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Florida baseball rises to No. 2 in SEC Power Poll, drops two straight games

Florida's been riding high on the diamond of late, but a couple of puzzling midweek losses have laid the Gators low.

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Florida is the No. 2 team in the SEC Baseball Power Poll this week.

Two is also the number of consecutive losses Florida's taken to in-state teams in midweek games over the last two days.

The Gators moved up from No. 3 in the Power Poll, and moved as close as anyone's gotten to South Carolina all year, taking three first-place votes — best in the poll — and getting kind "best team in the SEC right now" and "should build a winning streak" commentary from voters.

Of course, that first comment was from me, and I made no mention of Florida's ability to put together a winning streak, because I know better1.

The Gators went cold on Tuesday, losing 3-1 to Jacksonville, and nearly as cold on Wednesday, losing 4-3 to Florida A&M and suffering their first loss to the Rattlers in program history. Florida's No. 1 through No. 5 hitters went 4-for-37 in those two games, and were 1-for-33 outside of Harrison Bader's 3-for-4 night (which included a homer and two RBI) against FAMU; the Gators had 10 hits over the two games, and left a combined 13 runners on base, a good way to lose midweek games to inferior teams despite allowing just six hits in each contest.

The real reason Florida faltered was spotty relief from the second pitcher brought in on each night. On Tuesday, that was Ryan Harris, who followed five scoreless innings from Karsten Whitson with three runs in his 2.1 innings of work, conceding all three with two outs in the seventh despite allowing just one hit — a three-run homer. Wednesday brought struggles from Justin Shafer, who relieved A.J. Puk after two perfect innings to begin the game, worked a clean third inning, and then gave up two runs in the fourth and hit the leadoff man in what became a two-run seventh inning for the Rattlers.

Both Harris and Shafer have been excellent at times for Florida this season, notably factoring heavily in the Gators' midweek sweep of Florida State, but they weren't good enough this week to hold down losing teams from bad conferences on cold nights for Florida's inconsistent bats.

And the weird thing about this is that Florida's been incredible against excellent teams in 2014:

Georgia being No. 46 in the current RPI helps inflate that stat a bit, but if you want to count just the games since Bader's return from a season-opening suspension, the Gators are 12-3 against RPI Top 50 teams. And Arkansas, which Florida took a series from, is No. 51 ... even though Florida won the two games without Bader, and lost the series finale with him making his 2014 debut.

But those losses this week were to the No. 166 and No. 215 teams in RPI; though Florida A&M is likely to vault into the top 200 with a win over Florida, those are bad, bad losses, even for midweek games.

Do they do much to damage Florida's chances at a national seed? No. Could Florida still end up as the No. 1 overall seed if it closes strong on weekends, and in its upcoming series against Alabama and Tennessee? Sure.

As much as I'd like to write off midweek games, though, there's something about how Florida's pitcher-by-committee and okay-let's-see-if-one-person-can-carry-the-offense strategies this week resulted in losses that has me worried about Florida's chances of being an early out in the NCAA Tournament.

If Florida can lose to Florida A&M, it can lose to virtually anyone.

  1. I don't know better. I just got lucky.