After finishing up a mid-week series with the UNLV Rebels and earning a split with the No. 17 team in the land, Dave Van Horn and the newly ranked Hogs are headed to Baton Rouge for their toughest road test of the season to this point.
Arkansas takes a 21-13 (6-6 SEC) record to Baton Rouge while LSU finds itself in a bit better shape after a bad start to conference play at 25-8-1 (6-5-1 SEC). LSU, dating back to April 2nd, has reeled off five straight wins.
The Tigers beat up on McNeese State in a one-game set, took three vs. Mississippi State and one against Lamar Wednesday night. But entering the home stand, LSU struggled away from Alex Box Stadium, losing four of five games and tying the other.
The Tigers' 8-game home stand will come to a close after this weekend's three-game set with Arkansas.
Let's get to business. Here's what you need to know to get ready for the first meeting of Arkansas-LSU this season.
Friday night: Trey Killian - 1-5, 2.70 ERA vs. Aaron Nola - 6-1, 0.46 ERA
So, at first glance, you might think LSU will take the Friday contest with Aaron Nola on the mound. And if you think that you might be right, but Killian has been pitching very well of late. Arkansas' offense just hasn't been there to give him any run support.
When you take a look at each of these pitchers, you get a small glimpse of how great the pitching is in the SEC. Nola will enter Friday night's contest having given up only three earned runs in 57 innings of work this season. That. Is. Ridiculous. Opponents are also hitting just .141 against him. That means he is able to get deep into ball games and save LSU's bullpen. He's started eight games this year, which means his average start this season is just over 7 innings.
Killian, while he hasn't been as fantastic as Nola, has pitched well. His 2.70 ERA isn't terrible, and his opponent's batting average is in the low .200s. Killian has been to Baton Rouge once before, last year, and says he hears the crowd can get a little rowdy down there, but he's excited to pitch and have the crowd on his back all night. Killian says he will be successful as long as he keeps the ball down in zone and out of the wheelhouse of the LSU hitters, who have sent 16 balls over the fence this season.
Saturday: Jalen Beeks - 5-2, 1.05 ERA vs. (projected) Jared Poché - 6-2, 2.25 ERA
First off, I'm a bit upset we're not going to get a Poché vs. Poché matchup this weekend. It's a bit sad. But Saturday's pitching matchup may even be more appealing than Friday night's. Arguably the hottest pitcher in the SEC not named Aaron Nola, will be going for Arkansas in game two. Beeks went the distance against then-No. 1 South Carolina, surrounding just four hits and striking out nine.
Jared Poché has been stellar for LSU, also. While he doesn't strike out hitters with the regularity Nola does, Poché is still an effective pitcher. He will enter (likely) Saturday's game with opponents hitting just .201 off him this season. It should be a terrific contest.
Sunday: Chris Oliver - 3-3, 1.99 ERA vs. TBA (he has an excellent ERA, btw)
I'm leaving LSU's Sunday starter TBA because they have started a number of guys this season on Sundays. But if I had to guess I would say Mainieri will go with either Cody Glenn (1-1, 4.71 ERA) or Kyle Bouman (3-1, 2.23 ERA). Glenn and Bouman are the only other LSU pitchers with more than two starts on the season (Glenn 7, Bouman 6).
And if you're Arkansas, if you can steal a game on either Friday night or Saturday, you have to like your chances with Oliver taking the ball in game 3. According to a source of mine, Oliver reached 99 MPH on his fastball in his eight-inning, 10-strikeout performance vs. South Carolina. I kind of compare Oliver to Ryne Stanek a bit – big arm, throws hard, struggles with fastball control at times – but he's got all the potential in the world.
Players to watch for
Alex Bregman – After a stellar, and I mean stellar, freshman campaign that won him National Freshman of the Year, the sophomore SS has come back down to earth a bit at the plate. Bregman hit a silly .369 last year, dropping six bombs and driving in 52, good for second on the team (behind Mason Katz). This year Bregman's BA is at .285, which isn't bad, but I think most LSU folks would say they expected it to be a bit higher than that at this point in the season. He's knocked two out of the park and driven in 22 runs, but if history's taught us anything, Arkansas is good at handing out career days that players can build on.
Tyler Spoon – You might ask why I chose Tyler Spoon. Well, Spoon moving to the leadoff position the last four games has rejuvenated Arkansas' offense, resulting in 27 runs. Spoon is a terrific leadoff hitter and just has a knack for getting on base. And once Spoon gets on base it produces opportunities for hot-hitting Joe Serrano and Brian Anderson. If Spoon has a big weekend at the plate, Arkansas may have a chance to get a huge road series win.
What's at stake?
Entering play at Alex Box this weekend LSU brings in a half-game lead over the Razorbacks in the loss column in the SEC's Western division. Arkansas is just 2-7 on the road this season, so it would be huge if the Hogs could find a way to get wins away from Baum.
But on the other side of the coin, LSU very rarely loses in their own park. The Tigers have won 21 of 24 games played in Baton Rouge this season, falling to No. 10 Louisiana-Lafayette (who just happens to be one of the hottest teams in the nation), Yale, and tying with Georgia in late March.
LSU's five-game win streak is on the line this weekend, and any momentum they could take from this series on the road with them to Southern Miss and Ole Miss would be key. The Tigers could also create a bit more separation from Arkansas in the standings with a series win.
And as for Arkansas, falling to the cellar in the division is a real possibility if they don't take a game or two. This three-game set at LSU ends a 7-game home stand for Arkansas, but comes before another 9-game home stand for the Razorbacks. So if Arkansas can steal a game or two in Baton Rouge and continue to play well at Baum, the Hogs will be sitting pretty heading down the home stretch of the season.
LSU wins series 2-1. I think Nola will be too much Friday, Beeks gets it done Saturday, and TBA does his thing for LSU in their championship gold unis in the rubber match.
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