By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (24-9, 6-6 SEC) has gone 3-4 in its last seven games since OnlyGators.com was last able to check in following its win over Stetson on March 24. UF posted a flat 3-3 split in its last two conference series with the Alabama Crimson Tide and Missouri Tigers, book-ending a tough 8-3 loss to the Florida State Seminoles in Jacksonville on Tuesday.
In the Alabama series opener, a back-and-forth game swung in the Tide’s favor with a three-run 10th inning that pushed them ahead 12-9. The Gators evened the series with an 8-1 win in the second game of a doubleheader, and they used a late rally to win game three 7-4, claiming the series. Eight walks against Florida State allowed FSU to even the season series. While Florida looked to bounce back with a 5-1 win against Mizzou, UF was outscored 15-4 over the final two contests to drop the series.
Here are five takeaways from the last seven games:
1. The ace is back: For his first two starts in SEC play, sophomore right-handed hurler Logan Shore (5-2, 1.76 ERA) did not look like himself. He was tagged for four home runs against Tennessee and was unable to make it through the fourth inning at Ole Miss. Shore, however, looked like the ace the Gators wanted to count on in two stellar outings against Alabama (9.0 IP, 10 H, ER, BB, 8 K) and Missouri (8.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 BB, 5 K).
2. Puk-ing problems: Sophomore left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk (5-3, 5.86 ERA) continues to be unpredictable on the mound. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan pulled Puk from the rotation and placed him in the bullpen for the Alabama series. In relief, Puk (3.1 IP, H, BB, 5 K) shined and was motivated to win his starting job back. He did just that for the Missouri series but found himself right back in the bullpen after a tough performance in his game two outing (5.1 IP, 9 H, 9 ER, 3 BB, 3 K).
3. Road woes: There’s no place like home for these Gators, which are playing much better at McKethan Stadium than they are on the road. Florida’s current record in neutral site and away games is 5-6, compared to 19-3 in Gainesville. Against ranked or conference opponents (UCF, FSU, Ole Miss and Missouri), that record drops to 2-6. If the Gators cannot figure out how to win without the home crowd behind them, it is unlikely 2015 will be a season to remember.
4. Missing in action: Florida’s top run-producers failed to fill out the box score with far too many zeros in UF’s back-to-back losses to Mizzou. From lead-off to cleanup, the Gators top-of-the-order batters were largely absent from the basepaths, going a combined 2-for-29. The two hits belonged to junior shortstop Richie Martin.
5. Too little, too late: In two of Florida’s last three losses, its put together ninth-inning rallies that have fallen just short. The Gators have been putting goose eggs on the board leading up to the final three outs, when they finally find a sense of urgency. UF must figure out how not to fall behind in the middle innings and carry momentum throughout a game.
This week: Florida returns to Gainesville for a four-game homestand, starting with Stetson on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (SEC Network+ live stream). Perennial SEC baseball power South Carolina then drops by for a weekend series. UF and USC will square off Friday at 7 p.m. (SEC Network+ live stream), Saturday at 6 p.m. (SEC Network) and Sunday at 12 p.m. (SEC Network).