Razorbacks Seeking Bats To Go With Arms Against Florida

by Brent Birch  on Friday, Apr. 27, 2012 10:30 am  

DJ Baxendale will take the mound for Arkansas in Sunday's ESPN-televised game. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Another weekend, another highly ranked team, and this one sits in the Top 5.

Such is life in the SEC as the No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks (29-12, 9-9) head to Gainesville to take on the No. 5 Florida Gators (32-10, 11-7).

This time of year, every weekend is crucial as SEC teams are jockeying for national seeding and regional hosting hopes. The Hogs’ recent struggles have them three games behind SEC West leading LSU while the Gators are two games back of Kentucky in the East.

The trip to Gainesville will wrap up a tough stretch for the Razorbacks, who are 10-10 in their last 20 games including losing 2 of 3 at Ole Miss last weekend. The Hogs bounced back with a solid performance Tuesday night in a 6-1 victory over Oral Roberts in their lone midweek game. Seven Razorback pitchers combined to allow a single hit, a double in the top of the ninth, against the Golden Eagles.

Florida split a pair of games this week, losing to South Florida 5-3 and defeating Bethune-Cookman 10-1, and is 12-8 in its last 20 games. Against common opponents, both squads beat Georgia 2 of 3, both lost a series to Ole Miss in Oxford and Florida managed to win one game off LSU at home while the Hogs were swept in Baton Rouge. Arkansas has played a slightly tougher SEC schedule thus far as Razorback opponents are 56-52 in SEC play while Florida’s are 54-54.

Both teams have struggled somewhat offensively in SEC games. Florida is seventh in team batting average in SEC play at .266 while the Hogs are eighth at .261. The difference maker is the Gators have slammed 21 home runs in conference play while the Hogs have only seven.

Florida leads all of NCAA baseball with 56 home runs in 42 games. Their power numbers are scary good and the Razorbacks’ heralded pitching staff will have to locate well this weekend. Florida’s lineup is very top heavy statistically but the first five guys they send to the plate are standouts. A key to the weekend will be for the Hog pitchers to stay away from the big inning via Gator long balls. Solo shots don’t hurt as bad as the Earl Weaver, three-run homer.

The pitching for the weekend has a little uncertainty for both teams. Sophomore right-hander Ryne Stanek (6-2, 2.30 ERA), who was named to this summer’s USA National Team, will slide back into the Friday night slot. Stanek was a tough luck loser, 1-0, last weekend at Ole Miss. He will battle junior right-hander Hudson Randall (3-1, 3.52 ERA) who is making his first Friday night start since late March.

Florida will go with LHP Brian Johnson (5-2, 4.04) on Saturday while the Hogs haven’t named a pitcher yet. Junior right-hander DJ Baxendale (6-2, 3.78) will face off with sophomore Jonathan Crawford (4-1, 3.86 ERA) in Sunday’s ESPN broadcast. Friday’s and Saturday’s games will start at 6 p.m. while Sunday’s game will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Odds are the Razorback pitching staff is going to hold up its end of the deal. The staff leads the SEC in ERA at 2.76 which is sixth best nationally. For Arkansas to have a chance at a series victory, they are going to have to hit the baseball. Some Razorback regulars have been almost dead outs at the plate lately and the lack of production has the team struggling to win ballgames despite good pitching.

In their last ten games outfielder Sam Bates hit .231, infielder Bo Bigham hit .190, outfielder Derek Bleeker, hit .176,  outfielder Jimmy Bosco hit .150, infielder Matt Reynolds hit .176 and catcher Jake Wise hit .217.

That is six of nine everyday position players and if some of these guys don’t start producing, the Razorback pitching staff will start feeling the pressure of having to throw shutouts to win; if they haven’t already. With the Hogs searching for a third starter on the weekend, that doesn’t bode well for making much noise down the stretch and in the postseason.

 

 

Please read our comments policy before commenting.