Get Them While They're Hot!
Get Them While They're Hot!
The Hoos play in Game 1 of the 2015 CWS, on Saturday at 3PM. Their opponent is the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas entered the NCAA tournament #34 in RPI, but ranked in the top 20 of the polls. They were the 2 seed in the Oklahoma State regional, and swept through it, scoring 19 runs in 3 games. They then hosted a super-regional against Missouri State, and completed that by winning a game 3 by a 3-2 score. (They also won the first game 18-4.)
Arkansas is not an unfamiliar opponent for the Hoos, as they saw the Hogs in last year's Charlottesville Regional. The Hoos and Hogs actually faced off twice over that weekend, with the Hoos sweeping (3-0 and 9-2).
In fact, the Hogs likely started in this matchup will be Trey Killian, who was the starter in the first Hoos-Hogs matchup last year. Killian lasted just 3.1 IP, giving up 7 hits, 3 runs (2 earned) while walking 1 and K'ing 1. Nathan Kirby threw 8 innings of 1 hit baseball for the Hoos.
Despite being the #1 starter all season long, Killian's numbers are the worst of the Arkansas starters. He's just 3-4 with a 4.74 ERA in 14 starts. He has a 56:22 K:BB ratio over 79.2 IP. But he's the elder statesman of the starters, and seems likely to get the ball in the opener. He started the Hogs first Regional game, first Super Regional game, and first SEC tournament game. Killian was drafted in the 9th round, 257th overall by the Rockies in this week's MLB draft. Last year, Killian had a 2.30 ERA in 94 IP, although he compiled a 4-9 record.
None of Arkansas's starters are particularly impressive, at least statistically speaking. However, their bullpen is solid. The pen is led by sophomore Zach Jackson, who compiled a 1.91 ERA in 56.2 IP, with 87 Ks. He did walk 37, so he can have some control problems. Jackson actually started the 2nd Hoos-Hogs matchup last year. He lasted just 2.2 IP, giving up 6 runs (4 ER). He gave up only 3 hits, but walked 2 and hit a batter. He also struck out 3 in that game.
Arkansas isn't built around their pitching. With a team ERA of 4.08, Arkansas is 102nd in the nation in pitching. The Hoos are 56th, with a 3.52 ERA. Arkansas, however, is 73rd in the nation in scoring, at 6 runs per game. The Hoos are 134th, at 5.5 runs per game.
That half a run per game doesn't seem like much. But the Razorbacks are a much better offensive team than the Hoos. Arkansas is 38th in the nation in HR's per game, 28th in walks and 60th in batting average. They are 44th in OBP and 39th in SLG. The Hoos are 128th in OBP and 169th in SLG. Some of that is due to Baum Stadium, which is smaller than Davenport Field. But Arkansas also has one of the best offensive players in the nation in Andrew Benintendi.
Benintendi was the #7 overall pick in the draft, by the Red Sox. His numbers this season look like a joke. He's batting .380 with a .489 OBP and a .715 SLG. He's got 19 HRs, 55 RBI and 23 SBs. He's also a good defensive CF. Benintendi, a lefty, will bat 3rd. The dropoff after him is steep, but RF Tyler Spoon bats cleanup and is batting .331 on the season with 6 HRs and 54 RBI. He's got a .370 OBP and .500 SLG to go along with 9 SBs.
Their leadoff hitter is LF Joe Serrano, who is batting .285 with a .379 OBP and .407 SLG. He doesn't have much pop, but he will draw a walk and get on base for the big bats. Behind him is 2B Bobby Wernes, a .280 hitter with a .375 OBP and .431 SLG. Wernes has 5 HRs and 26 RBI.
Against the right-handed Connor Jones, the Hogs will bat 1B Clark Eagan 5th. Eagan has batted .284/.360/.401 this year, with 2 HRs and 30 RBI. Batting 6th with be 2B Rick Nomura, a switch hitter. Nomura is batting .294/.367/.428 with 4 HRs and 19 RBI. The rest of the lineup will be a DH (probably Brett McAfee .280/.331/.360), SS Michael Bernal (.280/.409/.381) and C Tucker Pennell (.200/.275/.233).
The Hogs have a couple of solid bats on their bench. Mostly, freshman Carson Shaddy (.337/.430/.523) and junior Cullen Gassaway (.283/.381/.509).
Jones was 7-2 this year, with a 2.96 ERA and a .218 BAA. He struck out 105 in 103.1 IP, but also walked 48. He'll need to limit the walks, because you don't want to give Arkansas free baserunners. Obviously, the focus for Jones is Benintendi. While the rest of the Razorbacks' lineup is solid, the CF is the main guy. With a pair of righties leading off, Jones needs to ensure that Benintendi comes up with the bases empty. Then you can pitch around the lefty.
On the other side, the Hoos want to get to Killian early. Jackson and the Hogs' bullpen is good, but they may not be able to go 5+ innings. Knocking Killian around in the early innings would force Coach Van Horn to make decisions he doesn't want to make. And, if the Hoos fall behind, the prospect of coming back against Jackson is daunting.
The Hoos best hitters are lefties, led by Matt Thaiss, Pavin Smith and Joe McCarthy. That bodes well against the right-handed Killian. Killian is a contact pitcher, pitching in front of a very good defense. But Killian has been hurt by the long ball, giving up 8 HRs and 21 doubles in under 80 innings. A .294 BAA isn't all that impressive for a #1 starter in the SEC.
The Hoos should be able to score some runs against the Razorbacks pitching. Whether or not Connor Jones can shut down the Hogs' bats will determine who wins.