-Photos by Jordan McPherson
The Florida baseball team seems to have found its groove. Since being swept by Auburn two weekends ago, the ninth-ranked Gators have won seven of their past eight games -- including all five games played away from their home field at McKethan Stadium. Now fresh off its first conference sweep of the season at Missouri, let’s take a look at the numbers being Florida’s recent success.
Schwarz and Rivera resurgence
If the past eight games were any indication, juniors JJ Schwarz and Mike Rivera are finally finding their groove at the plate. Rivera is batting .379 over the past two weeks (11 for 29) with a pair of home runs, a double, seven RBI and three runs scored. That’s a huge improvement over his first 19 games of the season, when he was batting .190 and had just 12 hits to his name.
Schwarz is hitting .355 over the past eight games (11 for 31) and has driving in nine runs. Prior to this, he was hitting .211 and went on two separate hitting slumps.
Offense progressing, but not there yet
Even with two of its best hitters getting back into their groove, Florida still isn’t producing the numbers coach Kevin O’Sullivan was hoping for when the season began. Florida has hit .240 over the past eight games, which equals its season output heading in. With the exception of centerfielder Nick Horvath, who has an atrocious .159 batting average, all of Florida’s starters are hitting between .215 and .300. One bright spot: Florida has hit a home run in each of its last five games after going on a five-game stretch without knocking a ball out of the park.
The scoring position struggle
While the offense is starting to get back into shape, the team is still struggling to drive in players in scoring position. Over the past eight games, Florida is batting just .224 (17 for 76) when it has runners on second and/or third base. What’s worse? The team has a combined 22 strikeouts in these situations, including 10 punchouts that ended innings and left runners stranded.
Starting pitching dominance
While the offense is still finding its consistency, Florida’s starting pitching has returned to form and is once again carrying the team. In total, they tossed 50 of 74 innings over this eight-game stretch (67.6 percent) and have given up just nine runs (seven earned for a collective 1.26 ERA). The star of the show has been sophomore Brady Singer (photo, left). Florida’s Saturday-night starter has thrown back-to-back complete games and given up just two total runs to bring his ERA down to 1.47. He’s the first Florida pitcher to toss complete games in back-to-back starts since Hudson Randall in 2011.
Yes, you can point to that complete meltdown in the series finale against LSU, the one where Florida’s bullpen gave up three two-run home runs in the span of five plate appearances. But those final two innings aside, Florida’s young bullpen -- one run mostly by sophomore Michael Byrne, junior Nick Horvath and a bevy of freshmen -- has slowly started to show just how good it can be. Excluding that third LSU game, Florida’s bullpen has a 3.48 ERA over 20 2/3 innings. The relievers also have a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last two weeks. Byrne specifically has come into his own. In six relief appearances spanning 11 1/3 innings, the 6-2 righty whose fastball barely cracks 90 mph has given up just seven hits and four runs -- two of which came off one of the three home runs in that LSU finale. He has given up just one hit in his last 6 2/3 innings on the mounds and has earned three consecutive saves.
The Florida defense posted a respectable .978 fielding mark over the past two weeks, but the Gators did commit seven errors over the past six games. Christian Hicks, who is playing shortstop while Dalton Guthrie tends to an injury with his throwing arm, was responsible for three of those errors.