The Florida baseball team is flirting with doing something that hasn’t happened since before the Kevin O’Sullivan era began in Gainesville.
The Gators are in danger of not making the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2007 season that saw former head coach Pat McMahon fired.
As of Tuesday, D1Baseball.com had projected Florida in the field of 65, but lingering as one of the final five teams to make it. In fact, their midweek opponent, Florida Atlantic was projected among the first five out. Quite possibly, the two teams may have swapped spots after the Owls comeback victory in Gainesville Tuesday evening.
But what’s holding this team back?
Largely, the Gators are suffering from a lack of consistent quality pitching. Both the starting rotation and the bullpen has been an atrocity for much of the season.
The stats tell a lot of the story:
SEC Stats (Conference Rank):
ERA: 7.48 (LAST)
Opp Batting Average: .314 (LAST)
Florida’s SEC ERA is so bad that the next closest team (Alabama, 6.42) is a whole run lower.
The Gators have allowed 147 runs (128 earned) in 154 innings of work.
Sophomore Tommy Mace has easily been the most consistent starter since league play started. Even his ERA sits at 4.70 over six starts. His WHIP is 1.31, meaning he is allowing far too many baserunners to be successful.
The other starters? Well, it only goes downhill from there.
Jack Leftwich has been the Saturday (or game two) starter since Tyler Dyson’s demotion. Despite missing a couple of starts due to injury issues, his ERA is an eye-popping 13.91 in four SEC starts. In those four starts, Leftwich has only lasted a total of 11 innings. Opponents are hitting .459 off Leftwich. On Saturday, against LSU, Leftwich lasted one inning, gave up six earned runs and failed to record a strikeout.
Dyson, who was actually a hero from the Gators national title team two years ago, has struggled with his command for much of the year and moved from the Friday night starter to the Sunday starter, and finally to an afterthought in the bullpen.
The bullpen hasn’t been much better, but it’s easier for a team to begin to tee off on relievers when allotted a comfortable lead.
The Florida hitting has actually been pretty good for much of the year. They are ranked in the top half of he SEC in all major stats.
O’Sullivan understands the importance the final four SEC series’ represents. He made it clear that his focus is on getting his team on track.
Florida, who is currently ranked #23 in RPI, will face Kentucky (#47 RPI), Georgia (#3 RPI), Tennessee (#8 RPI), and Missouri (#22 RPI). Each of those series represent an opportunity for Florida to improve it’s resume, but it appears that the Gators will need to win no less than seven of those games, and make a statement during the SEC tournament.
Time hasn’t run out on the Gators, but the window is closing fast. Every win will be needed while every loss will be magnified.
It’s time for this young team to grow up. The next four weeks will tell us what this team has. Until then, it’s probably time for the fans to temper expectations for this year. Even if the team makes the tournament, this is truly a rebuilding year.
*All statistics per ESPN.com and current as of April 21, 2019.
*RPI rankings per NCAA.com and as of April 22, 2019.