A tough weekend rolls into a challenging week for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Mississippi State swept the Hogs at Starkville last weekend, 6-5 on Friday and 5-3, and 7-5 in a doubleheader on Saturday. The three-game skid dropped the Razorbacks from No. 4 down to No. 8 in the latest Baseball America poll.
Arkansas (28-13, 10-8 SEC) does not have time to feel sorry for itself, though. The Hogs play host to No. 4 Texas Tech (32-9, 10-5 Big 12), which beat the No. 22 Oklahoma Sooners (27-15, 10-5 Big 12) two out of three over the weekend, on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Baum Stadium. The SEC Network Plus will live stream the game through the watchespn.com app on Tuesday, while the SEC Network will televise Wednesday’s game.
This weekend the Alabama Crimson Tide (22-20, 5-13) visits Baum Stadium for a three-game series with Arkansas, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. The SEC Network Plus will live stream all three games.
Few felt last weekend’s series would be easy for the Hogs. Nothing worthwhile is easy in the SEC, but I doubt many outside of Starkville believed the Bulldogs would sweep the Razorbacks. Getting swept had to be a gut punch to the Hogs.
The games were close, and while the Hogs hit the ball, they stranded too many runners throughout the series to keep their heads above water. Arkansas’ pitching was good but not great as it has been at times this season. Their defense was adequate, but add all of it up, and it was just enough to keep each game close and make the Hogs look O.K. while getting beat.
O.K. is not what this squad nor their coach Dave Van Horn are striving for. Throughout the season, Van Horn has said this team has the ability to play its way to the College World Series in Omaha. However, the Razorbacks’ performance was dull last weekend. It was the type of dullness that can lead to unfulfilled promises if that type of play persists.
That said, this is the same baseball team that has played some very good to great baseball this season, and there is no reason to believe the Hogs won’t raise their level of play again.
However, getting swept by the Bulldogs is tantamount to a boxer being stunned by a flurry of punches in the middle rounds of a boxing match.
Being stunned at this point in the season doesn’t really matter, but how the Razorbacks respond does.
The sweep was a red alert.
Great baseball teams begin to play better ball as the season wears on rather than regressing. While the Razorbacks did not play blatantly bad at Starkville, they need to play much sharper if they want to stay in the hunt for a National Seed and the right to host two rounds in the NCAA Baseball Tournament at Baum Stadium. That would give the Hogs their surest route to Omaha.
That said Arkansas has played their way to the College World Series on the road in the past, and the Hogs have been knocked out while hosting in the first round.
Perhaps the best thing for Arkansas is that Texas Tech visits Tuesday and Wednesday. Getting back on the diamond against a top-four opponent should get the Hogs’ attention. The series is about pride, and it’s a sure way to make a good impression on the NCAA Selection Committee one way or the other.
As for the SEC, the Razorbacks remain tied for the lead in the SEC West with No. 5 Ole Miss (32-9. 10-8 SEC), a game ahead of Texas A&M (29-11, 9-9 SEC), LSU (29-12, 9-9 SEC), and Auburn (24-17, 9-9 SEC). Mississippi State (22-19, 8-10) is just two games behind the Rebels and Razorbacks.
The race in the West is tight, and any of those six teams could mathematically win the Division.
In the East, No. 1 Florida (34-8, 14-4 SEC) holds a four-game lead over No.11 Vanderbilt 24-16, 10-8 SEC) and No. 24 Georgia (27-13, 10-8 SEC) and a four-game lead over Arkansas and Ole Miss in the overall race.
With four series left to play, realistically, it’s going to be difficult for Arkansas or any other squad to catch Florida for the overall regular-season title. The defending national champion Gators appear to be the class of the league and the nation at this point.
The Razorbacks are going to have to finish very strong down the stretch to earn a national seed. It’s definitely not out of the question for the SEC to get three National Seeds, but they will have to be earned. Ideally, the Selection Committee would like to see them spread around.
The Hogs need to make their case loud and clear that they are one of the eight best teams in the nation, leaving no doubt among the committee members.
Arkansas has the ability to do that, but at their worst, the Razorbacks must play better going forward than they did last weekend at Mississippi State.