Kentucky managed to avoid a sweep in Gainesville on Sunday, defeating Florida 8-1. Despite the win, the Wildcats yet again found themselves on the losing end of an SEC series, having lost six of seven this season.
An early March series win over then-ranked TCU showed plausible promise, but the ‘Cats have come nowhere close to maintaining expectations since then.
Following the pair of wins over the Horned Frogs, UK has played 23 games against Power Five opponents, winning only seven of those contests. While the Wildcats have only been swept one time this year — in Fayetteville against Arkansas — they’ve only been able to nab one conference series win, taking two of three from Georgia at the end of March.
Below average pitching plagues conference play
In Kentucky’s 21 games in SEC play, the pitching staff has allowed more than five runs 11 times, winning just two of those battles.
Nine of those losses have seen the Wildcat staff allow eight or more runs, an abhorrent number, often giving the offense no chance to contend, regardless of how hot the bats are. UK has lost four games this season in which its scored more than five runs, with the pitching allowing an average of 12.75 runs in those losses.
Sean Harney and Tyler Guilfoil were lights-out in the series finale against the Gators, with Harney tossing seven innings of five-hit, one-run baseball. Normally relievers, the duo have been some of the only consistent pieces head coach Nick Mingione has had this season.
Of the six pitchers who have made at least three starts this season for Kentucky, no starter checks in with an ERA under 5.00. Tyler Bosma, the 6-foot-6 lefty who has toed the slab first on eight occasions this year, owns a 5.18 ERA in 33 innings pitched.
Injuries have taken a toll on the staff, with Friday night starter Cole Stupp and top reliever Darren Williams both having been out for the season for some time. Williams in particular was dynamite until his injury, boasting an 0.93 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 29 innings of work.
The back end of the staff has been less than ideal for Mingione, as four arms who have made 10 or more appearances this season have ERA’s over 7.50. With zero consistency from the arms all season, the Wildcats have been unable to find any groove since SEC play began.
The bats are almost as inconsistent
When the Wildcats do win in the SEC, they pile it on. In the seven conference wins, they are averaging 10 runs per game. Whether it be 18 runs against Georgia, 15 against Missouri or nine against Ole Miss, hitting is contagious in the UK dugout.
The issue is, when Kentucky faces decent pitching, which is plentiful in the SEC, the bats go ice cold. In the team’s 14 conference losses, they are averaging a measly 2.2 runs.
In the Arkansas series, UK managed just six runs in three games. Vanderbilt would hold the ‘Cats to the same run total in Lexington, including a no-hitter in game one of the set. Before the offensive outburst on Sunday against the Gators, UF pitching held the bats to just three runs.
Four Wildcats collected a pair of hits in the finale against Florida, as the team notched 11 total. The season stats for UK hitters don’t reflect that of a team fighting to stay above .500.
All 10 players who took an at-bat for Kentucky on Sunday own batting averages over the Mendoza line. Daniel Harris IV leads the way at .324, while Chase Estep follows at .315. Estep is the lone Cat to own an OPS above 1.000.
Seven players have accumulated 20 or more RBI over the season, while Estep and Plastiak have each mashed a team-best 12 home runs. The extra-base hit numbers have been there, and the production has been spread throughout the lineup, it just hasn’t come in the timely manner that Mingione has been looking for.
More of the same year in year out
Following Mingione’s superb 2017 season in his first go-round at the helm, taking the ‘Cats to the Super Regionals where they fell to Louisville, it’s been a rocky road.
Kentucky is en route to its fifth consecutive year without a postseason berth. After an encouraging 10-1 start to the season, the behemoth that is the SEC has once again drug the Wildcats down to the bottom of the conference in a long, grueling fashion.
Whether it’s finding a new head coach, or taking a leap with the talent that arrives in Lexington, there is a clear need for some sort of change in Kentucky Baseball.
The season continues on Thursday, May 5, as the Wildcats welcome consensus No. 1 Tennessee to Kentucky Proud Park for a three-game series.