Welcome back to my mailbag where I answer questions about Ole Miss baseball and whatever else y’all want to ask.
These are the times that try men’s souls. As I write this, Ole Miss men’s basketball is trying to will its way into the NCAA tournament out of pure spite and determination in Nashville, Ole Miss baseball is in the midst of a six-game winning streak and I have a sinus infection. Life is good.
I fully believe that my spite comment about Ole Miss basketball is true, by the way. Many thought the Rebels’ tournament hopes were dead when they lost to Vanderbilt in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, but like a Black Bear from the ashes, Ole Miss has risen back into the bubble conversation, partly because the bubble this year is [checks vernacular] poo cheese, per sources. I think Ole Miss basketball is a lot like me and many of us: we want to get good results with the least amount of work. If Ole Miss makes the tournament, it will have done just enough to squeak in, but, by God, they’ll be there, and we’ll hang the banner.
Anyway, yeah, y’all come here for me to answer questions about baseball season, so let’s do that.
Who will have to step up in order for Ole Miss Basketball to have a shot in March Madness?— John Riley Wilbanks (@JohnR5522) March 11, 2021
Since this is a baseball mailbag, let’s obviously start with a basketball question.
In short, everybody, but I’m choosing Jarkel Joiner. Ole Miss is better at basketball than South Carolina but, as we’ve seen this season, that doesn’t mean that they’ll beat the Cocks on Thursday in Nashville. If they do, they’ll face an LSU team that has been the definition of a swinging pendulum this year. That’s what happens when Will Wade is your coach, but you didn’t hear that from me.
Why choose Joiner, you might ask? I think if Ole Miss advances past SC on Thursday, they’ll need strong guard play to hang with LSU, and Devontae Shuler was too easy of an answer. He’ll need a good game, sure. But paired with a strong game from Joiner, I think Ole Miss has a shot here, especially if the Tigers are unmotivated since they’ve already punched their ticket to the big dance. Plus, I really like Jarkel, so I’m biased.
What's Cael Baker's problem? Where is his production?— j.Wells (@FireRebel302) March 10, 2021
I don’t have a scientific answer for you, but I’ll give you my opinion.
Cael Baker has pop. Home runs are flashy, and people love them. He’s also got a cool look, so he’s developed into a cult figure in Oxford.
With that said, he needed to take a step forward in overall offense this season. Baker only hit .220 in last year’s shortened season, and although people remember him for his home runs against Louisville, his overall offensive numbers weren’t great before the season was cut short. A lack of reps could be a problem early on this season. I do think he’ll improve, but don’t be surprised if we see more of Trey LaFleur moving forward at first base. It’s one thing to give a kid plenty of at bats to try and get them some momentum, but it’s another thing to do it when fast approaching SEC play. Mike will likely pick a guy moving forward at first base once Auburn rolls into town next week. It may be Cael, but it may also not be.
Why are we struggling to hit the ball period?— Keith Morgan (@mkmperc1) March 10, 2021
I think there are two answers here.
Ole Miss is currently hitting .266 as a team, which isn’t horrid, but it’s nothing to write home about either. The Rebels struggled in full counts against UCF, swinging at multiple would-be ball fours but that’s supposedly been a point of emphasis in practice since then. Part of that UCF series is still lingering on the taste buds of many Ole Miss fans, because there hasn’t really been a palette cleanser since then. Sure you demolished Memphis, Jackson State and Alcorn State and swept Belmont (albeit anxiously at times), but Ole Miss hasn’t faced a “big name” school since UCF two weeks ago. Because of this drought of power five or more notable opponents, a lot of the early-season mistakes have been magnified at times.
Does this team have deficiencies? Sure, as all teams at this level do. But I point you to the recent heating up of Tim Elko and Kevin Graham as evidence that it’s still early and there are plenty of sticks on this team that can hit effectively. They’ve just got to settle into a groove.
We’re 8 days out from the beginning of SEC play. Based on what we’ve seen so far, what is your prediction for the Rebs record in SEC play? And a follow up, what do you think they need to earn a National Seed?— Mack Gordon (@MackGordon0) March 11, 2021
Going out on a limb a little bit, I’d say Ole Miss goes undefeated in non-conference play the rest of the way and finishes 17-13 in the SEC. I know that’s a little high, but I do think it’s in the right ballpark. That would put them finishing at 40-15 in the regular season.
In 2018 when Ole Miss snagged a national seed, they went 18-12 in conference play. I think 16-14 or 17-13 is more likely this season because the Rebels play Florida, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Vanderbilt in 2021. That’s a gauntlet. Still, I think with the right combination, that’s good enough for a national seed. I’m not on the committee that decides such things, but let’s not forget Ole Miss already has three top-10 wins it gained in Arlington, and picking up more (and hopefully some series wins along the way) would only help. All four of those teams I just mentioned are currently in the top 10, so there will be plenty of opportunities.
Also it helps in this case that Ole Miss plays in the SEC. Win ballgames, and you’re in good shape (#analysis). Your RPI won’t suffer much if you drop a series to a Vandy or Arkansas, so there’s no need to panic if that happens. I think this team definitely hosts a regional (knock on wood), but the potential for a national seed is definitely there if it all comes together.
Each SEC team’s best baseball uniform option? This actually isn’t a question but more of a demand.— Cal Brown (@CalBrownSDN) March 11, 2021
I’m a uniform geek, so I love this question.
Ole Miss — powder blues
You really can’t go wrong with any of Ole Miss’ uniform combos, but the powder blues get the nod from me. I think the white pinstripes and the red jerseys are a close second, but these are amazing. I know it’s the stereotypical answer, but it’s my take.
Alabama — road grays
I don’t watch a lot of Alabama baseball, so I’m not very well-versed in their uniform options. Still, I love a gray baseball uniform, and I think these are simple and solid. No need to get cute with it, and the Tide pulled it off.
Arkansas — creams
Cream baseball uniforms are also gas, and Arkansas kills it with this look.
Auburn — road grays
[see Alabama post]
Florida — home white pinstripes
Pinstripe unis are great when the overall uniform is white (I don’t like them on road uniforms), and Florida does it right.
Georgia — reds
Georgia baseball could use a uniform makeover, in my opinion, but this set works for me. Nice balance between the white hat and pants.
Kentucky — creams
I couldn’t find an image of these on our wire service (it’s almost like they just care about basketball in Lexington or something?), but look these up. They’re fire.
LSU — gold
This is typically LSU’s Sunday set, and it’s v nice.
Mississippi State — maroon 85s
There was a time when State needed a big uniform overhaul. They did it, and they did it right.
Mizzou — home whites (I guess?)
I mean, they’re not awful, right? Missouri baseball may be, but the uniforms aren’t horrendous. Right?
South Carolina — home white pinstripes
I’m sensing a pattern here. P I N S T R I P E S.
Tennessee — creams
Couldn’t find a pic of these either, but yeah.
Texas A&M — maroon cursive “Texas A&M”
No pics. Also I’m not thrilled with their uniform combos, so it doesn’t really matter.
Vanderbilt — home whites
Some of Vandy’s uniform options are pure booty. This one is not, however. Very nicely done.