Auburn, Ala.--Going into the weekend with sophomore standout Casey Mize doubtful (Mize Doubtful For Razorbacks) , the 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers (28-11, 10-5) will be counting on Keegan Thompson and Davis Daniel to get the job done against No. 14 Arkansas (30-8, 11-4).
A team that leads Auburn by a game heading into the second half of the SEC baseball schedule, Arkansas has strong pitching, power at the plate and a solid defensive team, the Razorbacks are what Coach Butch Thompson said may be the best the Tigers have seen this season.
"I think we're going to see a real Friday night guy,” he said of Arkansas starter Blaine Knight. “I know Keegan is really excited about getting back in that role. He has been working since he took the week off to getting back into it. They're throwing a real guy that we're hearing unbelievable things about. From looking at video of the games he's pitched, they've got left-handed power, right-handed power, power top to bottom. If I'm trying to draw out the positive from our side, if you look at SEC play, our pitchers have walked the fewest batters by far.
"That's one way to avoid the three-run homer," the coach said. "The way you attack guys with power is down in the zone and don't run from it. We'll see how that matches up, the fewest walks versus their power. Hopefully, we can play that (offensive) game better than we did two weeks ago like we have those last four or five games."
Featuring a talented arm, Knight enters the weekend with six wins and an ERA under two for a Razorback staff that has a combined ERA of 3.36. Throw in a team batting average of .298 and 53 home runs and you have a team capable of beating you on the mound or at the plate.
With five different players who already have more than six home runs, this Arkansas offense is capable of putting up big numbers.
Led by its pitching all season Auburn has seen its offense take off with the move of Jonah Todd back to the leadoff spot and the insertion of Conor Davis and Bo Decker in the lineup. It couldn’t have come at a better time with the likelihood that the Tigers will need to score plenty of runs to win games this weekend.
Jonah Todd is known to his teammates as "Joe Dirt" for his all-out hustle on the baseball diamond.
Scoring 46 runs in the last five games, Auburn has brought the long ball out for the first time this season over the stretch with six home runs in those five contests. The previous 33 games the Tigers hit just 10 homers.
With a confident lineup and more options with the return of Decker to the outfield, Butch Thompson said he likes the way his offense is playing as they prepare to face off against the red hot Hogs.
“ I like that we put Jonah down in the three-hole because that lets me know how much I did like him hitting leadoff so that question has actually been answered," he said. "Because it is, it’s an intangible with everybody feeding off of him getting us started standing in the box to lead off. I do think there’s something to it now. By moving him from there, I didn’t feel the same way, but moving him back, I feel a click there.
“ I think just it bolstered it. A couple things happened to make us a little stronger, in my opinion. Bo Decker being an option to come back in the outfield makes me feel like we’re stronger. When Daniel Robert can play the outfield, because he’s a really good outfielder and a great first baseman, putting him in right field bolsters our lineup a little bit.
“It allows Dylan Ingram to get on the field and it allows Conor Davis to DH instead of just one or the other DHing so I really think it’s helped us have a little more power in the lineup, punch in our lineup. Then (Luke) Jarvis goes and hits a grand slam, but all the way around, I think it gives us a little more punch in our lineup. I think we’ve sensed that this week.”
Pitching Rotation: Auburn
Friday: Jr. RHP Keegan Thompson (4-1, 1.29 ERA)
Saturday: Fr. RHP Davis Daniel (3-2, 4.00)
Pitching Rotation: Arkansas
Friday: So. RHP Blaine Knight (6-1, 1.89)
Saturday: Jr. RHP Trevor Stephan (4-2, 2.96)
Top Offensive Performers: Auburn
Jonah Todd (.385, 12 2B, 38 Runs)
Conor Davis (.431, 1 HR, 4 2B, 10 RBI last 10 games)
Top Offensive Performers: Arkansas
Jax Biggers (.355, 3 HR, 36 Runs)
Chad Spanberger (.314, 9 HR, 42 RBI)
Grant Koch (.313, 9 HR, 11 2B)
Game Times (CDT):
Friday: 6 p.m. (SEC Network+)
Saturday: 1 p.m. (SEC Network+)
Sunday: 3 p.m. (SEC Network)