Ending the 2019 season without an NCAA tournament bid would be a tough pill for Tennessee baseball to swallow. The Volunteers are on track to have their best season since 2007, and for much of April it looked like Tennessee was going to secure a tournament bid for the first time since 2005. Going into the month of May, Tennessee was 31-14 and had a prime opportunity to obtain a .500 SEC record against Missouri. The series sweep to Arkansas was disappointing but not disastrous. They just needed two wins over the Tigers to feel better about the ending season series to Missouri and Florida.
Unfortunately, they tripped up at a bad time. Inconsistencies with a usually terrific pitching rotation saw Tennessee give up 21 runs over three games, with 16 coming in the final two games. Tennessee lost both.
They are now 33-16 overall but just 10-14 in the SEC. That puts the Volunteers in an unstable position, because they’re running out of time to get to .500 or above before the SEC tournament. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but no team wants to put all their eggs in that basket.
According to Baseball America, there is a good chance the SEC gets somewhere around 10 bids for the NCAA tournament. While that might seem beneficial for Tennessee, keep in mind that the Volunteers are near the bottom of those 10 bids. That’s the reality of being in such a stacked conference. Though Tennessee being ranked 10th in RPI should also be an encouraging argument.
Tennessee has two SEC series remaining: an away series against the Florida Gators, and a home series against the Ole Miss Rebels. If Tennessee wants to feel comfortable heading into the conference tournament, they need at minimum four victories in these six games. Preferably those four victories would be split evenly between the two series.
Florida is in a similar—but worse—situation to Tennessee. The Gators are 29-21 and just 9-15 in the SEC. While they are barely scraping by into the tournament in current projections, they are also regarded as one of the first four out. This upcoming series against Tennessee might decide their postseason fate. The Volunteers should expect any and everything from a team that’s desperate for as many victories as they can obtain.
Ole Miss might be the overall tougher challenge. Their bid is almost completely secure, to the point where they look in line to get a national seed. They also have an upcoming series against their main rival and 8th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs. While it might be a stretch to say Ole Miss won’t really care about the final series of the regular season, it’s also fair to say that their mentality will be completely different by the time it rolls around. If Tennessee wants to make a statement before the SEC tournament, this is the series where they could do that.
The margin for error only gets smaller from here on out. While Tony Vitello’s squad has done a great job to put themselves in their current position, it also remains to be seen if they can close out the deal. The final two series of this regular season might decide whether the baseball program is on a huge upswing, or just a flash in the pan for this season.