As spring winds down and the summer looms, Rebel Baseball finds itself in the familiar position of worrying not if, but where they will be playing in the postseason. Ole Miss sits tied for third in the SEC West with a conference record of 14-10 after handing a subpar Georgia team a series loss on the road last weekend.
For a team that entered the year with a lot of questions, Ole Miss is in good position as the regular season winds down. J.B. Woodman just knocked in his tenth home run on the season, underscoring his role as the team’s distinguished slugger. Freshmen pitchers Brady Feigl and Andy Pagnozzi have combined for a 12-2 record while sporting ERAs of 2.25 and 3.48, respectively, shoring up the Rebs’ young bullpen. Veteran arms Wyatt Short and Brady Bramlett have chugged along at their usual pace, offering stability in the Ole Miss rotation throughout conference play. Assuming that all SEC teams keep on their current trajectory, Ole Miss is poised to host a regional at Swayze once again.
This is also assuming, however, that the Rebels stay on track against a sneaky-good Kentucky team that just stole a series win over #6 South Carolina. After that, Ole Miss will wrap up conference play with a series against #2 Texas A&M, who just handled #7 Vanderbilt. The continuous gauntlet of top-25 opponents that make up the SEC schedule should serve Ole Miss well as they prepare to take on the nation’s best and repeat 2014’s trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
Kentucky has shown a propensity to give up runs in large chunks (much like the Rebels, from time to time), which has made it difficult for them to take and hold commanding series leads. Still, a winning record in the SEC East is nothing to scoff at. Although their fourth-place standing in the East is not necessarily eye-popping, the teams ahead of them (Florida, South Carolina, and Vandy) are all currently ranked in the top ten. The Wildcats will be looking to improve their postseason standing during their visit to Oxford, and Ole Miss had better be prepared to defend their home turf.
A few question marks remain for these Rebs. Chief among them (as has been the case for the past couple of years, at least) is the concern of who should take the mound on Sunday afternoons. After earning five runs in four innings in a 13-2 Sunday loss at Georgia, freshman James McArthur may need some more time before he’s ready to step up to a starting role on this staff.
But who takes his place? Sean Johnson has failed to live up to the hype. Chad Smith was a failed experiment. And closer Wyatt Short will not be able to consistently earn starts deep into the postseason, as he could be needed at a moment’s notice. Could one of the aforementioned freshmen relievers be the answer this late in the year? Perhaps the long-standing pitching problem will solve itself in the postseason, when the concept of a solid weekend rotation is not as important as the concept of winning right now with whoever’s available. The bottom line, though, is that some combination of Rebel pitchers will need to step up if Ole Miss is to make a run in 2016.
Still, the Rebs are in position to make that run. And with crucial SEC series still on the horizon, Ole Miss would surely benefit from a large home crowd turnout this weekend— and, hopefully, in the NCAA Regional they’d earn as a result.