Ryan Higgins from Arkansas Fight answers a few questions before the first pitch of this weekend's regional that features UVa, Arkansas, Liberty, and Bucknell. Be sure to swing over to their site to read our answers to their questions!
STL: Ya'll seem to be very pitching oriented, similar to UVa. Has the fanbase viewed it as a lack of offensive production or was that expected this season? I ask because many expected UVa's offense to be LSU from the late 90's, so they have viewed this team as not living up to expectations.
AF: Fans knew this team would be young and inexperienced at certain positions, but everyone expected the pitching staff to struggle more than the bats. Obviously, that has played out the exact opposite than most expected. No one ever thought that this team would be like an offensive juggernaut of the 90's, but I've been surprised I've had to cover games this year that the offense made me want to claw my eyes out. I credit pitching coach Dave Jorn and senior catcher Jake Wise with the development of this pitching staff. I truly believe Jorn is the best pitching coach in the nation and Wise is probably one of the top defensive catchers in the country.
STL: I was really impressed with Brian Anderson, but was surprised when he was left off the All-SEC teams. Was there a reason for that (other than there are superstars elsewhere)? Is he as good as his stats say he is?
AF: I think Anderson's fielding percentage (.957) could be what kept him off the All-SEC teams. The Vanderbilt player that was First-Team was over 20 points higher in fielding percentage and then the second-team guy also made the All-SEC Defensive team. Anderson would never make this excuse, but I will make it for him. He isn't a natural second baseman. He played mostly 3rd base until this year and was a real team player about moving to second to fill the gap left by Dominic Ficociello being drafted. As far as hitting goes, he is the truth. Also, look out for Eric Fisher, who has a lot of pop in his bat as well.
STL: What's the Razorback bullpen look like? If Beeks comes back this week, and is put in a relief role, how big of a difference could he make out there?
AF: The Razorbacks always find a way to put together a great bullpen. Zach Jackson (middle relief), Michael Gunn (setup) and Jacob Stone (closer) are guys you don't want to see coming out of the pen if you are about to hit. Lucky enough for the other teams with this regional, Beeks' injury is going to force Jackson to start the third game of the weekend. He will throw three to four innings, but that is about his limit. Beeks' tender elbow really won't matter until that third game, which makes the first two that more crucial. If the Hogs lose one of their first two, they are going to have a hard time finding enough quality innings to get two more wins to advance. Honestly, since they've put Beeks on a 50 pitch count, I would just start him the 3rd game and let him met that count and then bring in Jackson, but that's just me.
STL: The injury gene is strong with your boys. Other than Beeks, are there are any guys who could make a miraculous recovery to play this weekend and could sway the momentum in Arkansas' favor?
AF: Andrew Benintendi and Bobby Wernes will definitely play in the regional. It sounded like they needed a day off more than they were actually hurt. It looks like Blake Baxendale will be out, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering his replacement, Clark Eagan, has been tearing it up in the DH spot. Jake Wise is the one guy we really don't know about. His back up, Alex Gosser, has played well after having his redshirt pulled with only a few games left in the regular season. However, Wise is a senior, so if there is any chance he can play, I think he will play. Really most of the momentum for the Hogs recently has come from the guys who have come off the bench for the injured.
STL: From all the pictures I have seen since Baum opened, it looks like it holds roughly 40,000 people. How many people can we expect at the Dav this weekend to only speak in terms of "WOOOOOOOOOOO PIGGGGGGGGGG SOOOEEYYY"?
AF: I saw that Davenport Field holds 5,000, so I expect somewhere between 300-500 hog fans there. Charlottesville is a long way, but there are some diehards that will travel. If you are lucky enough, Bubba Hog may even show up (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2uNgGhDr9E).
STL: Is Bill coming?
AF: That would be cool if Bill Clinton showed up, but I haven't seen him at a baseball game. He just came to Fayetteville during basketball for a ceremony honoring Nolan Richardson, so he may have met his Razorback quota for the season.
AF: (Not sure who JD is)
AF: JD will do just about anything these days for a carton of cowboy killers and a case of a diet coke, so offer that and he may show up. Is there a casino in Charlottesville? That's a plus for him as well. I hear your tobacco prices are outstanding in Virginia, so if he does come, expect him to stock up on heaters for the year. And if you guys do get word he's coming, you are legally obligated to warn your local Hooters.
STL: Lastly, what's your prediction for the weekend? (Homerism is allowed if you'd like to go that route)
AF: If you asked Arkansas fans, they think Arkansas is going to make it out of the regional. The problem with me is that I have been jaded by the season and watching first had their struggle to score runs against teams like South Alabama. I think the Hogs go 2-2, and both of those wins are over Liberty.