How odd is this Arkansas Razorback baseball team? I mean, rhetorical though it may be, it’s a legitimate question.
Past iterations of the diamond Hogs were similarly spotty offensively and anchored by exceptional pitching. That much has not changed. But look at this middling bunch and several things jump off the stat page.
• Arkansas is 13-14 in the SEC going into a finale at Missouri, by all measure the worst team in the conference. The Hogs arrived at that mark by marvelously consistent inconsistency. Unlike prior squads that would sizzle and fizzle in alternate lengthy stretches, the 2014 Hogs have neither swept a series nor been swept. It’s been a 2-and-1 weekend every time, and to some extent that’s due evidence of credible progress from a team that lacks established leadership. But when the team drops an agonizing Sunday game against a ranked foe like Texas A&M, a one-run extra-inning affair where ample late scoring chances were squandered, the little things are going to determine postseason destinations.
• The Hogs’ prized Friday night arm is Mountain Home product Trey Killian. The sophomore has rewarded the coaches for giving him a opening game nod by posting an ERA just a shade north of 2 … and he’s all of 2-8 on the bump. It’s the most mystifying win-loss record in college baseball at this point, for all the wrong reasons. Killian has left games with a lead five times and ended up without a win, and that would probably enervate anyone less stoic. The upside here is that Arkansas is still scratching away even after the luckless starter departs, and the bullpen is mostly steady.
• Arkansas is a consensus “bubble” team by most recent prognostications, even considered as one of the first four out by ChasingOmaha.com prior to the A&M series. Should the Hogs be denied while fellow league teams like Tennessee and Kentucky get in? Moreover, would the selection committee hand bids to the likes of Maryland instead of an SEC team that has a pretty good recent history on the big stage? The Hogs have won four home series against ranked foes (Alabama, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Vanderbilt), and in those road trips that didn’t go as well, they at least salvaged Sunday wins against the likes of LSU, Florida and Ole Miss.
• Clark Eagan appears to be another sparkplug for a lackluster offense. He had a big weekend against the Aggies ,and the angular outfield prospect could be ready to contribute more in the league tournament. With Andrew Benitendi doing solid work all year, the Hogs have some hope for reliable sources of runs the next couple of years.
There’s a lot to love about the team, as usual, and also the same ol’ batch of lamentations to expend. It’s not a punchless group, but one that struggles in white-knuckle moments. When seasoned guys like Jake Wise and Brian Anderson don’t deliver big hits when called upon, it’s aggravating, but it’s also the law of averages taking hold. Same is true for closer Michael Gunn, who has devilishly good stuff and a real nasty tendency to develop his own quandaries on the mound.
Arkansas has a real shot to make the 2013-14 athletic calendar a lot more palatable after performing poorly on the gridiron and swimmingly on the hardwood. The diamond has to be the salvation, and June can still find this squad active and engaged if they will get the kinks worked out.