It is pretty obvious by now that this isn’t the same Mississippi State baseball squad that finished as the national runner-up at the College World Series last year.
But after all, it shouldn’t be.
Each year, a team’s identity has to be recreated as players leave and others attempt to occupy new roles. The Diamond Dogs lost nine players in the MLB Draft from the 2013 team that finished with a 51-20 record.
Losing a first-round draft pick like Hunter Renfroe would be a blow to any team. But to me, Adam Frazier was the biggest loss from last year’s squad.
Not only did Frazier start all 71 games at shortstop, he also led off every game, led the team with a .352 batting average and set a single-season school record with 107 hits.
So far this season, State has used three shortstops and four different leadoff men. Seth Heck has secured the shortstop position having started 37 straight games but no one has consistently been able to get on base out of the leadoff spot.
Offense has been an issue all season. The Diamond Dogs didn’t exactly set the woods on fire with their bats last year but a .293 team batting average and 30 home runs for the year is far better compared to the .275 average and eight homers so far in 2014.
However, this year’s edition is only averaging one less hit and 0.7 fewer runs per game than its 2013 statistics.
MSU is 28-17 overall this year and sports an 11-10 record in SEC play with three weekends remaining in the regular season.
At the same point in the season a year ago, the Bulldogs were 10-11 in league play.
Expectations and perception have a lot to do with the way this 2014 team is viewed as opposed to its previous counterpart. Mississippi State was ranked as highly as No. 2 nationally in the preseason polls and had signed the nation’s second-best recruiting class.
But many times the teams that are left standing in Omaha aren’t always the top eight teams in the country but instead the ones that got hot at the right time. The Bulldogs were one of those teams last season and certainly in 2007.
Does this team have what it takes to heat up over the final month and make a run in the postseason? That’s the beauty of baseball, because it will all be settled on the field in a tournament format instead of computer rankings.
Logan Lowery (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Journal. He blogs at InsideMSUSports.com