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Texas A&M Baseball

Series Preview: No. 16 Texas A&M at Tennessee

April 20, 2018
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Who: University of Tennessee  (22-17, 5-10 SEC)

Where: Lindsey Nelson Stadium — Knoxville, TN

When: 

  • Friday 5:30 p.m. CT (SEC+)
  • Saturday 5:00 p.m. CT (SEC+)
  • Sunday 12:00 p.m. CT (SEC+)

 

Pitching matchups

Thursday:   Mitchell Kilkenny (RHP, 8-0, 1.50)  vs.  Sean Hunley (RHP, 6-0, 1.53)

Friday:  John Doxakis (LHP, 5-1, 2.38)  vs.  Garrett Stallings (RHP, 4-3, 3.47)

Saturday:  Stephen Kolek (RHP, 3-4, 3.48)  vs.  Will Neely (RHP, 4-1, 3.32)

Scouting Tennessee

The Volunteers are still trying to find their place in the upper tier of SEC baseball, and it's been a tough grind for years to get there in the toughest conference in college baseball. After losing eight of its last nine conference games, it doesn't appear 2018 is the season they will change zip codes in the SEC standings. That doesn't mean this team can't be dangerous, especially at home where they are 4-2 in SEC play. Even a 5-10 squad in the SEC can beat anybody in the country that doesn't come ready to play. Despite their record, Tennessee has beaten Top 10 foes Ole Miss and Florida.  

"Offensively, the Vols are hitting at a lukewarm .260 clip with just 26 home runs and 218 runs scored. In contrast, the Aggies are hitting .288 as a team with 33 home runs and 241 runs scored."

With that said, the numbers on paper tell the story of Tennessee's struggles. Offensively, the Vols are hitting at a lukewarm .260 clip with just 26 home runs and 218 runs scored. In contrast, the Aggies are hitting .288 as a team with 33 home runs and 241 runs scored. Tennessee's lone starter hitting above .300 is Justin Ammons at .317. The most dangerous hitter is Benito Santiago who is hitting .297 with five homers and 26 RBI. The rest of the lineup consists of solid .270-.280 hitters with marginal power. Jay Charleston does represent some speed on the bases stealing 13 bases in 13 attempts.

On the mound, the Vols are making a big change this weekend looking for some spark out of the Friday night starting spot. Garrett Crochet had been the No. 1 starter for most of SEC play, but he was hit hard giving up 18 hits in his past two starts and a season ERA of 6.94. So first-year head coach Tony Vitello is rolling the dice tabbing true freshman Sean Hunley to make his SEC debut as a starter against the Aggies. His mid-week numbers are phenomenal. Hunley is a perfect 6-0 with a 1.53 ERA, which are almost identical numbers to A&M's starter Mitchell Kilkenny. However, UT-Martin, Lipscomb,  and James Madison are not Texas A&M on a Friday night. How the freshman handles the pressure and bright lights of Friday in the SEC will drive the narrative in game one.

The remaining rotation will stay the same. Garrett Stallings has been the usual game two weekend starter, and he has solid numbers with a 4-3 record and a 3.47 ERA. He does not give out many free passes (6 BB's) and forces batters to earn their way on-base. Unfortunately for Stallings, hitters are earning it hitting .301 against him. He's surrendered 72 hits in 59 innings pitched, which is quite high for a weekend starter. Will Neely may actually be the most difficult pitching match-up for the Aggies. His 3.32 ERA and .253 opposing batting average compare similarly to Texas A&M's game three starter Stephen Kolek (3-4, 3.48 ERA). The bullpen isn't very deep. Zach Linginfelter leads the Vols in saves with three and a healthy 4.70 ERA. Chase Wallace has the best ERA (2.45) out of the bullpen in limited action. The remainder of arms in the bullpen have ERA's above 5.00. Overall, Tennessee has a team ERA of 4.33 compared to 2.82 for Texas A&M. So the Aggies have a big advantage on the mound as well.

Finally, the Vols are slightly below average in the field with a .968 percentage compared to .972 for the Aggies.

Texas A&M storylines to watch

The Aggies are coming off a hugely successful 7-1 homestand that saw their SEC record go from a bottom of the league 3-7 mark to an 8-7 record that positions Rob Childress and his squad for another run at hosting a regional in postseason play. However, this team is not out of the woods with the next six SEC games on the road against Tennessee and Mississippi State. The good news is that the Vols and Bulldogs are both struggling near the bottom of the SEC standings, so these are all winnable games. But, all SEC road games are a challenge and the Aggies can't show up and mail in the next six games. So the goal is to keep the momentum going and jump on the struggling Volunteers early, and not give them any hope of winning.

Brian Okosun
Braden Shewmake is starting to heat up at the plate in the 3-spot of the Aggies' lineup.

Offensively, the key is the top of the order as it has been all season. Michael Helman (.387), Logan Foster (.338), and Braden Shewmake (.333) are doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of run production. Keep a close eye on preseason All-American Braden Shewmake, who has started to produce at the levels observers expected at the beginning of the season. Over the past week, Shewmake raised his average over 20 points and took the team lead in RBI. If the sophomore shortstop starts producing at 2017 levels, watch out. And while we're talking about the Wylie native, his defense at shortstop has been phenomenal in recent games, settling in as one of the best defensive infielders in the SEC with the ability to go into the hole, pick, and throw to rob opposing batters of base hits.

The other key to A&M's increased offensive production in clean-up hitter Hunter Coleman, who delivered two game-winning hits in recent games and has raised his average 20-30 points after a slow, injury-plagued start to the season. Finally, it would help the offensive cause and take pressure off the top of the order if guys like Cole Bedford, Will Frizzell, Cam Blake, and George Janca can bring something to the table as far as generating runs. If there is a weakness on this A&M team compared to other SEC clubs, it's the bottom of the lineup.  And as we've seen, if Helman, Foster, or Shewmake goes through a brief cold snap, this lineup has a hard time scoring runs.           

On the mound, there are no secrets to success here.  Starting pitching has been the anchor of this team and it all starts there. Mitchell Kilkenny is a perfect 8-0, while John Doxakis has been very consistent since moving to the starting rotation in early March. The blueprint for success this weekend is more of the same from these two. The storyline to watch is Stephen Kolek, who struggled in the Friday (Thursday) night role and was moved to a Sunday start last week that resulted in his best outing of the year. Was this a one-time shot, or has the veteran junior figured it out and will produce another quality start on Sunday? If the starting staff pitches to expectations, the Aggies have a realistic shot at sweeping this series. Quality starts also take innings and pressure off of a struggling bullpen. Closer Nolan Hoffman has been the only trusted late-inning arm in 2018. Freshman Asa Lacy seems to be emerging a possible middle reliever option, so he'll be one to watch this weekend.   

What's at stake this weekend

The Aggies got back on track this past weekend with a much-needed sweep of Alabama at Osen Field. As mentioned earlier, the fortunes of this team have changed dramatically after going 5-1 against LSU and Alabama. But, both of those series were in the friendly confines of Blue Bell Park. Now, the team hits the road and it is critical to continue the current momentum. Tennessee is a beatable 5-10 team. Then the Aggies go to Starkville and play a struggling Mississippi State squad. It is crucial to finish at least 4-2 on this trip because No. 1 Florida and first place SEC West foe Arkansas loom on the horizon. Thus, Texas A&M needs to load up on wins with these two lower division SEC teams, and it starts in Knoxville against the struggling Vols. A stumble this weekend with a couple of losses puts the Aggies back to square one before the Alabama sweep. If the Aggies plan to host the NCAA Regionals when postseason play starts, they need to win this series. Sweeping the series is the goal. Winning two of three is the minimum requirement to keep this momentum going.

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Series Preview: No. 16 Texas A&M at Tennessee

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