Just a Bit Outside-Return of College Baseball
College. Baseball. Is. Back. 4 words I have been dying to say since college football ended. Sure, college and high school hoops are fun, but they pale in comparison to baseball. There is just something about the smell of the infield dirt, the sound of the crack of the bat, and the oddly satisfying pop of the ball hitting the webbing of a glove that you just cannot beat. Thank goodness, we can experience all of that again.
The Gamecocks started off their brutal 2021 schedule with a good confidence-building 3 game sweep of the Dayton Flyers. While Dayton is by no means Omaha caliber, there were plenty of positives to take away from this series.
A year ago, one of the biggest issues for the Gamecocks was that they did not hit for power. The only power bat in the lineup was Wes Clarke, who hit .286 in 16 games with 8 homers and 22 RBIs. Clarke has started 2021 off hot, batting .769 with 6 bombs, 2 doubles, 2 singles, 7 walks, 12 RBIs, and 11 runs scored through 4 games. Tuesday against Winthrop, Wes became the first Gamecock hitter to record a 3 homer game since Justin Smoak in 2008 vs Upstate. While Wes has been doing his thing, he hasn’t been the only Carolina bat that has shown some pop so far.
In general, the Gamecocks have been getting some good swings in so far and have made solid contact. But, Andrew Eyster, Braylen Wimmer, Brady Allen, and Colin Burgess have also contributed to the power party so far, with a combined 6 homers, 5 doubles, 2 triples, and 16 RBIs.
South Carolina isn’t just aggressively hitting the cover off the ball so far either. Another thing we didn’t see much of in the short 2020 season was hitting to the opposite field, but so far they have tried to go oppo at every good opportunity they get.
Perhaps more impressive than the hitting out of the gate for Carolina has been the bullpen. The Gamecock ‘pen has pitched a combined 20 innings, giving up just 10 hits, 5 runs, with 27 strikeouts. The starting pitching has been just as efficient with 6 runs on 9 hits and 27 K’s in 16 innings.
The downsides are that as a staff, the Gamecocks have given up 18 free passes, and have been wild at times, leading to a few short starts. That is something you can get away with when your offense is producing like they are and when you are facing the likes of Dayton. But, with this gauntlet of a schedule they have from here out, they will have to cut down on walks and hit batters if they don’t want that to come back to bite them.
Another negative is that Carolina has committed 5 errors already this season. Obviously, an error hurts just as much if not more than a walk, with this schedule especially. The Cocks will have to field clean and not give up any free base runners or opportunities. Lastly, they will have to find ways to grind at bats and put the ball in play. It already reared its head in the Sunday game against Dayton. Teams that have this kind of power eventually run into a wall where that power just isn’t there. You will run into a pitcher that has your number and keeps you off balance. Strikeouts will do you no good, and they have already amassed 23 of them in 4 games.
Ultimately, the way-too-early verdict on this team is that they will be competitive this season because they have a strong bullpen and a lot of power. But, ultimately that means that this team will take its share of losses. Some will be close and in others, we’ll run into a juggernaut that kills any chance of offense putting runs on the board while they hang 10 in the early innings. The Gamecocks are interesting this year, and that is something to crow about as they get ready to take on Clemson in the rivalry series this weekend.