Florida's baseball team, most pundits' No. 1 squad in 2012, is now 16-18, and needed an opponent to commit four errors, including one in the top of the ninth, to get a 4-3 win on Tuesday.
Of course, a 4-3 road win over No. 7 Florida State sounds a lot better without those caveats.
But to describe 2013 Florida, which scored the winning run when Josh Tobias knocked a sacrifice fly deep enough to score Harrison Bader in the top of the ninth at Dick Howser Stadium, is to describe a team that needs caveats this year.
Yes, Florida is just 16-18 — but it's compiled that record against by far the toughest schedule in college baseball. Yes, Florida's pitching staff has been in disarray — but what do you expect when a crown jewel like Karsten Whitson is shelved just days before the start of the season? Yes, Jonathon Crawford has a 1-5 record — but that one win came in a masterful shutout of Ole Miss that triggered Florida's only SEC series win. Yes, Florida has gone 5-7 in the SEC — but it hasn't been swept. Yes, that's something to be proud of — but why couldn't the Gators avoid a sweep at home against Florida Gulf Coast?
Florida's been unlucky, losing seven games by one run or in extra innings, and Florida's been painfully young, committing errors at inopportune times, stranding runners like it's cool (the Gators left five men on in scoring position just last night, and might have left six had Cody Dent not been thrown out trying to take third), and putting itself in holes with frustrating regularity (Florida's 3-8 when trailing after the first inning, 4-8 when trailing after the second, and 2-10 when trailing after the third). If the Gators can't score, they can't win a pitchers' duel, evidenced by a 0-12 record when scoring three or fewer runs, but if the Gators get to the end of a game with the lead, they're probably in good shape, evidenced by a 14-1 record when leading after the seventh.
This has produced a team that is just under .500, with the prospect of getting back there this weekend ... if it can take down South Carolina, winner of two of the last three College World Series, at home.
Florida's probably not going to do that, because South Carolina's better than Florida, but Florida's probably going to win at least one game, because South Carolina's not that much better than Florida. Pat Dooley nailed these Gators last night:
Bottom line with Gator baseball -- they're not that bad. And they're not that good. Tied at 3 with FSU B7— Pat Dooley (@pat_dooley) April 10, 2013
But most of the rest of Florida's schedule was or is that good — six teams Florida has played series against are in Baseball America's top 25 this week — and that has led to more losses than wins: Florida's 7-11 in those 18 games. Florida's schedule gets a little easier from here on in, though No. 11 South Carolina and No. 3 LSU are certainly no pushovers, with SEC bottom-dwellers Missouri, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia (combined SEC record: 12-36) making up the majority of Florida's weekend sets in April and May, and Florida should still end up over .500 to finish the regular season, and earn a trip to the SEC Tournament.
But with Florida's NCAA Tournament fate probably riding on what the Gators do in the SEC Tournament (very few 20-loss teams make it as at-large selections, and Florida's two losses from 20 right now, so, uh, winning the SEC Tournament would be smart) and a field full of teams slightly better than Florida waiting there, it's possible, if not probable, that the Gators still miss the NCAA Tournament after going to the College World Series for three straight years.
If Florida uses this win at Florida State as a turning point, it could still definitely make a push for June baseball. Florida had a series win over Ole Miss and a three-game winning streak to use as a turning point at this point last week, though, and squandered the chance in a series loss at Mississippi State.
I believe these Gators can make that push, and I'd obviously like to see them make it. But the caveat is that I just don't think that they will. Please, Gators, prove me wrong.