UK’s balanced offense exciting, entertaining, possibly effective


UK’s Andy Burns bats against Bowling Green at Cliff Hagan Field on Friday, Feb. 26, 2010. Photo by Scott Hannigan

Plenty of arguments exist as to whether or not baseball is an exciting sport. Ultimately, it’s a very personal decision based on a multitude of factors.

UK’s brand of baseball seems to favor the side of being an exciting brand to watch.

The Cats’ offense is diverse in their approach. They hit the long ball (ranking third in the Southeastern Conference with 53 home runs). They run and then run some more (leading the league in stolen bases with 75). They swing a lot and put balls in play (ranking second-to-last in walks drawn with 141).

“It definitely has to do with our skill set,” said third baseman Andy Burns, who leads the team in home runs with 11. “Every guy has the potential to hit one out of the yard or steal a base late in the game.”

That dual-threat nature of the lineup puts pressure on the opposing pitcher who has to worry about the guy in the batter’s box and the guy on the bases.

“It messes with the pitchers, knowing that the guy on first can steal and the guy at the plate can hit a homer,” outfielder Keenan Wiley said.

This type of offense was something UK set as a goal entering the season.

“We expect a more exciting offense,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said before the season. “It will be more diversified, more power, more stolen bases, a much more competitive club offensively.”

Without a shutdown starting pitcher — none of the three starters have a sub-5.00 ERA — the offense has had to consistently manufacture runs. It’s happened because of a balanced lineup. Six players have five or more home runs, and seven players have six or more stolen bases.

“Every guy brings something to the table,” Burns said. “We have a lot of weapons. It’s a good thing to know you can have what it takes to win.”

The offense hasn’t always had enough to win, though. UK is now 23-17 on the year with a 6-12 mark in the SEC. The Cats currently sit in a tie for ninth place with Tennessee, two wins behind Alabama for the final spot in the SEC Tournament. They have won just one conference series, against Alabama.

Perhaps even more troubling is UK’s inability to drive all those runners home.   UK ranks second-to-last in batting average with runners on base. But the hitters continue to just focus on what they can do, and that’s to score runs.

“Our guys have been more relaxed at the plate these past few weeks,” Burns said. “Everyone in the lineup is doing something, so that takes pressure off everyone else. As a group, we’re just trying to have fun and score runs.”

Lance Ray heating up

A big part of the offensive surge lately has been Lance Ray’s productivity at the plate.

Over the last five games, Ray has reached base safely in 15 of 22 plate appearances.

That includes last weekend’s series at Auburn in which Ray headlined the offense in two of the three games. In the first game, a 13-6 loss, Ray ripped three doubles in four at-bats. In the third game, an 8-7 loss, Ray went 2-for-3, including a three-run home run in the sixth inning that tied the game.

Ray didn’t see much playing time early in the year, but his recent hot streak has made it difficult to keep him out of the lineup. He is now hitting .362 with a robust .690 slugging percentage in 51 at-bats.

“(I’m) very glad to see Lance Ray get some hits,” Henderson said following a recent game where Ray was the offensive star.

Then Henderson checked to see where Ray’s average stood after his recent outburst at the plate. He saw how far it had risen.

“Isn’t that something,” Henderson said simply. “How about that?”