This weekend the Batcats won their second consecutive SEC series to start 5-1 in conference play. It’s the best start since 2012, a year in which they went to the College World Series, played an epic 21-inning game against Kent St. and were thisclose to advancing to the Super Regional Round.
There are still a LOT of games left to play, including 24 more SEC contests, but the early signs are positive for a special season.
The writers, coaches, and computers like what they’re seeing
Baseball America: #16
D1 Baseball: #16
Warren Nolan: #22
Ken Massey: #14
Boyd's World: #17
That’s where UK ranks among a collection of polls and computer ratings. What Kentucky is doing this season is attracting a lot of attention. For a program that is a non-traditional power in the sport, this serves as validation for the hire of Nick Mingione, the players who worked hard over the summer and winter, and the freshmen who stuck with their commitment through the coaching change.
The rotation is young and inexperienced, but talented
The biggest question entering the season concerned the weekend rotation. UK lost all three weekend starters from last year and while there were several talented hurlers on the roster, they were all young and had thrown mostly out of the pen. The new triumverate of Sean Hjelle, Zach Logue, and Justin Lewis has been sensational though. UK is 13-5 in their starts and the trio has combined for a 3.46 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 4.27 K/BB ratio.
The midweek starter has been a bit of a revolving door for the Cats over the last several years, but freshman Zach Thompson has given the Cats some much-needed stability in the role. Brad Schaenzer is picking up starts in two-game weeks and UK is a combined 5-2 in their starts.
The hitters are crushing opponents
Kentucky leads the SEC in batting average, on-base %, slugging, runs scored, hits, doubles, and hit-by-pitch. That's over all games, but the early returns in their first 6 conference games suggest this is no fluke. As the weather warms up, the offense should become even more dangerous.
Six Batcats are hitting over .300, seven have an OBP .400 or better, and four are slugging over .500. Oh, and that count doesn't include All-SEC 1B Evan White who's been sidelined for much of the year with an injury, but returned against Mississippi this past weekend.
Beyond the numbers, Mingione has instituted a "fast break" offense - pushing the tempo by stealing often, taking extra bases, and looking to score at every opportunity. The strategy was on display against Mississippi with Wildcat runners pushing the defense at every opportunity. They weren’t always successful - there were several baserunning blunders that resulted in unnecessary outs - but that’s baseball and ultimately the “attack” mindset Mingione is instilling in this team is going to prove to be more valuable than a handful of outs here and there.
This is another big week for UK with a rematch against Cincinnati and another their first series against an SEC East team. Vanderbilt (16-7) has had an unexpectedly difficult start to the year, but they were Preseason Top 10 for a reason. This is a talented team and are very capable of taking the series.