It's Baseball Time in Tennessee: Vols vs. Georgia Preview (May 5-7)
Recently: Sudden change. Tennessee's season seemed moribund just a few weeks ago, but the Vols now have abundant life heading into the last few series of the season. UT is now over .500 in the SEC for the first time this season. There's even a chance for the Vols to play themselves back into hosting a NCAA regional--whereas just a few weeks ago it was possible they'd miss the tourney altogether. More on that further down the page.
Following last weekend's sweep of Mississippi State (8-7, 12-8, 13-2) and Tuesday's 7-inning win over Wofford (13-3), Tennessee rides an eight-game win streak into Athens this weekend against an up-and-down Bulldog nine. Georgia swept Arkansas just a couple of weeks after the Hogs did the same to UT. At the time UGA had surged to 7-11 in conference play and the Dawgs seemed to be rounding into contenders. But their milk and honey renaissance turned into toast and water since, winning just 2 of the last 5 outings, including a midweek loss to Georgia State and a series loss to Ole Miss in Oxford last weekend. Georgia squeaked by Kennesaw St. on Tuesday 10-9, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a walk-off error by the Owls.
Previously on Vols vs. Dawgs: Tennessee holds a 126-119 lead in the all-time series. UT has won 7 of the last 10, including 2-1 series wins the last two seasons. However, Tennessee is just 52-69 when playing in Athens.
What to Watch: UGA's Charlie Condon is the main offensive threat for the Dawgs. Condon is top-5 in the SEC in multiple categories, including batting average, on-base %, slugging, OPS, home runs, RBIs, and total bases. As a redshirt freshman, the young buck is surrounded by veteran players, with four of Georgia's top six offensive contributors being graduate players. Here's the KAT STATSTM:
Georgia has only attempted to steal 28 bases this year--second lowest in the league--but are almost always successful when they do (24/28, 86%). Tennessee is among the SEC's worst at allowing stolen bases. Will UGA attempt a few more stolen bases than normal this weekend to manufacture some runs?
Also missing from UGA's pitching staff is former starter Jordan Woods, who hasn't pitched for the Dawgs since before their series with Arkansas. Woods has been held out due to arm fatigue, and it's unclear when he will return for Georgia. If he happens to be back for this series, it will be a boon for the Bulldogs, as Woods is one of their top pitchers. As of this writing, the two teams have not announced starters for the weekend, so I'm going off of what they've thrown the last couple of weekends.
Tennessee's eight-game win streak has come exclusively within the friendly confines of Lindsey-Nelson Stadium. Can UT take this show on the road and keep the momentum? Georgia has a lot to play for too, as D1Baseball currently has the Dawgs as the last team into the field of 64. And road crowds in this league are brutal.
But let's not pretend UT is coming into this series meekly. Part of what has given Tennessee direction is a newfound attitude that is equal parts grit and swagger. And whereas the Vols' chances to reach .500 in SEC play seemed out of grasp just a couple of weeks ago, another seemingly impossible goal might now be within Tennessee's reach. UT could actually work itself into a top 16 seeding and host a regional in the NCAA tournament.
The stats site warrennolan.com has a live baseball RPI ranking, but also includes Predicted RPI. Tennessee's current RPI ranking is 16, up six spots from last week (UGA is 23 btw). UT currently has a predicted RPI of #6, with the site expecting the Vols to go 2-1 in each of their last three SEC series and winning the midweek games in between. Two weeks ago, Tennessee was a projected 3 seed and falling. The Vols are now a projected 2 seed in the weakest regional bracket (i.e., on the cusp of being a seeded club). They're on the brink of hosting.
Nothing in the SEC is easy. But does 6-3 in the final 3 series of the season seem unlikely now? This team is currently strapped to a rocket, and if you haven't already, I suggest you climb aboard.