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Texas A&M Baseball

Series Preview: No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 1 Florida

May 4, 2018
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Who:  University of Florida (36-10, 16-5 SEC)

Where:  Olsen Field Blue Bell Park — College Station, TX

When: 

Friday 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC+)

Saturday 4:00 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

Sunday 12:00 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

Pitching matchups

Friday: Mitchell Kilkenny (RHP, 8-1, 2.12) vs. Brady Singer (RHP, 9-1, 2.62)

Saturday: John Doxakis (LHP, 6-2, 2.86) vs. Jackson Kowar (RHP, 7-2, 2.91)

Sunday: Stephen Kolek (RHP, 4-4, 3.75) vs. Jack Leftwich (RHP, 4-1, 3.40)

Scouting Florida

What more can you say? Florida is the No. 1 team in the nation, and they've been in that spot most of the year. If you poll most national experts, Florida could be the most prohibitive favorite to win the College World Series at this stage in recent years. It's easy to see why. The starting pitching is elite, led by all-American Brady Singer. But their Saturday starter, Jackson Kowar, has all-SEC numbers himself with a 7-2 record and a 2.91 ERA. The three weekend starters are a combined 20-4 this season. Add in three batters with double-digit home runs and you can see why this squad is consistent week-after-week. Here are some numbers that reflect the Gators' staying power. Kevin O'Sullivan's teams have been ranked an NCAA-record 65 straight weeks. His squads have won 17 straight regular season weekend series going back to last season. That is an incredible mark considering the strength and depth of the SEC Conference. Since the skipper has taken the reins in 2008, Florida has a .650 winning percentage in SEC play and he's won a national championship. Basically, the Aggies are facing the best college baseball program in the country, and it's really not close. 

Basically, the Aggies are facing the best college baseball program in the country, and it's really not close. 

If you look at the statistics on paper, there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference in both teams. Florida is hitting .289 as a team compared to .292 for the Aggies. That looks like a wash, right? Well, not when you look deeper into the numbers...more specifically the power numbers. Florida is crushing the long ball with 68 round trippers on the season. Texas A&M's power is certainly there, but their 42 homers do not come close to matching the muscle of Florida. If you want to boil it down, essentially Florida has a devastating 1,2,3 punch in the middle of their order. In the No. 3 hole is the NCAA's leading overall hitter, Jonathan India. Along with his .401 batting average, he has 14 home runs and a slugging percentage of .810, which leads the SEC. Add in speed on the base paths (10 stolen bases) and this is the best offensive player in baseball bar none. After dealing with India, opposing pitchers must face clean-up hitter Will Dalton and his 16 dingers and 47 RBI. And if the pitcher thinks he can breathe after facing that dangerous 1-2 punch, he must come back to battle with J.J. Schwarz, who many thought was the nation's most dangerous hitter a year ago. His .310 batting average, 10 home runs, and 37 RBI would be the best on most collegiate teams, but he's been overlooked in 2018 with the play of India. When it's all said and done, this 3-4-5 punch in the middle of the order is clearly the most destructive in college baseball, and frankly why Florida is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition in the SEC and the nation.  

When you add that kind of offensive production in the middle of the lineup with all-American arms like Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, it's a tough assignment for anybody to beat this bunch in a three-game series. But, even if a team can manage to stay in the game and get into the Gator bullpen, the news doesn't get much better. Florida boasts the best closer in the SEC. Michael Byrne is one of the nation's best closers with 11 saves and a sparkling 1.53 ERA. Batters are hitting a minuscule .186 against him. The Gators also have set-up man Jordan Butler with his 2.43 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting just .172 against him. And not to be outdone, Andrew Baker has a 2.57 ERA and opposing batting average of .187.  

As you can see, this is a very good team with elite talent in the starting rotation, in the bullpen, and in the middle of the batting order. This will be a tough assignment for the Aggies.      

Texas A&M storylines to watch

The Aggies will have to play their best baseball of the year to come away with the series win in College Station. Texas A&M must get quality starts from all three starters. While Florida's starters are salty, A&M actually matches up best with its own elite starting staff that leads the SEC in ERA. If there is somebody who can go pitch-for-pitch with Brady Singer, it's Mitchell Kilkenny, who has very similar season stats to the all-American. John Doxakis had one of his shakiest outings of the season against Mississippi State, but the defense behind him also let him down and left him out on the mound far too long early in the game and he never recovered. But when he's sharp and the defense is solid, he can pitch with anybody. It's also worth noting that Florida's Kowar got rocked by Auburn last weekend to the tune of eight hits and seven runs in 4+ innings of work. It will be interesting to see which pitcher rebounds from sub-par outings last weekend. Stephen Kolek has been up-and-down all season, but Florida has been searching for a steady Sunday starter as well. Jack Leftwich has taken over for Tyler Dyson, who struggled earlier in the season. Leftwich has been solid but not overpowering. All three pitching match-ups are equal across the board. Texas A&M will need to win these battles if they want a chance to win this series because the Gators have a significant advantage in the bullpen.  

Stephanie Aiple
Kaylor Chafin had his best week of the season last week, and the Aggies may rely heavily on him this weekend against No. 1 Florida. 

Of course, a rejuvenated Kaylor Chafin could equalize that advantage somewhat. He had his best outing of the season last week against Mississippi State, and his relief work allowed the Aggies to widen its lead and lower the heart rate in the late innings. Bottom line, Nolan Hoffman can't do it alone this weekend against this lineup. Whether it's Chafin or lefty Asa Lacy coming on and lighting a fire in the bullpen, somebody needs to step up and give a great performance this weekend.

When it's all said and done, A&M pitching must be efficient and take care of the top of the Florida lineup. The Aggies can't give up free passes to Deacon Liput and Nelson Maldonado at the top of the lineup. Allowing the three-headed monster of India, Dalton, and Schwarz to come to the plate with runners on base is a recipe for disaster. The pitchers must bear down hard and focus on the other six batters in the lineup, so when the middle three come to the plate, there is a margin for error and there's an opportunity to nibble around the edges and pitch carefully. It's a pretty simple strategy. Don't fall into a situation where a pitcher is forced to throw a fastball over the plate and pray. Florida will make sure those prayers won't be answered.    

At the plate, A&M will need to fight and claw for runs. I don't see a lot of crooked numbers on Friday and Saturday. The strategy for success is to manufacture a handful of runs and hope the pitching does its job.

What's at stake this weekend 

We're getting down to the nitty-gritty of conference play. There are only three weekends to go, and all three opponents have a winning record in SEC play. I don't have to tell you the RPI points that are available this weekend playing the No. 1 team. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say if the Aggies can win a pair of games this weekend, they will host a regional. But, if they lose this series and then go on the road to play top 10 Arkansas and lose that series, there will be pressure on this team to win the season finale against a red-hot Gamecock squad. This team can play its way to the brink of a national seed, or the Aggies can play its way onto the NCAA bubble. If the Aggies win two this weekend, the bubble talk is gone, and the regional host talk is very loud. Yes, there is a lot on the line.

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Series Preview: No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 1 Florida

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