It's halfway mark for SEC baseball. Arkansas is 9-6 for clear third after a 5-3, 10-inning loss to LSU on Sunday afternoon at Baum Stadium.
Vanderbilt (14-1) and LSU (13-2) are the two front runners. One interesting aspect, none of those teams play each other in the second half. Vandy got it easy this year, so to speak. The Commodores don't play LSU or Arkansas.
I think Arkansas has faced the toughest part of its schedule in that the West with LSU, Ole Miss, Miss State and Alabama are all very good. South Carolina is tough to figure, but that figured to be a tough trip and it's done. Nothing is easy and you are always suspect to running into a hot improving staff in SEC play.
Last year, Arkansas, in the eyes of Dave Van Horn, struggled after losing three in a row to LSU. There were some low spots in the SEC season for Arkansas the rest of the way before finding itself at Rice after a tough SEC tournament.
The key is will this team move forward after this near miss against LSU. Who is to know?
Has Dave Van Horn found his lineup? Will the defense settle out? The lineup that he played Sunday included Dominic Ficociello at first, Jordan Farris at second, Brett McAfee at short and Jacob Mahan at third, Brian Anderson in left, Matt Vinson in center.
Ficociello might be the move to settle out the infield. He can erase a lot of problems at first base. He can scoop it, pick it and understands the high throw play to swipe tag as good as anyone in the SEC. There have been a lot of throwing errors this spring, but some of them would probably been negated by Ficociello's ability to handle tough plays coming across the diamond.
Farris is an interesting player. He has power (there was a homer Sunday) and is very athletic. He hasn't played much second. He was a shortstop in high school when he was primarily thought to be a football player. He's a talented wideout. Long term, he's got a lot of potential with the bat and overall athletic ability. He's still learning how to run the bases and just the little details of college baseball. But there is a lot of fascination with the potential of Jordan Farris.
"I thought Farris was outstanding," Van Horn said. "He's a tough kid. He's got some power and he hit it hard again later in the game, but it was right at someone. He might can help us if he can hit righthanded pitching consistently.
"As far as Ficociello, that's something we know is there now. It worked pretty well today."
Van Horn thought it was a great series.
"I didn't like the ninth inning Friday night, but I thought we played well most of the weekend," he said. "This was a great game today between two good teams. We had some things that didn't go our way.
"We had a chance for a big inning earlier when Vinson hit a liner off the pitcher's leg. We had runner's on first and third. If that one misses his leg, it's through and we have first and third again, still with no outs. It's a different inning and maybe a different game."
One of the key issues to watch over the next couple of weeks is at the closer position where Colby Suggs has been less than perfect. He has the heater that the scouts love, but his breaker has not been consistent yet. SEC hitters can catch up with a 95 mph fast ball and put it in play if there is not a breaker to go with it. Oddly, Suggs was better with his big bender as a freshman when he began to get midweek action. It was decent last year. It'll have to improve going forward.
I like Anderson in the outfield as opposed to third or short. I think he'll hit better if he has to worry less about playing on the left side of the infield. He can settle in at the plate where he might be the Hogs' best hitter. McAfee is a talented shortstop. He just needs time to knock off some rust and nerves playing at this level for the first time.
There are bright spots in the bullpen, per the usual. Chris Oliver and Jalen Beeks have emerged as quality guys as setup relievers. Brandon Moore might have had his best outing Sunday, although he's had such bad luck with defense that it's hard to pin too much on any of his losses. He's a ground ball guy with the sinker and he needs good defense to be effective.
One interesting item is that the Hogs have lost only two SEC series, both at home, both in extra innings on Sunday. There's not much difference between being 9-6 and 11-4 with a hot race in the SEC West the rest of the way. As it is now, LSU is going to have to stumble a bit for their to be a race. There didn't look like the Tigers have many issues.
But, perhaps some of the Arkansas defensive issues can be cleared up with the lineup Dave Van Horn turned to on Sunday.
Texas A&M (6-9) is up next for the Hogs at Baum. The Aggies have lost eight of nine in SEC play, including three straight to Mississippi State last weekend.
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