Bran Strickland: Good or just hot? Bama tries to find that answer
May 31, 2010 | 7925 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HOOVER — Really good or just hot?

There’s a difference.

Just like with hitters, where you’re pounding four home runs one week and can’t hit your body weight the next.

So, hot or really good … which one is Alabama?

In the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament, the Crimson Tide definitely looked the latter.

Even though it had to listen to Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge” blaring over the loudspeakers in its home state, the 4-3 11-inning loss to LSU doesn’t diminish what the Crimson Tide did here at Hoover’s Regions Park.

Save for Sunday, Alabama got strong pitching from its starters going deep into the games sparked by the complete game effort by Jimmy Nelson to open things on Thursday.

Defense was not a problem, either, as the Tide made only three errors total in the four-game stretch.

And with the pitching staff as a whole, let’s be honest, giving up only 10 runs in 36 innings — even if it was in pitcher-friendly Regions Park — that’s pretty sick.

Looking at the entire body of work, though, you could certainly argue only hot.

After starting the season 16-1, the Tide had its lapses.

Early into conference play, Alabama was swept at Arkansas during a span where it lost six of seven.

Then to start April, it was even worse.

After taking two from archrival Auburn, the Ls started to pile up again. They lost to UAB, had to use extra innings to beat Jacksonville State, dropped two to Kentucky — which didn’t make the tournament — and fell to Samford at home.

All told in that span, Alabama dropped eight of 13.

But then the ying to that yang is the bang they’re currently on.

With a berth to the SEC tournament on the line — not to mention hopes of a regional — Alabama won eight straight (five counted), including sweeping Tennessee on the road in the final weekend.

Right now, Alabama has won eight of its past 10, including the eight straight, and will head off to a regional — site to be determined today — where we’ll find out the real answer to our question.

Alabama has got the best defensive infield in the Southeastern Conference and arguably one of the top 10 in the nation.

If its pitching staff continues to perform at the level it showed in tournament play, those double-digit dingfests so akin to college baseball will be a rarity.

But that being said, because of Alabama’s glaring weakness, depending on where it is sent today could have a lasting impact on how deep Mitch Gaspard’s first Tide squad goes into the postseason.

If the Tide travels to some Cracker Jack box of a college baseball stadium, it could be in trouble — even though it swept Tennessee in its band box.

Even with a pitching staff of Hall of Famers, with aluminum bats pop ups can quickly turn into game-changing innings.

And Alabama doesn’t hit home runs.

In the regular season, it connected on only 53 — less than half of the total of league leading Auburn’s 114 dingers.

The Crimson Tide was also ninth in runs scored (395), scoring in double digits only 12 times. It was ninth in batting average (.298), too, only eight points better than last-place Ole Miss.

Two out of three — great pitching, great defense, not good hitting — ain’t bad as Meatloaf tells us.

But is it enough to be really good?

Super Regional good?

College World Series good?

Only time — and perhaps today’s destination — will tell.

Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3570 or at bstrickland@annistonstar.com

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