Kentucky’s bullpen could hold the Wildcats back from an SEC and national title

Without an elite offense, Kentucky needs its pitching staff to improve in the postseason after back-to-back shaky outings by the bullpen have the Wildcats on the brink of elimination.
Kentucky's Drew Lafferty (26)
Kentucky's Drew Lafferty (26) / Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA

Quickly, after a historic season in Lexington, the Kentucky Wildcats had their backs against the wall in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky was blown out 11-0 in their first matchup against No. 11 seed LSU and was sent to the losers bracket for a matchup with the top seed from the SEC West division, Arkansas. 

In the win-or-go-home game on Thursday morning, head coach Nick Mingione handed the ball to his typical Friday starter, Trey Pooser who came into the matchup with a 4.34 ERA. Pooser faced Arkansas earlier in the year and struggled, but on Thursday went five scoreless with just three hits allowed in a 9-6 victory to eliminate the Razorbacks. 

When Pooser exited the game with 76 pitches after five and a 6-0 lead, Kentucky went to Jackson Nove a 6-foot-5 left-handed reliever who had a 4.79 ERA in 26.1 innings across 23 appearances this year. Nove nearly gave the lead away, allowing four earned runs on three hits with two walks while recording just two outs in the sixth inning. 

Ryan Hagenow entered to clean up Nove’s mess and successfully put out the fire to preserve Kentucky’s lead. While the Wildcats, the No. 2 team in the country and a national championship contender survived, a major issue has been exposed down in Hoover Alabama over the past two days. 

Kentucky’s team ERA is now up to 5.19 which ranks 75th in the country. The Wildcats are the only top-five team with an ERA north of 4.50 while Tennessee and Arkansas, the other top teams in the SEC, the latter of which Kentucky just dispatched, rank No. 4 and No. 2 nationally in team ERA at 3.85 and 3.63. 

Offensively, the Wildcats are outside the top 50 in slugging percentage. The Wildcats are now 40-13 on the season, but without a quality bullpen behind their starting pitchers, Kentucky may not have the firepower in its batting order to truly compete for the title. 

Tomorrow, Kentucky will face either LSU or South Carolina in another elimination game with a spot in the semifinals on the line.

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