A USC baseball season that started with a top five ranking and visions of a College World Series run has spiraled into a season of blown leads, painful losses and, perhaps, no postseason bid. Let’s get you caught up on what has happened, where things stand and what could be looming in the not so distant future for the Gamecock baseball program.
Where do things stand right now with the USC baseball team?
Well, seven straight series losses in the SEC has USC staring down the barrel of not earning a postseason trip for the 2nd time in three seasons. The latest setback at Missouri dropped them to 30-21 and 12-15 in the SEC.
Yikes, what is left on the schedule?
USC has four games left on the schedule, all at home. Tuesday night they host USC Upstate, then they close out the regular season with an SEC series against Georgia that runs Thursday to Saturday.
They should win those, right?
Upstate should be a win. Georgia has been pretty bad this season, but they have actually been playing well lately. Two weeks ago the won a series against SEC East leader Kentucky and last weekend they took two of three against SEC West front runner Mississippi State. Given the fact the Gamecocks aren’t playing with a lot of confidence and haven’t won an SEC series in two months, it is anything but a given they will take the series against the Bulldogs.
What needs to happen for this team to make the postseason?
Well, probably a 4-0 week to close out the regular season for starters. No worse than 3-1. Then they will have to go to Hoover and make some noise in the SEC Tournament. As in winning two, probably three games in Hoover kind of noise. Usually it takes 16 regular season SEC wins to feel comfortable about a postseason bid. Teams can get in with 15, but it often takes some help and that aforementioned good run in Hoover.
So do the Gamecocks play well in Hoover?
Traditionally, the Gamecocks have played very poorly in Hoover.
How in the hell did this happen?
Yeah, that is a great question. It is a multi-pronged answer. First, the lineup has not produced consistently. Scoring runs has been a major issue for this team all season. The thought was solid pitching would negate this deficiency. However, Clarke Schmidt suffered two injuries that cost him time; the last one the season ending ligament damage he suffered in a 1-0 loss at Florida. Closer Tyler Johnson also spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list and has not been as dominate since he returned. Wil Crowe has been solid, Adam Hill decent and Josh Reagan has been very good out of the bullpen. That said, the staff as a whole, has not lived up to expectations and it has compounded the issues at the plate.
Oh, and this team has lost seven games this season when they were leading in the 7th inning. Had they found a way to win even three of those games this discussion isn’t happening.
Those sure do sounds like excuses, man.
Well, baseball is…
Don’t give me the baseball is a funny game line! You’ve defended this program. Do you still think people are overreacting?
Okay, okay. No, I don’t think people were overreacting to be alarmed and upset this team is in danger of missing the postseason for the second time in three years. That is a legit gripe and concern. I did think it was silly for people to write the team off in March and April because there was still a lot of baseball to be played. Well, now that baseball has been played and the results speak for themselves.
So you admit Chad Holbrook it to blame?
He’s the head coach. The buck always stops with the head coach. He has to answer for the wins and the losses.
What specifically do you think he’s done wrong?
It is easy to nitpick a baseball coach when things are going poorly. I’ve said many times I don’t think Chad Holbrook is a bad coach. Do I agree with every move he’s made? Of course not.
Answer my question. What has he done wrong this season?
First, I think the outside noise from the fans has seeped into his program and he’s had a hard time snuffing that out. That’s probably easier said than done. Winning is the best cure for that, but at some point you have to tune out those critics. Taking the shot at the fans before the Florida series was a bad choice. He apologized, but the damage was done.
In terms of coaching calls? I think the Seth Beer homer could be viewed as the turning point in the season. That was the first of a bunch of crushing losses. I don’t think you pitch to him there with a base open.
Also, I don’t have a problem with bunting, but the fact of the matter is there are a lot of guys that seem to struggle to execute a bunt when called upon to do so. It’s one thing to give up an out to advance a runner, it is another just to give up an out. Sunday against Missouri is a prime example. With two on and no one out Jonah Bride is up. With a 3-1 count he attempts a bunt and pops out. Bride is one of the best hitters on the team and he has a hitters count. I didn’t like it.
That said, none of these are fireable offenses. I think everyone on that Gamecock team is pressing right now, including Holbrook.
Is there any hope left for this season?
There’s always hope, right? The team has been in about every game its played this season so you would think they are due to pull a few out. However, at some point you are what you are and we may have reached that point with this team.
If USC misses the postseason do you think Holbrook is fired?
Here’s what Ray Tanner told the Charleston Post and Courier when he was asked if he would make a change if the Gamecocks failed to make the postseason. Keep in mind this was before they series loss to Missouri.
I’m not going to answer that, but I’ll tell you that baseball is not any different than any of our other sports in that at the end of the season you always have an evaluation with your coaches. That kind of talk is premature; there’s still a lot of baseball left this season.
There’s no question Ray Tanner hears the grumbling for USC fans. He understands the nature of the job, obviously. He lived it. That said, Tanner knows that another missed postseason will only further sour the mood around a program that has long been the crown jewel at South Carolina. He may still have confidence in Holbrook, but the fan base does not. Fair or not, that is the reality. Unlike last season when fans were unjustly jumping on a team that was competing at a high level, this year’s team has underachieved.
That said, I still don’t think Tanner would make the move to fire Holbrook, but I would expect some changes to be made within the program. Something has to give when the results don’t come.