After a several month hiatus from the world of Hog blogging, I'm back to shed some light on a topic that is truly near and dear to my heart, Razorback Baseball. For the past 7 years of my life the highlight of my Spring has been sitting in the outfield at Baum pounding Boggs and cheering the Hogs on to victory. In all honesty, it's been more drinking than cheering, but what can you do. Nevertheless, as we enter the month of May, a very familiar occurrence has begun, thus prompting me to answer some questions about the state of Hog Baseball.
Question #1: Have we hit a slump?
Simply put, yes. However, what can you honestly expect out of a squad that was literally on fire for almost 25 games? This is baseball, and teams are going to lose some games, and they're going to have some shaky outings. Fortunately, our previous opponents merely allowed us to overpower them with some amazing hitting, and we were able to rattle off several series sweeps over the lower rungs of the SEC. Now we have entered into the meat of our schedule, and things aren't so easy. Look for the team to be truly tested over the remaining three weekends, and hopefully a real Omaha style sink-or-swim mentality will take hold with this group of veterans.
Question #2: How do we stand given our recent play?
I wish I could say that we are in great shape to take the regular season SEC Title, but the fact of the matter is we aren't. Currently, the Hogs are 2 games behind South Carolina and 1 game behind Florida for the outright lead. At the same time, we are tied atop the SEC West with Ole Miss, who will look to take the division lead this weekend when they host the Razorbacks. We MUST take this series in Oxford, or our chances are all but done.
Question #3: What needs to happen for us to be #1 or #2 in the SEC (a.k.a National Seed)?
For starters, the Hogs must win their remaining three series or the SEC tournament. Without one of those two things happening I fear we will only (note "only") be a Regional Host. However, this may not be enough if Florida and South Carolina keep up their winning ways as this is how the remaining three weeks play out:
- Weekend of May 7-9: Arkansas must win at least two in Oxford to maintain the lead in the SEC West. This WILL NOT be easy, especially if our bats don't step up. South Carolina takes on a weak Kentucky squad in Lexington, and it can naturally be assumed they take 2 of 3. Florida travels to Alabama, and unless Nick Saban starts coaching the baseball team too, Florida will likely take the series. Result: Arkansas remains 2 or 3 games back
- Weekend of May 14-16: This may be the series that decides the SEC Championship (but I'm afraid that series happened two weekends ago when Arkansas played Florida). If Arkansas wins the series, they'll gain a game on South Carolina, putting them one step closer. Unfortunately, Florida gets an absolutely TERRIBLE Georgia squad in Gainesville, and this will result in a sweep. One step forward, two steps back... Arkansas (18-9) will be one game behind USC-E (19-8), but two games behind Florida (20-7)... at best!
- Weekend of May 21-23: Arkansas finishes off the regular season against a tough Vanderbilt team in Nashville. Hopefully by this point the Hogs will be preparing for the post season, and will take the series, which will unfortunately have no real reward. USC-E and Florida will control their own destiny that weekend, and the winner of their series will take the regular season SEC crown, and with it a #1 seed in Hoover, Alabama.
Question #4: So where does that really leave us?
There is a silver lining in all of this, and that is that pollsters still seem to have us high on their radar despite consecutive series losses. If we can manage to beat Ole Miss and Vandy on the road, and if we beat South Carolina, we will undoubtedly playing some VERY good baseball. While we might have missed the regular season crown by a missed call here or an error there, we should still be in great shape to be a national seed. Any showing at all in the SEC tournament should lock up a #7 or #8 seed, and the Hogs will once again be hosting a Regional and hopefully Super Regional in the nicest stadium in college baseball.
Question #5: I see where we can be, but how do we get there?
Fortunately, this week marks a fairly huge change in the way our team will approach the remaining three SEC series. Brett Eibner will no longer have to focus on pitching during weekend series, and can devote all of his time to playing the hell out of center field and knocking the everliving s*** out of the baseball. This also keeps the rest of our defense in their places and allows for people to remain in a rhythm through the entire weekend. Fortunately, losing Eibner on the mound isn't too terrible, so hopefully the pros will outweigh the cons. Any way you say it, this team needs some sort of change, and this could be exactly what they're looking for.
So here we are, at the ultimate turning point in the season. At this time last year the roof was literally collapsing on this team, only to have it rebuilt in the Oklahoma Regional and the FSU Super Regional. What once was lost became found again, and the Hogs found themselves in Rosenblatt Stadium for the 6th time in program history. The road to Omaha will be just as tough for the 2010 Hogs, but it's a path they've all traveled before.
As always... Go Hogs!!!