"Florida Man Attacked During Selfie With Squirrel."
"Florida Man Burns Down Apartment Complex After Manager Asks Him to Stop Masturbating in Window."
"I found Florida an antihuman place."
Column XII, Week XIII: Vanderbilt v. "Florida Man"
Vanderbilt: 36-13 (14-10 SEC) #10 USA Today, #18 Baseball America, #7 RPI
v. The University of Florida Jorts-Wearing Mullet-Heads: 33-16 (18-6 SEC) #8 USA Today, #4 Baseball America, #2 RPI
We all know how important this series is, so I won't hammer that home. However... despite our stretch of relative incompetence against Those Who Shall Not Be Named, aTm, and Arky, we're still firmly in the "control our own destiny" cat bird seat. In short, the RPI matters more than you would think when determining regional hosts and national seeds, and we're still managing to stay in the single digits on that metric (as we do play the toughest schedule, and it seems that thar computer machine can't fathom a team with our pitching depth not hosting a Super Regional). Further, we close out SEC play with 6 games against the #2 and #11 teams in the RPI. Win 4 out of 6 and we've got a hell of a chance of hosting. Sweep all 6 and it's a lock. Lose between 4 and 6 of them and we're likely traveling to Louisville for the first round. To say there's a lot on the line would be an understatement.
Despite one of the baseball players I know telling me "That was the worst Florida team I've ever seen in my life" after LSU lost 3 in Gainesville (he seemed honest, but there's always the possibility of sour grapes), we all know Florida's good, but perhaps less on-paper-talented than the Florida teams we've grown accustomed to. There's no Mike Zunino behind the plate, no Brian Johnson 2-way player type, no Preston Tucker devouring our souls with clutch hits. This is a good Florida team. It's not the '11 Florida team, by any means, but they're scrappy - and we all know how terribly we've fared against "scrappy" this season.
Case in point: they have but one hitter batting over .300 on the season (freshman catcher Taylor Gushue).
However, their pitching staff has been, to put it lightly, out-performing expectations going into the season. Logan Shore, another of their frighteningly college-ready freshman class, has been the standout, carrying a 6-2 record and a 1.62 ERA into this series. Though Kevin O'Sullivan seems to be holding this staff together with duct tape - 11 different pitchers have started thus far this year, with 7 of them getting 4 or more starts - they've still somehow managed to hold a team ERA of 3.23. Sure, our team ERA is 2.56, but we have 5 guys that would be weekend starters on any team in the nation, and though we've replaced Jared Miller with Carson Fulmer, we've had remarkable stability in our 4-man rotation. To wit, only 6 Vandy pitchers have gotten even one start, with only 4 getting 4 or more thus far. Further, though our offense has oft been less than stellar, we have 5 starters hitting over .300 to Florida's 1. Again, it's remarkable the job O'Sullivan has been able to do with the talent available to him. If he's not SEC coach of the year, I'll be surprised.
Florida wins gritty, low scoring games, and you better jump out to an early lead on them, or you've got your work cut out for you. On the season, they're 25-0 when leading after 7 innings - and if you think that's due to an electric closer, like Louisville's Nick Burdi, you're going to want to think again. Like their patch-work rotation, the back of the bullpen has been "by committee," with a whopping 7 pitchers having recorded a save (and 4 of them with 3 or more!). And if you think that "when leading after 7" stat is alarming, they have an absolutely bat-shit nuts 20-4 record when leading after 3. 3!!!
Again, in comparison, Vanderbilt has had three pitchers record a save all season - Carson Fulmer (9), Brian Miller (5), and Hayden Stone (2).
In short, we'd better jump on their starters early or we're in for a rough series.
Here are your pitching match-ups:
Thursday: RHP Tyler Beede (7-5, 3.60 ERA) v. RHP Logan Shore (6-2, 1.62 ERA)
Friday: RHP Carson Fulmer (3-1, 1.17 ERA) v. TBA (If you didn't believe me when I told you their staff was patch-work, this ought to put the final nail in that coffin.)
Saturday: RHP Tyler Ferguson(6-3, 2.87 ERA) v. RHP Karsten Whitson (1-0, 3.30 ERA)
Libation to enjoy while watching our boys play for tournament seeding: The Grapefruit Gin and Tonic. Whether you're a grapefruit purist or you want to add a little lime to it, as well, for tartness, you really can't go wrong with this one when the weather heats up.
Oh, and I can't even begin to venture a guess as to how these games will turn out (though, obviously, I feel exceedingly confident about our chances Friday), so instead, I'll give you the opening few paragraphs to a novel-in-progress I'm writing, set in this cut-off jean shorts haven of a state:
There's a time in a man's life where he takes stock in who he's become. A mirrored introspection that strips away the bullshit of who he wanted to be, of who he tried to be, and reflects back not a man in a chrysalis state, but something harder, something formed. Something finished. A collection of events hard-wired in his neural pathways, forming a road map of what's to come by following the path that always seemed to find him. Where the wrong turns and detours, the one way streets and the round-abouts, the airbag punches and bad brakes, the lost highways and the unmarked paths of his youth had formed indelible grooves in the surface; where the GPS knows the route no matter his location. The point where his brain stopped recalculating. The point where he stopped passing through. Just south of sanity, no more than a panhandler.
Craig sat roadside in a tattered lawn chair, grass eating through the sun-worn lattice straps of canvas, sipping shine from a Big Gulp, spitting tobacco onto a growing circle of dead grass. He'd long since lost a reason to keep his shirt buttoned, and his paunch sloughed out over the belt-buckle, obscuring "Montana: Big Sky Country" so only the country was showing. He'd gotten skin-cancer-tan everywhere except for the three inch strip of expanding forehead covered by his city issue hat and the pale half-moon crescent by the hem of his jean shorts, where he'd set his Big Gulp every day for the past nine months. The doctors told him not to mix booze and Oxy, but there were no doctors in Hampton, and neither his drink nor his pills were on the right side of legal. Then again, on the 1260 foot stretch of U.S. 301 a mile outside of Hampton, he was the law.
Hampton. The unchecked sore high on the shaft of America's big, swinging dick. An indistinguishable 1.12 square mile razor burn bump populated by about 500 aimless mites just waiting to be scratched out. The median income was disability checks. The median age was waiting to die. Since Craig won the Sheriff gig at a poker game in Starke, the chief economic export was speeding tickets, and for the first time in Hampton's vain history, business was booming.
*Author's note: "Baseball, Bourbon, and Bad Decisions" will be a weekly column throughout the 2014 baseball season. Andrew VU '04 is a writer, educator, and ne-er-do-well living in the whirlpool of despair (Baton Rouge, LA) and is writing this column based largely on the fact that VandyTigerPhD is a large Italian man threatening his life if he doesn't hold up his end of the bargain. Throughout the season, the writer will use no advanced statistics, whatsoever, and will go purely on what he sees, instinct, and bourbon-fueled bluster. On occasion, he will remind you he's a writer by wedging a few paragraphs of a novel into what is ostensibly a sports column.