Preview: Red Wolves at South Alabama

Motivation should not be in short supply as the Red Wolves head down to Mobile to face the South Alabama Jaguars.

Last season's series didn't go well for A-State as they hosted the Jaguars and were outscored 30-5 in a series sweep with the worst loss of the series being by a 20-2 margin. The Jags piled up 35 hits, 15 walks with 18 extra base hits that included four home runs in a powerful offensive display.

This season is a lot different for both teams as A-State is doing better offensively coming into the game. South Alabama's offensive woes have been pronounced as a practically brand new team is still trying to sort out some chemistry and get things on track. It is actually an interesting challenge to pull last season's roster and this season's roster from the South Alabama web site together and see how many players are on both rosters with only 11 returning lettermen (seven from high school) meshing with 11 Freshmen and 13 JUCO transfers with only seven players.

South Alabama (15-17, 5-6 Sun Belt, 109 RPI) is coming off winning two-of-three at the Texas State Bobcats just one week after falling victim to a home sweep by the UT Arlington Mavericks. South Alabama took two-of-three at the Arkansas Razorbacks and are actually below .500 at home so far on the season. Having lost seven of nine, the Jaguars are successful when they are able to pitch well and generate just enough timely hitting to win.

A-State (18-15, 8-4 Sun Belt, 57 RPI) enters the match-up on a two-game winning streak, but with only one road series win on the season at UT Arlington and fresh off a road series loss at WKU last weekend. The Red Wolves are playing their back-to-back road conference series portion of the schedule.

A-State is tops in the state of Arkansas in RPI at 57 (Arkansas 78, UALR 159, UCA 117, UAPB 265) and in strength of schedule at 41 (UALR 80, Arkansas 85, UCA 151, UAPB 267).

Comparisons

South Alabama's pitching staff is allowing opponents a .252 average and 4.8 runs a game while Arkansas State is hitting .276 and is scoring 6.0 runs a game. The Jaguars have given up 73 extra-base hits on the year including 15 home runs while the Red Wolves have hit 76 extra-base hits with eight home runs.

Arkansas State's pitching staff is allowing opponents a .261 average and 4.5 runs a game as South Alabama is hitting .240 and scoring 3.3 runs a game. The Red Wolves have allowed 69 extra-base hits, 14 of which are long balls while the Jaguars have hit 40 extra-base hits with 3 home runs.

Jaguars Impressions

The Jaguars are a light hitting team lead by two main contributors in Junior Cole Gleason and sophomore Hayden Jones. Gleason lead the Jaguars in hitting (.305), runs (17), hits (36), walks (18) and on base percentage (.397) while Jones leads in doubles (7), RBI (13), and total bases (44). Jones is tied for the lead in homers (1) with junior Erik Hindmon and freshman Matt Bolger who also leads the team in slugging percentage (.382).

Junior Adam Ballew leads the team with four steals on six attempts. The Jags have stolen eight bases on 23 attempts on the season and have 11 sac flies and 33 sac hits and have hit into 30 double plays.

Pitching has been the lifeblood of this team with a 3.85 team ERA allowing opponents a .252 average. I'm figuring either senior righty Matt Bell (2-5, 6.69 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, .296 OBA), junior southpaw Jared Gates (1-3, 4.35 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .225 OBA) or junior right-hander Ben Taylor (3-1, 3.57 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .229 OBA) will get the Sunday start if it doesn't go as I detail below.

Brandon Hallford (Sr., RHP) seems to be setting himself as the team closer with five saves and 10 relief appearances working 23.1 innings allowing opponents a .143 average. James Traylor (Jr., LHP) has 11 relief appearances pitching 20.2 innings with 25 strike outs and opponents hitting .222 against him. Cameron Carlton (RSo., RHP) has been solid out of the pen with a 1.35 ERA on six relief appearances.

Red Wolves Impressions

Overall the Red Wolves offense continues to churn out runs and pressure on pitching staffs.  Sophomore center fielder Austin Baker still leads A-State in a lot of offensive categories: runs (31), triples (4), home runs (5), total bases (62), slugging percentage (.504), walks (26), on base percentage (.417) and steals (10). Baker is actually getting on base more against conference foe with a .492 on base percentage and with his speed that is certain to keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.

Sophomore first baseman Matt Burgess leads the team in hitting (.313), hits (40) and RBI (35) however, against conference competition he lead in total bases while senior Zach Maggio is leading the team in hitting in conference play with a .349 average. Junior catcher Stuart Levy leads the team with 10 doubles and junior infielder Lucas Feddersen leads the team in steals in conference play with five while senior short stop Dustin Jones is tied with Baker with 10 runs scored against conference opponents.

However, the Red Wolves have watched the emergence and impact of freshman infielder Eric Wilcoxson who has seen significant playing time recently and has come up big hitting .409 with more than half of his hits being of the extra-base variety including a game-winning home run against Texas State. He has drawn 11 walks in 37 plate appearances for a .600 on base average.

I do expect the Red Wolves to run as they have the opportunity with 42 stolen bases on 56 attempts going against a team that has allowed 23 steals on 30 attempts on the season.

In conference play the Red Wolves have relied on six relievers in the pen with bridge man senior righty Cody Woodhouse and closer senior right-hander Morgan Croft picking up most of the innings with 31 innings pitched between the two of them. Overall Woodhouse has pitched 31 innings on 14 relief appearances with a 2.32 ERA and a .230 opponent batting average. Croft has five saves in 27 innings on 13 relief appearances with a 3.67 ERA and a .235 opponent average.

Colton Kibler (Jr., RHP) has also pitched well out of the pen with a 3.22 ERA over 22.1 innings and freshman Tyler Zuber (RHP) has emerged effectively in recent weeks another reliable bullpen option.

Game 1, Friday 6:30 PM

Arkansas State – David Owen (So., RHP) 4-1, 3.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .246 OBA

Owen looks to rebound from a rough outing last weekend at WKU which was his longest on the year at 7.2 innings pitched but was also the most runs he has allowed on the year. On the season Owen is averaging 8.4 strike outs and 3.5 walks per nine innings for a 2.6 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Owen has been consistently solid in his other starts on the season with the exception of Illinois State.

South Alabama – Locke St. John (Jr., LHP) 3-1, 3.06 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .296 OBA

St. John's high point was allowing an earned run off a hit and two walks in 8.1 innings pitched in his first win of the year at Arkansas earlier in the year which began a string on three starts in which he allowed three earned runs over 24 innings for a 1.13 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. However, St. John has allowed 11 earned runs over 16 innings of work in his last three starts for a 6.19 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP. St. John averages 5.04 strike outs and 3.06 walks per nine innings with a 1.6 strike-out-to-walk ratio.

Game 2, Saturday 6:30 PM

Arkansas State – Chandler Hawkins (Jr., LHP) 2-4, 5.40 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, .297 OBA

Hawkins has been very consistent as a starter, but also managed his toughest start of the season last week against WKU. Hawkins can get five to six quality innings without allowing walks. Unfortunately, the home run ball has hurt him this season as he's allowed four on the year included a grand slam last weekend that turned the tide in the Hilltoppers' favor. Hawkins averages 7.4 strike outs and 2.0 walks per nine innings with a 3.7 strike-out-to-walk ratio.

South Alabama – Kevin Hill (Jr., RHP) 2-4, 4.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .259 OBA

Hill is coming off of his best outing of the year to this point allowing two earned runs over eight innings against Texas State in which he was a hard-luck loser in a 2-0 ballgame. Hill has distance potential with a pair of seven and eight inning outings this season. Hill averages 8.2 strike outs and 4.2 walks per nine innings with a 1.9 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Hill to this point in the season has pitched better away from Mobile.

Game 3, Sunday 1:00 PM

Arkansas State – Bradley Wallace (Sr., RHP) 3-3, 4.23 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .282 OBA

Wallace season has run the gamut of starts with his last two being his finest so far with back-to-back wins and is currently on a streak of 14 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. Wallace has lasted seven innings in each of his last two starts after being pulled at UT Arlington after only 2.1 innings of work. Wallace has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP in his last two outings.

South Alabama – TBA

I don't know about you, but I've heard that TBA is mighty tough! My hunch is sophomore righty Hunter Soleymani (0-1, 2.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .213 OBA) will get the start simply because he has started the last two Sundays for the Jags going 4.1 innings allowing two earned runs on six hits last week and allowing three earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched the week prior. If not Soleymani, then my suspicion is that one of the options I listed above will get the start.

My hope is that the Red Wolves take this opportunity to return serve and get a sweep at South Alabama. The match-up favors a close, hard fought series.

I will be covering the Red Wolves action for College Baseball Central at http://collegebaseballcentral.com/sun-belt/arkansas-state/

Mark West

College Baseball Central

Twitter: @MarkWestCBC

Email: markwest@collegebaseballcentral.com