Ranked first nationally by D1 Baseball, the Vanderbilt Commodores come into Alex Box Stadium-Skip Bertman Field for a 3 game Southeastern Conference set with the Tigers with a record of 20-3 (5-1 SEC), fresh off a conference sweep on the road, at Missouri. Vanderbilt has spent the last two weeks holding on to the top spot in college baseball with three quality weekend series wins against ranked Oklahoma State, as well as South Carolina and Mizzou. The Tigers are 58-44 overall against the Commodores all time, and this is the first regular season meeting between the two clubs since 2018 when Vandy took 2 of 3 in Nashville.
Jr. RHP Kumar Rocker (6-0) 0.73 ERA, 37 IP, 12 BB, 53 K, .129 BAA
So. RHP Jack Leiter (6-0) 0.25 ERA, 36 IP, 13 BB, 59 K, .062 BAA
So. RHP Thomas Shultz (2-2) 5.14 ERA, 21 IP, 4 BB, 22 K, .259 BAA
-RHP Luke Murphy 7 app, 4 SV, 0.00 ERA, 9 IP, 16 K, .111 BAA
-RHP Nick Maldonaldo 8 app, 1 SV, 1.59 ERA, 11.1 IP, 15 K, .150 BAA
-RHP Chris McElvain 7 app, 1 SV, 3.48 ERA, 10.1 IP, 18 K, .171 BAA
-RHP Patrick Reilly (3-0), 1.93 ERA, 14 IP, 17 K, .173 BAA
Vanderbilt’s pitching staff is otherworldly. I say that because there’s not much else to describe what they have done week in and week out this season. They have flat out dominated from the mound. They lead the SEC in ERA (2.19) and are second in the nation in that regard. Anchored by what could very well be the first and second overall selections in the 2021 MLB Draft in Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, the duo forms the best collegiate 1-2 punch since Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer at UCLA in 2011 who were selected first and third overall, respectively. They have combined in 2021 to strikeout 112 batters in their 12 starts. No other weekend duo has more than 100. The Thursday night and Friday night battles this weekend between the Tigers and the ‘Dores aces should be must see baseball.
Don’t count out the ‘Dores bullpen either, with several guys that can close games out and generate swings and misses when the big guys run out of bullets, RHP Luke Murphy has been getting the closing work of late and they have completed 4 shutouts as a unit. As a team they’ve struck out 268 batters in 197 innings and sport a team WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) of .954 and are striking out over 12 batters per 9 innings. In other words, not too shabby.
1B Dominic Keegan (16 G) .483/1.017/.577, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 1.17 K/BB (14/12)
SS Carter Young (23 G) .319/.615/.400, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 2.08 K/BB (27/13)
C CJ Rodriguez (17 G) .319/.574/.508, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 0.60 K/BB (9/15)
CF Enrique Bradfield Jr (23 G) .378/.473/.510, 22 R, 12 RBI, 18-19 SB
RF Isaiah Thomas (23 G) .341/.694/.418, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 4-4 SB, 6.4 K/BB (32/5)
Vanderbilt has been known for their pitching this year, but their hitting is up there at the top of the conference as well. 1B/UTL Dominic Keegan has garnered a Conference Player of the Week award this year, and speedster outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. leads the conference in stolen bases. As a team they’re hitting .313/.549/.423, which all lead the conference, where their 184 RBI is tops as well. In any other year the offense would be all the rave, but their pitching staff has been taking a lot of the credit for Vandy’s success. While they strike out a good bit at the plate, their ability to put the bat on the ball and get runners in makes them a team that the Tigers staff cannot afford to take lightly.
Three Keys For the Tigers
1. Support for Marceaux
If it weren’t for Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, Landon Marceaux would be getting the majority of the pitching recognition and awards in the SEC. He has been that dominant. Despite allowing just 5 runs, where only 1 of which was earned across 6 starts, the Jr. righty is just 2-2. In his last 3 starts he’s 1-2, having allowed just 2 earned runs over his 18 innings.
With the quality pitching that the Tigers will be going up against, it’s a tall ask with Rocker on the bump for the Commodores, but in order to come out ahead this weekend, the Tigers need to take advantage of the start that Marceaux gives them and get him some run support so that that 1 earned run isn’t going to do them in as it has in the last few weeks.
2. Stay in the Zone
This is a two way street—Last weekend at Tennessee, in a 3 game set, the Tiger pitchers walked, hit, or allowed a free batter on base 21 times, and the Tiger lineup struck out 38 times at bat. LSU out-hit Tennessee in every game last weekend, but ultimately got swept. The free passes by the pitchers and the strikeouts at the plate with runners on are what ultimately sunk the Tigers. Plate discipline gets more difficult as the pitching gets better, and that’s not going to change much this weekend, but the Tigers bats need to take advantage of the pitches that aren’t in the zone, work their counts, and not let their starters get 7-8 innings deep. Same goes for the Tiger pitchers. LSU issued 21 free runners this weekend and lost by a total of 4 runs. I know the adage “throw strikes” is silly, but giving a team like Vanderbilt, who allows less than 3 runs per game, free runners and quick at bats is the easiest way to get behind the eight ball quick, fast, and in a hurry.
3. Bullpen, Bullpen, Bullpen
The first couple times that a bullpen in a young season blows a game, it’s a learning experience, it’s rotating guys in and seeing who performs under pressure. But whenever there is a common theme running four weeks now, it’s a bit more than that. To say that the LSU bullpen has had trouble finishing games would be a massive understatement. It was first on display in the second game of the year against Air Force, and it yet again reared its ugly head this Sunday vs Tennessee. It has become a must that the Tiger starters get to seven innings just so the mix and match at the back of the game is lessened. Guys like Devin Fontenot, Blake Money, Garrett Edwards, Ty Floyd, and Will Hellmers have been good in stints out of the bullpen, but as a unit they have yet to put together a solid, dominant showing, following a close one by their starter. For the Tigers to come away with a couple wins this weekend, the LSU bullpen is going to be the ultimate key to success.
Prediction: 2-1 Vanderbilt
As much as I dislike making this prediction, with runs being at an absolute premium this weekend, I believe that the LSU starters will make the series competitive, but it’s going to take a lot out of the LSU bullpen to hold back the Vandy offense, allowing the Tigers to get some runs on the board. With the hitting being sporadic of late and the question marks in the late innings, I have to give the edge to Vandy.
Game 1 – Thursday, 6:30pm, SECN+
LSU – Jr. RH Landon Marceaux (2-2, 0.26 ERA, 35.0 IP, 9 BB, 44 SO)
VU – Jr. RH Kumar Rocker (6-0, 0.73 ERA, 37.0 IP, 12 BB, 53 SO)
Game 2 – Friday, 8pm, ESPN2
LSU – Jr. RH Jaden Hill (2-2, 6.35 ERA, 28.1 IP, 10 BB, 23 SO)
VU – So. RH Jack Leiter (6-0, 0.25 ERA, 36.0 IP, 13 BB, 59 SO)
Game 3 – Saturday, 2:30pm, SECN+
LSU – Jr. RH AJ Labas (1-0, 2.97 ERA, 33.1 IP, 6 BB, 33 SO)
VU – So. RH Thomas Schultz (2-2, 5.14 ERA, 21.0 IP, 4 BB, 22 SO)