After another .500 week, Kentucky still sits squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Bat ‘Cats are 26-15 overall with a 10-11 mark in SEC play.
However, a couple more blowout losses took some shine off the weekend in Knoxville. With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats need to gobble up some more wins in a hurry.
John Rhodes paces the Kentucky offense
The Chattanooga (Tenn.) Christian product entered the 2021 season with some high expectations. The third-team All-America selection in 2020, Rhodes led the SEC in doubles while batting .426 in 61 at-bats in the shortened season. However, a sophomore slump has arrived in 2020.
Rhodes is currently hitting just .247 in 146 at-bats this year with 21 extra-base hits. He’s struggled to consistently bring it, but when he is hot the offense can get to another level.
— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) May 1, 2021
In Friday’s win over Tennessee, Rhodes was 3-4 at the plate with a couple of monster home runs. The outfielder is second on the team in home runs and RBIs, leads the squad in walks, and is third in OPS. He is the key to Kentucky reaching their offensive ceiling.
Rhodes is off of a 4-11 performance at the plate as he returned home to Tennessee this weekend. With three huge SEC series upcoming, Kentucky will need him to swing a hot stick in order to get some more wins to bolster that postseason resume.
Jacob Plastiak provides life at third base
The junior college transfer from Chicago was a new addition that many expected to possibly take over a starting position at the hot corner. However, true freshman Reuben Church got off to a torrid start and the coaching staff had to find the young player some at-bats. However, Church has cooled off considerably in recent weeks while Plastiak has been inserted into the lineup.
The switch hitter has delivered.
In the last 12 games, we’ve seen Plastiak get 42 at-bats as he’s become the team’s everyday third baseman. In the run, the transfer is hitting just .262 but has shown some power with the bat. In Knoxville, Plastiak belted two home runs and is giving the lineup some life at the bottom of the order.
Church should still be considered the long-term answer at third base, but right now it’s all about chasing wins. Plastiak gives the team the best shot and his offense this past weekend was one of the best things about the series against Tennessee.
Kentucky found a Saturday starter
Sean Harney was a transfer added from UMass in the offseason and was expected to be a major part of the Wildcat pitching staff. The Massachusetts native made 14 starts before his time at in Amherst proving to be a quality arm for the Minutemen.
After time spent in the bullpen, Harney has taken over as a weekend starter for the pitching staff.
In the last four SEC series, Harney has given the Wildcats 19.2 innings on the mound. The senior picked up wins against both Alabama and Tennessee as he went 11 combined innings and only gave up three earned runs. Harney has produced 28 strikeouts in 21.2 innings pitched in SEC games while having the third-best WHIP on the team.
Harney was a pivotal player the last two weeks and will look to stay that way as the season comes to a close.
This week in Kentucky baseball
With no midweek game, it’s a few days off for the Kentucky squad until another huge SEC series arrives this weekend. Florida gets to Lexington on Thursday and the No. 10 ranked Gators are fresh off a home series win against Vanderbilt.
Florida sits at 30-13 and 13-8 in SEC play as they are now just one game back of both Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the SEC East standings. With a high-quality pitching staff, the Gators will be a tough out this weekend.
After getting a road win against Tennesse, Kentucky made a pretty big jump in the RPI standings. The Wildcats now sit at No. 45 overall with 10 Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins. If the Wildcats can keep picking off wins against top-10 caliber teams, they should be able to earn an at-large bid come June.