Between grad school (not for the faint of heart, btw), Bobby Petrino's unfortunate exit from Fayetteville, something about 3 high-profile players going Full Retard (NSFW language), and the somber news that our fearless leaders are officially hanging up their blogging shoes (blogging shoes? Is that a real thing? It is now), Razorback baseball has kind of taken a back seat. When we last left off, the Diamond Hogs were sitting at a tidy 22-3 (5-1 SEC), with a top 5 ranking in every major poll. If the title of the post hasn't given it away already... things went south, fast.
Baseball is a funny game. It's a game of averages. It's a game where double-digit scores are not all that rare, but putting the ball in play 40% of the time is considered "lights out". It's a game where a career 0.210 hitter can absolutely destroy you when he finally has a night where he goes 5-5. It's a game where a career 0.350 hitter batting with 2 outs and the bases loaded will, more often than not, result in no runs scoring. It's a game where you can win the first game of the series by 10 runs, and then lose the next 2 by 1 run each, and lose the series.
I say all of that to say this: the averages have not been kind to the Hogs lately, especially in SEC play.
Arkansas walked into Baton Rouge ranked #3 in the nation... and didn't win a game. Of those 3 losses, 2 were by 1 run. A home series with the Georgia Bulldogs went better, with the Hogs winning 2 of 3 by a combined score of 18-7. The overachieving (by traditional standards) Kentucky Wildcats visited next, but took the series 2-games-to-1. All 3 games with the Wildcats had 1-run margins. A road trip to Oxford increased the Hogs woes, as they again lost 2 games and the series. Of the 2 losses, 1 was by 1 run.
The truly frustrating thing about this season is how much potential the team had. How much potential? Enough to walk into Gainesville and take 2-of-3 from the #5 Florida Gators on their home turf. Again, the only loss the Razorbacks suffered was by a 1-run margin. The Hogs were unable to capitalize on that momentum, though, by following up the Florida series win with a home series loss to South Carolina. The Hogs hit rock-bottom the next week, losing 2 games to the Auburn Tigers in Fayetteville. Yet again, one of the losses by a 1-run margin.
The Razorbacks have had hitting issues, pretty much all season. And yet, that characterization isn't quite fair. The hitting numbers have been sufficient to win more games than this team has, but there's been a lack of timely hitting. Of the Hogs' 14 SEC losses, 7 have been by 1 run. As far as our collective batting averages and pitching stats go, losing that many 1-run games is a fairly glaring statistical anomaly. A few more timely hits, and this could have been an entirely different season.
Along the way, the Razorbacks suffered a puzzling 0-4 loss against a questionable OU teamon the road; swept Stephen F. Austin and future SEC member Missouri, and beat Oral Roberts, all in Fayetteville; and beat Louisiana Tech at Dickey Stephens Park in Little Rock.
For the final SEC series of the season, the Hogs travelled to Knoxville this weekend to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee hasn't been a major player in SEC baseball for a while, but managed to lure Dave Serrano away from Cal State-Fullerton to be their coach this season. The Hogs, who were jockeying for seeding in the SEC Tourney, came away from Knoxville with a much-needed series sweep, out-scoring the Vols 26-5.
The SEC Tournament starts on Tuesday. In anticipation of the conference expanding to 14 members next season, 10 teams will participate in the tournament this season (instead of the usual 8). This has led to a very, very unconventional (and complicated) seeding structure. Frankly, I'm not really sure how the seeding work, so I won't even try to explain. The general consensus is that the best the Hogs can do is the 5 seed, and even that is contingent on several tie-breakers.
The team had a lot expected of them, and some bold claims were made by your's truly earlier in the season. First things first, the SEC West crown has been out of reach for some time now; that honor goes to LSU, who also won the overall regular season title. Same for a National Seed (and the right to host a Super Regional). Even hosting a regional is somewhat in question; a strong showing in the SEC Tourney could earn them the right... or an early exit could result in the Hogs been shipped off as a #2 in someone else's regional. The only thing that I was right about is that the Hogs would have a better conference record than last season... but apparently only by 1 game. The Hogs now stand at 39-17 (16-14 SEC), which is completely acceptable, but definitely a disappointment given the expectations. On the bright side, the Hogs seem be getting hot just in time for the post season.