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Baseball power numbers are up

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Like a rolling wave, Kentucky baseball power numbers have gone up and down for the past five years.

During the 2006 Southeastern Conference championship season, UK plated a school-record 500 runs behind a whopping 99 home runs. Then, like a power cord was pulled, Kentucky's home runs dipped to just 44 round trippers in 2007.

For the next few years, the numbers would go up in even years and down in odd years. In 2008, UK hit 83 home runs behind the bats of Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill, followed by only 56 home runs in 2009.

Staying true to the trend in 2010, the power numbers are back up. With more than two weeks of the regular season to play, UK has belted 70 home runs, tied for second in the SEC behind Auburn.

Coincidence or not, when UK's home run numbers have been high (2006 and 2008), the team has made the NCAA Tournament. When they've been down (2007 and 2009), the team has failed to even make the SEC Tournament.

Could that be a good omen for a team fighting for its postseason life with two weeks to play? Who knows, but there is no doubt the numbers are up during a year when pitching -not hitting - was supposed to be the team's strength.

UK's boost in home runs can be attributed to a steady balance of power hitters. Five players on UK's roster have hit seven or more home runs, including a team-leading 11 round trippers from senior Gunner Glad and sophomore Andy Burns. That list doesn't include junior-college transfer Lance Ray, who has hit five home runs over his last 14 games and six overall.

Kentucky has also seen a rapid increase in stolen bases this season. The Cats far and away lead the league in steals this season with 102 stolen bags, 30 more than second-place Florida.

So if UK's power numbers are up and the team is stealing bases at a frequent rate, why are the Cats not already firmly in the SEC Tournament?

Quite frankly, the pitching (5.38 ERA) hasn't lived up to expectations because of the loss of James Paxton and the absence of sophomore ace Alex Meyer for three weekends. In their absence, freshmen and relievers have been forced into starting roles, further forcing head coach Gary Henderson to toss in highly inexperienced guys into relief and weekday starting pitching duty.

It is a domino effect that has held this year's team in check.

Also, for as great as the power numbers have been this season, UK has failed to bring in runs when the ball isn't leaving the yard. Kentucky ranks 10th in runs scored (332) and 11th in RBI (301). Essentially, when the Cats are reaching scoring position, they're not coming through with enough hits in clutch situations to bring the runs in.

Having said all that, the only numbers that matter at this point in the season are two and eight. UK (9-15) is two games back of the eighth and final spot for the SEC Tournament with two weekends to play, with Tennessee (11-13) and Alabama (10-14) standing in the team's way.

A lot will have to happen for the Cats to squeak in, but there is no doubt the series win against No. 4 South Carolina saved the season for now.

Kentucky hits the road for a nonconference showdown with border state rival Indiana on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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