Starting today and continuing on Saturday and Sunday, the Kentucky Wildcats play a big 3-game series with the Vanderbilt Commodores. As you may know, last weekend the Wildcats took the series off of #1 South Carolina in Cliff Hagan Stadium. This series againt Vanderbilt represents Kentucky's second top-five opponent in a row.
Andrew Banecker of Anchor of Gold, the excellent SB Nation Commodore's community, asked me to do a Q&A with him, and here you have the fruits of our labor. My questions and Andrew's answers can be found below. The other half can be found here at Anchor of Gold.
1. For one of the SEC's elite baseball teams, Vanderbilt isn't exactly knocking the cover off the baseball this year. Is this simply the way this team plays, or is it youth, a slow start ... what?
AB: It could be all of those things, but I think it’s a combination of the overly conservative philosophy — which worked better in the last two years when we had more guys who could bunt for base hits — and the inability to string hits together. As a whole, there’s a lot of talent, but Zander Wiel and Xavier Turner have been cold all season, and Corbs seems committed to batting Freshman speedster Ro Coleman at DH, despite his continuing to hit at a .182 clip (it’s not a cold streak; he just seems over-matched at the moment). In Coach Corbin’s defense, we’ve replaced a lot of talent, with Tony Kemp, Conrad Gregor, Connor Harrell, Spencer Navin, and Mike Yastrzemski all in the minors. Some of their replacements (Dansby Swanson at 2B, Bryan Reynolds in OF) are performing as well or better than I expected, but you just don’t replace a lead-off hitter like Tony Kemp, and we’re still trying to figure out whether Chris Harvey or Jason Delay is the answer at catcher. They’ve got more power than they’ve shown, too, though you can only say that for so long…
2. Vandy may not be hitting with great power, but their pitching is really strong. Can you tell us a little bit about your weekend starters, and which one, if either, we have the best chance to attack.
AB: This is going to sound absurd, but if they’re on, there’s pretty much nothing you can do but hope. Beede’s a top 5 to top 10 pick in the upcoming draft, Jared Miller is a young Andy Pettite, and Tyler Ferguson can blow you away with mid-high 90s heat. Until this weekend’s horribleness, Beede and Miller both had sub 1.00 ERAs, and Beede damn near pitched a perfect game outdueling Aaron Nola (though he took the loss due to errors and a bad effort by Brian Miller out of the pen). The frightening thing is our scariest pitcher might just be in the bullpen. Carson Fulmer is the real deal. You can’t count on it, but like all great pitchers, your only chance is if they don’t have their best stuff, or you get to them early. Good luck, but I don’t see it happening two weekend’s in a row, and I certainly don’t see it happening at home.
3. The Commodores are second in the SEC with 9 saves. Who is your ace reliever, if anybody? What's his specialty?
AB: Carson Fulmer. He’s got a plus fastball and a spike curve, and he’s absolutely unhittable when he’s on. Think Rick Vaughn in Major League, without the ridiculous haircut.
4. Kentucky has allowed more home runs, 10, than any other SEC team. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, hasn't hit many round-trippers this season. Is there anyone in the lineup that has the power to hit multiple home runs in a series? Who is the most dangerous offensive player you have, and why?
AB: Those are different questions. Our biggest power bat is Zander Wiel, but he’s in the midst of a season-long power slump. He can go yard every time he swings the bat. Unfortunately, he’s only proven that once this season. Bryan Reynolds is our most complete hitter, though. He’s a switch-hitter with a sweet left-handed line-drive swing. He was leading the SEC in doubles at one point. Not sure if that’s still the case, but the Freshman’s a hell of a player.
5. Predict the outcome of the series and what you think the key factors will be.
AB: I actually agree with your prediction and think Vandy will take 2 of 3. It will come down to the "unstoppable force versus the immovable object" battle of Vandy’s pitching staff and UK’s power bats. If Vandy can hit its spots and manufacture a few runs, our staff and deep bullpen should be enough to take two of three (and if all goes right, sweep them all). If our pitchers leave it up in the zone and/or get too much of the plate, your offense is going to pounce. One of these games, the latter will happen, and you’ll get like 13 runs. I think the other two will be close and we’ll manage to eek out enough offense to win the two close games.