State of the Hogs: Rounding into Form?

The competition is never easy in the SEC, but the opposition changes a bit for Arkansas as it heads down the stretch in league play. The Hogs have won their way back into at least one poll.

Arkansas has pulled even at 9-9 in the SEC standings. That's notable considering that the opposition has been No. 6 Florida, No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 LSU, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 25 Vanderbilt.

It also explains why the Hogs (25-16 overall) jumped back into the Baseball America poll at No. 24 this week following another series win, this time taking two of three from Vandy.

It begs the question, can the Hogs make some hay down the stretch when the schedule isn't so daunting?

Yes, the Hogs still have a series at No. 16 Ole Miss to start May, but the other three SEC foes are Auburn, Texas A&M and Missouri. Those three are a combined 13 games under .500 and uncomfortably in the bottom three spots in the overall standings.

I think they can after watching them the last four games. The hitting is beginning to catch the hot pitching just a little bit, since the emergence of first baseman Eric Fisher (at the plate and in the field) along with solid hitting from both Blake Baxendale and Andrew Benintendi.

It's not just because the opposition isn't quite as tough. It's that the Hogs are coming together like a lot of Dave Van Horn teams do in the second half of the SEC season. Van Horn has the knack for molding and keeping a team together after a tough start.

When the weather warms, so do Van Horn teams, or so it seems. All three aspects of the team have improved in the last month -- offense, defense and pitching. And, it's come against the nation's top teams. It turns out that the Hogs opened league play against the nation's No. 1 RPI team, Florida.

It's not hard to figure out where A&M and Missouri have struggled in league play. It's pitching. They hold the bottom two spots in league ERA, with Missouri at 4.53 and A&M at .458.

The Hogs are third in ERA in league games only, at 2.70. Defense has helped the UA pitching. The Hogs lead in double plays with 22 in SEC games, 40 overall. The Razorbacks have held their opponents to two runs or less in 24 of 41 games this year.

In SEC games only, the UA starting rotation of Jalen Beeks (2.03), Chris Oliver (2.19) and Trey Killian (2.20) holds the five-six-seven spots in individual ERA.

There has been some good news at the plate of late for the Hogs. Baxendale and Benintendi have broken loose with their bats. Baxendale is hitting .294 in 12 SEC games, with 10 hits during that time. Benintendi has had two nice weekends in a row, too. His five stolen bases ranks fourth in SEC games only. Benintendi's overall batting average has soared to .283 after a tough start in nonconference play. He's at .288 in SEC games, third behind Brian Anderson's .306 and Baxendale.

There is a hot freshman pitcher, too. Berryhill, Okla., product Zach Jackson was superb in two relief appearances against Vandy. Jackson has allowed no runs and just three hits over his last six outings that spans 9.0 innings.

The NCAA has not released new RPI list for this week, but Boyd's World, generally identical to the NCAA chart, has the Hogs at 51, up 21 spots from last week.

The Hogs have three nonconference games left, including two this week against Northwestern, La., State. The Hogs and Demons play at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday and at 3:05 p.m. Wednesday, before Auburn's Tigers come to town Friday.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories