Dominic Fletcher / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
The Arkansas Razorbacks’s regular season is winding down, just as the Northwest Arkansas weather is beginning to feel like baseball season. Last weekend was great weather-wise for baseball, and Dave Van Horn’s Hogs made the most of it with a sweep of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
It wasn’t perfect baseball, and the games were more of a challenge than the finals scores — 7-3 Friday, 7-4 Saturday, and 9-7 Sunday — denote, but that is life in the SEC. There are no truly bad teams in the league, and anytime a squad doesn’t play their best, they are susceptible to taking a loss.
That’s why fans should be proud and celebrate any sweep even if the opponent is stationed at the bottom of the division like the Crimson Tide.
The sweep coupled with the Razorbacks’ 5-1 whipping of previously No. 4-ranked Texas Tech added up to be quite a week for the Hogs (32-13, 13-8 SEC).
The Razorbacks jumped from No. 8 to No. 4 in Baseball America’s Top 25, and their RPI is fifth by both the NCAA’s and Warren Nolan.com’s accounting. There are all sorts of polls and RPI reports to be found. I prefer Baseball America’s poll and the NCAA’s RPI for consistency sake, but the Razorbacks are well respected across the spectrum.
Any way you look at it, this is a very good Razorback baseball team that has the potential to do very well in the postseason. The Hogs are positioned to host a first-round NCAA Regional, and they are in the hunt for a National Seed, which would guarantee them a host spot for a Super Regional should they make it that far.
Playing at Baum Stadium is always a boon for the Hogs. The home-field advantage is a factor at Baum Stadium like few other ballparks in the nation.
Arkansas getting a National Seed isn’t exactly like Charlie finding a golden ticket wrapped up in a chocolate bar as in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” but it’s about as close as you can get in baseball.
To get a National Seed, all the Hogs have to do is keep on doing what they’ve done all season, win. Of course that’s a lot easier for me to write than it is to accomplish.
The sweep of Alabama also lifted the Hogs a game ahead of No. 3 Ole Miss (34-11, 12-9 SEC) in the SEC West Standings, and it allowed the Razorbacks to shave one game off No. 1 Florida’s overall lead for the SEC regular-season title.
The Gators (36-10, 16-5 SEC) have not lost an SEC series this season after taking 2 of 3 from Auburn last weekend and are not only the top of the class in the league but also the nation.
Trailing Arkansas and Ole Miss in the West are Texas A&M (32-12, 11-10), Auburn (31-14, 10-11), LSU (26-19, 10-11), Mississippi State (24-21, 9-12), and Alabama (23-23, 5-16).
No. 24 Georgia (30-14, 12-9), South Carolina (26-18, 11-10), No. 17 Vanderbilt (26-18, 11-10), No 12 Kentucky (29-15, 10-11), Missouri (29-15, 9-12) and Tennessee (25-21, 8-13) line up behind Florida in the East.
The SEC is so tough and balanced that six of the SEC’s 14 squads have either 11-10 records or 10-11 records at the moment, and all six of them will likely be in an NCAA Regional in June.
The final three weekends of the regular season stand to be very exciting. Florida’s consistency and excellence throughout the season likely has already locked up the regular-season overall title and the East for the Gators, unless they take a hard fall.
However the race between Arkansas and Ole Miss for the Western Division title could go down to the wire. If the Razorbacks hope to win the West, the Hogs will have to do something they have yet to do this season — win an SEC series on the road. They might need to win two.
The Hogs’ SEC road record isn’t great at 2-7, and overall its 4-8.There are extenuating circumstances. Four of their road losses came from teams ranked in the top four in the nation — two at Florida and two at Ole Miss. Three of the other four came at the hands of Mississippi State, which had a rough start to the season but have been one of the hotter teams in the league over the last month.
Two of the Hogs final three SEC series are on the road. They have no more midweek games on the schedule.
The Razorbacks will be on the road this weekend at LSU. They play host to Texas A&M at Baum Stadium over Mother’s Day weekend, and then finish up the regular season against Georgia at Athens.
That’s a very tough schedule no matter how you look at it, but for the most part, the Hogs have been up to the challenge all season. I doubt that anything will change over the last three weeks of the regular season.
But what fans have to realize, the Razorbacks can play very well, but still lose one or even two of these final three series.
That’s life in the SEC, but it’s what makes following and rooting for an SEC team so exciting. It’s also what makes winning the division worthy of a fan’s pride.