After losing a home series to a top-10 team over the weekend — enough for one national pundit to term the weekend "brutal" — Florida's No. 2 baseball team rebounded against FSU once again on Tuesday.
And once more, it was the Gators' bats that got right against the Seminoles. Florida pushed across runs in six separate innings, and Peter Alonso, Dalton Guthrie, and JJ Schwarz all collected three hits in an 8-2 victory in Tallahassee.
The offensive revival — keyed by Guthrie early, as he scored a run and accrued two RBI by the fourth, and by Schwarz late, as he drove in the Gators' next three runs — was a welcome sight after Florida scored just two runs over its final 19 innings against Mississippi State on the weekend.
It wasn't as if the Gators that much more efficient at driving home runners against the 'Noles, given that they stranded 10 men. just off the 11 and 12 left on base in their two losses to the Bulldogs and as many as were left in Florida's 8-2 series-opening win last Friday. But just three Gators made it to second base without scoring on Tuesday night, and they got that far in the eighth and ninth innings; against the Bulldogs, Florida stranded five runners in scoring position on Saturday, and seven on Sunday.
There's obviously some luck and randomness in who gets hits when in baseball, and the difference between good luck and bad luck at the plate has been partly explained recently by looking at hit sequencing, and seeing how clustered hits and ones with runners on can really make up for an inability to get runners on. In laymen's terms, an understanding of hit sequencing provides backup for the idea that putting up one crooked number can carry a team, or that one part of a lineup getting hot is sometimes all you need.
For Florida on Tuesday, getting three hits from each of three players hitting in the first five spots in the lineup was prime hit sequencing. But on Sunday, no Gator had more than one hit, and no three-person stretch of the lineup had more than three; on Saturday, Florida's 12 hits were scattered well, with Jeremy Vasquez's 3-for-4 night not producing a single run for him, and No. 9 hitter Jonathan India's 3-for-4 night largely squandered by a 3-for-13 performance by the top of Florida's order, with Buddy Reed's three-run homer standing as the only run-producing hit by that group.
After that anemic end to the weekend, Kevin O'Sullivan shifted his lineup for Tuesday, moving Deacon Liput up to the second spot from the fifth position. But he might have actually been better served by keeping the Guthrie-Reed-Schwarz-Alonso top four from the weekend, given that those players went 10-for-17 and Liput went 0-for-4 with a walk.
If you're looking for evidence to support the idea that Florida will simply have good nights and bad nights at the play, and has too much talent for bad luck to be a persistent bugaboo, tagging FSU pitching for six and eight runs in midweek games after struggling to score at Kentucky and against Mississippi State is support for your side, as is Florida generating eight runs from 12 hits on the road two games after 12 hits yielded just four runs at home.
And if you're looking for evidence that Florida has truly established the upper hand on both of its vaunted Sunshine State foes on the diamond, consider that the Gators' five consecutive wins over FSU, dating back to a two-game sweep in Super Regional play in 2015, are their most ever, and that O'Sullivan's record is now 18-15 against the 'Noles despite the fact that it was 9-13 entering 2014.
More important than getting bats going or dominating in-state rivals, though, is getting wins. And Florida's third against FSU makes the Gators' grip on the No. 1 spot in RPI a stranglehold.
Florida is No. 1 in the NCAA's RPI, but because the NCAA doesn't release the raw numbers for those rankings, just ordinal placements, there's no way to know where the Gators sit relative to No. 2 South Carolina. Per D1Baseball.com's RPI, though, Florida's 0.6692 mark puts the Gators about two hundreths ahead of the Gamecocks, a substantial advantage.
Both rankings suggest Florida's won three series (or two series and a "series") against top-10 teams Miami, FSU, and Texas A&M, and that the Gators haven't lost to a team outside the RPI's top 30. The only other teams with as many wins against RPI top-25 teams as Florida are Miami and FSU, teams the Gators have gone 5-1 against despite playing just one game against those teams in Gainesville, and only the Gators have nine top-25 wins without a loss to a team outside the RPI's top 100.
Basically, Florida's steaming toward the No. 1 national seed at the moment, and will have plenty more rigor to add, with series against South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and LSU yet to come. If the Gators can hold serve in midweek games and series against lesser teams like Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee, then win two of those three big-time series, they will probably be locks for a national seed and in the conversation for No. 1; win all three, and No. 1 should be coming their way.
That reward would be just for the most talented and complete team in college baseball, a recognition that the nation's best team has also had its best season. We're just under two months from it being bestowed, of course, but the Gators are showing few signs of letting up in their pursuit of greatness.