Another one? Florida baseball cruising right along with sights set on 2nd straight title
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — What the Florida baseball team is doing this season is downright ridiculous, even for a defending national champion that looks primed to repeat.
The top-ranked Gators (36-10, 16-5 Southeastern Conference) have won every weekend series they’ve played in 2018, stretching their eye-popping streak to 17 in a row. Throw in a sweep of rival Florida State in three games played weeks apart and series victories against Wake Forest (NCAA super regional) and LSU (College World Series championship series) in 2017, and Florida has claimed 20 consecutive best-of-three events.
It’s an impressive streak, for sure.
It’s somewhat meaningless, too.
The Gators have been so good for so long — they’re even better than they were in 2017 — that anything short of another trip to Omaha, Nebraska, and another national title would be a disappointment.
“The expectations that everybody is putting on this team are fair,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said this week. “But if we don’t win it, I’d never say it was a failure. There are more than 300 Division I teams and only eight get a chance to go to Omaha. We’ve gone six out of the last eight years; it’s not easy. People on the outside might take it for granted. I certainly don’t, but my expectation is to get there.”
That much seems like a given.
The Gators have improved on the mound and at the plate this season, all while playing with huge targets on their backs.
O’Sullivan deserves credit for keeping players hungry, humble and healthy. He’s really only been dealt one minor hiccup.
O’Sullivan pulled right-hander Tyler Dyson, who started and won the 2017 finale, late last month after the sophomore failed to get through the fifth inning in five of his last six starts.
Freshman Jack Leftwich stepped in and won his first weekend start. If Leftwich becomes a reliable starter the rest of the way, the Gators could be difficult to catch in the powerhouse SEC.
Florida enters this weekend’s series at Texas A&M (33-12, 11-10) with a three-game lead over second-place Arkansas and four games up on Georgia in the Eastern Division.
Aces Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar have set the tone, picking up where first-round draft pick Alex Faedo left off last year. Singer is 9-1 with a 2.63 ERA and won a head-to-head showdown against Auburn standout Casey Mize. Kowar has been nearly as good, going 7-2 with a 2.91 ERA. Jackson and Kowar are considered first-round locks in next month’s Major League Baseball draft.
Leftwich and fellow freshmen Tommy Mace and Jordan Butler have been solid out of bullpen, bridging the gap between starters and All-American closer Michael Byrne. Byrne has 11 saves and a 1.53 ERA.
The biggest difference between the title team and the one trying to make two in a row is in the batter’s box. The Gators are hitting 30 percentage points higher this season, up from .259 to .289, and already have 15 more home runs.
Jonathan India is enjoying a career year, hitting .401 with 14 homers and a team-leading 50 runs. India also had a 24-game hitting streak. Sophomore and community college transfer Wil Dalton has a team-leading 16 homers and 47 RBIs.
“It is a little crazy for sure,” India said. “Now that we have the hitting factored back into our team, it looks ever better for us. We’re clicking on all cylinders.”
Consistency has been the key, something O’Sullivan credits to not having to play many freshmen.
That experience should come in handy down the stretch, especially in those more significant, three-game series in the postseason.
“I wish we could win the national championship every year, but there’s so many things that have to fall into place,” O’Sullivan said. “There’s a little bit of luck involved. This is a fickle game, and just like in any other sport, the best team doesn’t always win.”