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.