No. 8 Vanderbilt dropped an opportunity to pick up some conference wins when it lost a pair of games in Knoxville last weekend. Now, the Commodores need to get back on track when they host 22-20 Georgia.
The 'Dores earned a win against Tennessee last Friday night behind the strength of ace Jordan Sheffield, but lackluster batting faded the team on Saturday and Sunday. Vandy mustered only 12 hits and four runs in the final two games of the series to leave Knoxville on a sour note. There is, however, a silver lining. The last time this team dropped a series on the road to the Volunteers was 2014 -- and they ended that season with a national title.
Vanderbilt can earn a measure of redemption this weekend against a Georgia team whose 7-11 conference record hides a dangerous lineup. The Bulldogs are one of only two teams in the SEC to have beaten East Division leader South Carolina this season. The other, however, is Vandy.
UGA doesn't have the offense to beat Vanderbilt in a shootout, but its pitching will be worrisome for a team that is averaging only 2.7 runs per game in its last two weeks of conference play. Friday starter Robert Tyler has been one of the SEC's top pitchers in 2016. He's struck out 71 batters in 57 innings of work this season and has held opposing batters to a .177 average this spring. He'll do battle with Sheffield, whose 81 Ks in 63.2 innings should make this game one matchup a pitcher's duel.
Tyler isn't the only standout the Bulldogs will send to the mound. The Commodores are likely to see weekday starter/weekend long reliever Heath Holder at some point this series. Holder struck out seven Florida batters in fewer than four innings of work in his last SEC outing and has limited batters to a miniscule .152 average in his senior season.
The Commodores will likely send Kyle Wright and Patrick Raby to start their Saturday and Sunday affairs, respectively. Wright was solid, but unspectacular in his last start against Tennessee. He allowed seven baserunners and a pair of earned runs in five innings against a Volunteer team that's considerably more dangerous at the plate (a .297 team average for UT vs. a .252 average for UGA). This weekend should provide him with an excellent opportunity for a bounce-back start.
Raby is a bit more complicated. The freshman has shown promise in short innings as the team's Sunday starter, but the Vanderbilt offense has yet to rally around him. The 'Dores have plated only 1.5 runners per game with the tricky right-hander on the mound. He has yet to allow more than three runs in any given appearance this season, but he's still steeling himself against some of the toughest opponents college baseball has to offer. With a 1.72 era ERA and 46 strikeouts in 36.2 innings, a Sunday matchup with the light-hitting Bulldogs could be a showcase operation for the young Commodore.
Vanderbilt will have to avoid Georgia's potent pitching and forecasted thunderstorms, but this weekend's home series could be a rallying point for Tim Corbin's team. The Commodores follow up their matchup with Georgia with games against No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 9 Louisville, and No. 1 Florida. Only their one-off, Bourbon Barrel showdown with the Cardinals will take place at Hawkins Field.