Remaining SEC West Schedule favorable for Arkansas

This series with Auburn - and, in particular, the Friday night match-up of Mize vs. Knight - is huge for Arkansas. As everyone knows, the Achilles heel of our team is the bullpen - good young arms (I think), but apparently not quite ready yet for the pressure that comes with their critical role. Fortunately, our robust offense has kept this from becoming more of a story here than it otherwise would have been.

But the reality is that if our starters don’t give us 5-7 innings of quality pitching/results, we’re capable of losing even if we score 8 or more runs. So far, Knight (consistently) and Stephan (usually) have given us that on Friday and Saturday, and then we’ve been able to provide enough run support against the opposition’s #3 pitcher to cover whoever we’ve put on the mound Sunday. That’s been the formula for us.

But Auburn’s Mize has performed as well as Knight . . . it’s a virtual toss-up as to who prevails in that match-up. IF we can come out with a win, the rest of the series and season lays out well for us.

As a team, we hit better (by 20 points), have more power (we’ve hit 3 times the HR’s they have), score more runs (50 more on the season) and have a lower ERA than Auburn does. They, of course, have the home field advantage. But if we can win Friday, you’d have to think we’d have a decent chance to win at least one more game and take the series . . . although I know nothing is to be taken for granted in the SEC, especially on the road.

If we lose Friday, then we have to battle to not get swept. If we can manage at least 1 win in the Plains, things still shape up favorably for us.

At this point, there are five 3 game SEC series left for all teams. Looking at the remaining schedule for Arkansas and the other 4 primary contenders for the SEC West Division,

Arkansas - @ AU, Ole Miss, @ Tenn, Vandy, @ A&M

Auburn - ARK, @ MSU, Bama, @ LSU, Ole Miss

MSU - Bama, AU, @ A&M, @ UGA, LSU

LSU - @ Kentucky, @ Bama, S. Car, AU, @ MSU

A&M - Tenn, @ Mizz, MSU, @ Ole Miss, ARK

So, after this trip to Auburn, we only have one series left against any of the other SEC West “contenders” and that is the finale at A&M. Meanwhile, Auburn must play at both MSU and LSU following their series against us. MSU still hosts Auburn, goes to A&M, and then has LSU coming in. LSU, in addition to playing at Auburn and hosting MSU, also must travel to the two SEC East leaders - Kentucky and S. Carolina.

A&M might appear to have a relatively easy road, as both of their tests against the other SECW leaders (us, and MSU) come at home. But they also have the farthest to go, since they must climb over all four teams (from 3 games off the Division lead) to get to the top.

I’m far away from proclaiming or predicting an Arkansas win at the end of the Divisional race, but I do think we have a favorable schedule, relative to our fellow competitors. Many of them will be inflicting wounds on each other while we are playing teams from the other division - NONE of which are Florida, S. Carolina or Kentucky.

I’ll be watching closely this weekend.

Good synopsis, Wiz. I’m confident DVH won’t do for probably a dozen good reasons, but I’d be inclined to save Knight until Saturday or Sunday. I’d just about concede the Friday game to have a better shot at winning Sat & Sun. Knight has been spectacular & might be Friday night, but as you point out our pitching depth is our weakness. AU has played awfully well. I’d hate to lose Friday night and then face them with Johnny Bullpen on Sunday.

Don’t shoot me for the suggestion. Like I said, there are probably dozens of reasons why we shouldn’t do it.

Another reason Friday is more important than usual; as per the current forecast, there’s an 80% chance of rain for Auburn Sunday - which means Saturday may be our only chance to “get the loss back” if we don’t win Friday.

I won’t shoot you, but I will maintain this is defeatist thinking.
We have faced some pretty good Friday starters already (Houck, Lange, The Arizona ace, and the guy from Bryant). We lost one of those games (Zona), and won all the rest. Other than that game, our lineup has scored on everybody on Friday.

We have a good enough team to beat Auburn without any concessions.

I’m of the thinking that you always throw your top guy on Friday night, especially with the way Blaine Knight is pitching right now. I’ve seen him out-duel everyone he’s faced, including a couple of first-rounders.

I agree that our bullpen has been shaky at times but I am encouraged by the progress of our young pitchers. Last year at the end of the season I saw one comment that said we didn’t have a pitcher who could pitch other than Campbell and Knight. My reply was that I thought there was potential for our young arms. They just needed a little time to mature and develop. I think we are starting to see some development. What a wonderful scenario it would be if by the end of the year we get all our hitters going at the same time and a few of our young pitchers start becoming a real threat. I’m already looking at ticket prices and lodging for Hoover.

You’re probably correct about that. Certainly you’re right about the success we’ve had against some very good pitchers. There’s no reason to think we can’t or won’t win Friday night. We’re as good as Auburn & maybe better than Auburn. My thinking was based more on the idea that we’re playing them at their place, have ourselves in a very good position nationally & in the SEC, and that anything better than getting swept still leaves us in very good shape. Obviously winning the series would advance us to an even better position. Besides, I understand AU has 2 very good pitchers. It’s not like we’d be gaining much if we improved our chances of a win against their 2nd guy.

Anyway, when I threw the idea out, I knew it was probably a bit hare-brained. Just wanted to hear others’ thoughts. Right now I think we can play with anyone. Murphy’s performance last night against a pretty good team shows we might have more depth on the mound than I’ve been thinking we have. We just need some consistency out of the BP.

My own feelings on this, FWIW, is that I think you’d lose more tinkering with the psyche of our pitchers (potentially) than you’d gain from manipulating the match-ups themselves.

As you correctly point out, NEA, Auburn has two very good starters for Friday and Saturday - as do we. Which pitches against who probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as which team plays better on a given night.

That said, there has long been a debate over the relative merits of “pitching off”, and it’s pros and cons. Certainly, we hear about it every NCAAT season, when pitching depth (or lact thereof) causes thinking along this line to be more widespread. I’m sure we’ll see some instances of it next month, when the Tournament starts.

The worst instance of “pitching off” for the Razorbacks happened in the 2011 Regional in Tempe. We pitched off in game 1 and got beat. Then we had to play in horrific heat in the losers bracket.