Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock (17) during game one of a baseball series between Georgia and Missouri in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, Apr. 18, 2019. (Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw)

Georgia baseball preview: It’s Omaha or bust for Bulldogs

A consensus preseason top-10 pick, the Bulldogs (who open their season at 5 p.m. Friday at home against Richmond) have bigger things in mind. One of only teams in America to earn national seeds each of the past two years, it’s Omaha-or-bust this time.

Here’s what has to happen for Georgia to do that:

Ride that rotation

The Bulldogs will be anchored by one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball. Right-hander Emerson Hancock is projected as a potential No. 1 draft pick. The 6-foot-4 junior went 8-3 last season with 1.99 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 90 innings. Behind him is 6-6 flame-thrower Cole Wilcox, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 miles per. Junior C.J. Smith is back from an injury and leads a group of talented lefties. Establishing a closer to replace Aaron Schunk will be key. 

Find some pop

Georgia won’t just miss Schunk’s prowess as a closer. The 2019 John Olerud Award winner as the nation’s top two-way player, Schunk also hit a team-high 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Along with LJ Talley, John Cable and Tucker Maxwell, the Bulldogs are losing 44 homers and 185 RBIs off last year’s 46-win team. Georgia plans to run more in 2020, but it will also expect more than eight homers each from Riley King and Cam Shepherd. Sophomore Connor Tate (.270, 3 HRs, 19 RBIs) moves into Cable’s DH role, and the Bulldogs brought in former Vanderbilt player Garrett Blaylock from junior college with the express intention of replacing Schunk’s offense and defense a third base.

Survive and thrive

While Georgia is getting a ton of a national respect, so are a lot of teams in the SEC. The Bulldogs are ranked as high as No. 4 in the many preseason polls, but that still puts them behind Vanderbilt, which is getting several No. 1 nods, and Florida, which is consensus top 5. Including, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State, seven SEC teams are among a composite of the nation’s top 10. It’ll be hard to improve on last year’s 21-9 mark in conference play, but Georgia must to get where it wants to go.

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