Opening weekend under their collective belts, it was the bats of Mississippi State’s baseball team which drew the most attention over the four-game weekend of play. After an offseason which saw veteran players dominating summer baseball leagues and newcomers enrolling with high rankings and higher praise, coaches said all preseason they expected to be an extremely improved offensive club in 2016.
It’s only been four games, of course, so beware the small sample size, but to those who expected better numbers, this weekend was proof of everything they had predicted. The Bulldogs racked up 52 hits over the weekend, scoring a total of 38 runs, one of the biggest offensive weekends MSU has seen in some time.
In fact, here is a list of the offensive categories MSU is first or second in the conference in after the weekend: batting average, on base percentage, runs, hits, RBI, doubles, total bases and walks.
And despite those big numbers, head coach John Cohen thinks they could have been even better. The ultimate goal, naturally, is to get hits and score runs, and as Cohen sees it, one can’t do that without hitting the ball well, hitting the ball hard. As he looked down his lineup sheet after the opening game, he saw that his team had 17 hits, but thought they easily could’ve had 30 given how well they hit the ball over the course of the game. Not a single starter, he said, didn’t have at least two particularly-well hit balls.
“I think what we learned is that we’re going to have a very good lineup,” Cohen said on Sunday after the final contest.
The depth of the lineup appears to be the biggest strength, as seven of the eight players who started at least three games hit over .300. Perhaps most impressive was the debut performance of junior college transfer catcher and designated hitter Jack Kruger. The junior led the team with nine hits, a .563 batting percentage and eight runs scored as he was the team’s designated hitter in all four games.
“Jack can flat out hit,” Cohen said. “We knew that when we got him.”
Notably, Kruger led not only MSU but the entire Southeastern Conference on opening weekend with five doubles, and it was that performance which exemplified the greatest improvement to MSU’s lineup in 2016: power. Including the five from Kruger, the Bulldogs racked up 20 doubles in four games over the weekend. For a frame of reference, they had 87 doubles in 54 games last year. Again, the 2016 season is only four games old, but that’s a difference of 1.6 doubles per game last season to an average of five so far this year. The doubles, one might say, have tripled.
“We swung the bats well,” Cohen said. “We showed that we can be a much better offensive team this season.”
Junior third baseman Gavin Collins, who himself hit .364 in three games played, expected performances like his team had this weekend and surely envisions more to come. His review, like Cohen’s, is that the Bulldogs have a great deal of depth and diversity in the lineup.
“We’ve got guys who can put the ball on the ground and beat balls out,” Collins began. “We’ve got guys who can put balls in the gap consistently every game,” he continued, “guys who can drive in runs and hit 10-15 home runs for us this year,” he added before finishing. “We’ve got guys like [outfielders] Jacob Robson and Mike Smith and Brent Rooker who are going to steal a ton of bags.”
The cumulative effect of so much talent at the plate?
“It’s scary,” Collins said. “It’s scary for other teams playing us. I just don’t see or feel that there’s a team in the country who has as much depth or strength as we do offensively.”