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No. 18 Kentucky at No. 5 Vanderbilt: Preview and Friday Night Open Thread

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Vanderbilt is stuck in the middle of the SEC East, but a big showing against No. 18 Kentucky would push the Commodores back towards the top.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Vanderbilt suffered its second series loss of the season when it dropped a pair of games in Baton Rouge. Can the Commodores get back on track when they face another ranked opponent at home?

This weekend's showdown with No. 18 Kentucky will be the team's fourth SEC series against a top 25 opponent. Vandy dispatched then-No. 5 South Carolina at home but has dropped weekend affairs against current No. 2 Mississippi State and No. 11 LSU to fade to the middle of the SEC East standings. At 7-5, the 'Dores are looking up at South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky in their quest for a divisional crown.

While a spot in the SEC's elite tier would be important, Vanderbilt is also playing to strengthen its case for a national seed. D1Baseball's latest projections have the Commodores hosting a Regional, but then traveling up I-65 for a Super Regional at Louisville. That's a familiar, and difficult, scenario. Few teams play Vandy as tough as the Cardinals. Forcing them to Nashville, or avoiding them until a meeting in Omaha, would be a boost for a Commodore team looking to rebuild its cache of postseason experience.

Kentucky won't make things easy. The Wildcats are led by 7-0 Saturday starter Dustin Beggs and an offense where three regulars are batting over .350. While the Commodores have a chance to chase Friday's probable starter Zack Brown (2-5, 6.39 ERA), a game one win doesn't mean much against UK. The 'Cats have come back from 0-1 deficits twice already in SEC play -- including a series win over then-No. 1 Florida.

The good news is that Vandy should be able to rough up a starting rotation with an era of 4.36. The bad news is it might not matter against a potent Kentucky offense. The Wildcats have scored six runs or more in 16 games this season. While their offense has slowed in conference play, they're still a dangerous team to contain at the plate.

Vanderbilt will turn to ace Jordan Sheffield tonight and hope last week's showing against LSU was an aberration. Sheffield was roughed up for seven hits and nine runs (seven earned) in just three innings of a 13-4 loss that stands as the worst of Vandy's season to date. With 63 strikeouts in just 46.2 innings, there's no denying Sheffield is one of the most electric pitchers to grace the rubber at Hawkins Field. However, his high walk rate (22 so far this season) suggests a patient Wildcat approach could unravel the 'Dores on Friday night.

Here are your matchups for this weekend's series in Nashville

Game No. 1: Zack Brown (2-5, 6.39 ERA, 34 K in 43.2 innings) vs. Jordan Sheffield (4-2, 3.47 ERA, 63 Ks in 46.2 innings)

Game No. 2: Dustin Beggs (7-0, 2.40, 53 Ks in 56.1) vs. Kyle Wright (4-2, 1.99, 47 Ks in 40.2)

Game No. 3: Kyle Cody (3-2, 4.89, 37 Ks in 42.1)vs. ...Hayden Stone, maybe? (0-1, 4.22, 24 Ks in 21.1)