but a weird situation involving a hidden ball trick and an incompetent umpire crew squashed the rally and cost the Rebs another run. It could have been at least 8-5 going into the last inning, but alas.
Then, later in game one, the Rebs took the lead again on timely hitting and situational awareness with sac flies and opportunistic baserunning, only to surrender the lead again. The bullpen looked tired and worn down a bit, but road games will do that to you. And the Rebs have been on the road for eight of their last nine. The friendly confines of Swayze Field could not come at a better time.
That offense tho
The weekend wasn’t a winning effort from a series standpoint, but the offense is certainly not the problem. The Rebs are hitting .305 as a team heading into the second half, well above last year’s .253 mark. Will Golsan is the lowest every day player at .270, but he had himself quite the weekend in Music City and could be coming around at the perfect time. But, my lord, the top of the order is insane right now, especially in SEC play.
- Ryan Olenek - .508 (.394 overall)
- Tyler Keenan - .350 (.353)
- Cole Zabowski - .346 (.321)
- Chase Cockrell - .273 (.363)
- Nick Fortes - .271 (.287)
- Grae Kessinger - .268 (.301)
- Will Golsan - .268 (.270)
- Jacob Adams - .267 (.277)
- Thomas Dillard - .258 (.324)
You might be saying, “well, Zach, we only have three guys hitting over .300 in conference play”. Yes, that is true, but the depth of the lineup is easy to see. Especially with the lowest average coming from Tank, who is still stroking at a .324 clip this year.
I think it’s safe to say that the offense won’t be a problem moving forward (knock on wood) and if the pitching can steady itself after a return home, then things will return to normal.
Ryan Olenek is unconscious
Golsan had himself a nice weekend, but hoo boy Oly is on fire right now. During his now 15-game hitting streak, Olenek has had 12(!) multi-hit games. TWELVE. His weekend in Nashville was a huge help. He slapped a dinger and drove in runs left and right, doing his damnedest to help the Rebs get a series win.
The timing couldn’t be better for this, too. He has steadied the top of the order while Grae Kessinger is slowly getting back to full speed as he is still battling that hamstring injury from earlier this year. He is now first in the conference in doubles and second in batting average and hits. If the Rebs are going to continue their march towards a potential national seed and regional host, they need Ryan to stay hot.
The use of Godzilla needs to be more strategic
Will Ethridge is one of Ole Miss’ better bullpen arms. And you could possibly expect him to make a run at a weekend slot next season. But, for now, the Rebs need to be more choosy when using him on the weekend in relief situations. Our very own Nicholas Carr had a novel idea of looking into his multiple appearances on the weekend and after the Ole Miss Spirit’s Collin Brister compiled some data, the results are quite staggering.
First appearance on the weekend
- 10 IP, 11 hits, 2 BB, 2 ER, 1.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Second appearance on the weekend
- 4.2 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 7 ER, 1.93 WHIP, 13.50 ERA
Mike Bianco bringing him in a Friday blowout can certainly be questioned because there was no need and he could’ve been fresh for game one and/or two on Sunday, but here we are. He was his usual dominant self on Friday, but he wasn’t needed. If the Rebs save him for the Sunday two-fer, we could be singing a different tune, as evidenced by his numbers above.
The umpires were a joke
Normally, I’m not one to complain too much about officiating. Unless it costs you runs and then eventually a win. Well, it’s hard to argue against that after Sunday in Nashville. The Rebs were on the losing end of two big-time blunders that cost them runs twice.
Please tell me where there is separation between his foot and the bag. pic.twitter.com/jnT9435JLb— LeftField Loudmouths (@throwitnthedirt) April 15, 2018
In game one, a slow-roller was hit to Kessinger at short and he charged it, fielded it cleanly, and made a throw over to first that Zabowski was able to scoop for the third out. But, the umpire claims that The Dude’s foot was off the bag, leading to a Vandy runner scoring since he did not stop running and crossed the plate before the man on first tried to go to second and was eventually gunned down.
The crew reviewed it and as you can see, had at least one angle that was sufficient to overturn but naturally Ole Miss was on the wrong end, costing them a run. Now, I’m no award-winning mathematician, but I think one run in a one-run game is a big deal.
Then, in game two, the Rebs were on the losing end of a hidden ball trick that killed an inning and cost the good guys ANOTHER run in a one-run game.
The Vanderbilt infielders quickly huddled on the pitcher’s mound after Fortes laced a double to left, plating two Rebels and tying the game at five. There were no outs in the inning and there were Ole Miss runners on second and third. But, while the Dores were huddled on the mound, they hid the ball in the third basemen’s glove and when Olenek took one step off the bag, he was tagged out.
But, hold on. Fortes asked for and was given time by the second base umpire to be able to take off his elbow guard and deliver it to the first base coach. Also, Vanderbilt’s head coach, Tim Corbin, asked for time as well, and was on his way out to talk to his pitcher when Oly was tagged. So not only was time given to both teams, but the umpire failed to mention this during the review, costing Ole Miss another run because right after the call was upheld, Vandy threw it away and instead of Olenek scoring, Fortes moved up a bag to third.
Before we get #madonline about the Rebs, just think, they probably should have sweeped a top 15 team on the road this weekend, but sometimes baseball is a cruel game and shit happens. Also, Vandy isn’t a bad team and when you don’t put good teams away, they make you pay.
The Rebs have played 36 games and have won 29 of them. They have eight conference wins right now and are still ranked 11th in the country and are 6th in the RPI rankings currently. They return home to take on the top 25 Bulldogs this weekend, then two more winnable series at home sandwiched between two winnable series on the road. Both home series are against the better opponent and the road series are against teams that are 47 or worse in the RPI.
Losing sucks and we certainly aren’t used to it this season, but the rest of the season is out in front of the Rebs are they are still in good shape. Hell, this was the first time they have lost two games in a row all year. Me thinks they will be okay.
Take two-of-three from everyone and win your midweek games (toughest remaining one is against No. 60 Mississippi State) and the Rebs could be looking at a 43-13 record with a 18-12 finish in the SEC. Granted, that’s a pretty strong finish, but this team has proven it’s hard to put away and they are certainly capable.
Homestretch, here we come.