PREVIEW: Key Arkansas series

South Carolina hasn't lost a series at home this season -- and up until last weekend the Gamecocks hadn't lost a series anywhere -- the Arkansas Razorbacks come to town for a key SEC three-game set and the Gamecocks need wins to stay in the tight SEC Championship race. John Klauber breaks down the Gamecocks' opponent.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Record: 32-15; Home: 21-6; Away: 10-9; Neutral: 1-0; SEC: 12-12 (SEC, Away: 4-8).

2/3's of Arkansas's total SEC losses (to date) have been away from the confines of Baum Stadium. A lot of the losses sustained early in the year were due to injuries and a few unanswered questions concerning weekend pitching rotations and getting the right guy on the bump to face SEC hitting. Simply stated, problem solved for the Razorbacks.

Their pitching has been a large part of their overall success since dropping two to Kentucky in Lexington three weeks ago. The Razorbacks have started their run at the right time of the year and this is what makes them dangerous to us.

Hitting has been lead by Bo Bigham, but I am impressed every time I see their freshman, Dominic Ficociello, take to the plate. The young man can really work a pitcher, even experienced ones. It must be pointed out that their overall batting averages for all games (played to date) are solid. Lead off hitters average in the high .200s; 3-5 average in the .300's… but from there, they have some problems filling gaps and the batting averages reveal it. 6-9 feature only one consistent hitter (hitting above .250) in Jarrod McKinney, with a .281 batting average.

However, there is another side of the coin… their hitting numbers become much more suspect when compared to SEC statistical data for conference play only. In fact, their team average (SEC games only) is .249, ranked 11th in the SEC (Carolina is #5). Hitters 1 and 2 have batting averages at .323 (Bigham) and .256 (Kuhn); 3-5? .274 (McCann), .296 (Ficociello) and .210 (Robinson), respectively… a far cry from the +.300 batting averages seen in the paragraph above.

6-9 becomes a bit of a "mosh pit" and it becomes easier to understand the movement that this group has to undergo to get the best average in the line-up. Based upon numbers (times started), 6-9 typically looks like this: .181 (Reynolds), .214 (Broyles; started against UF in the 7th spot all weekend), .284 (McKinney) and .240 (Carver). 6-9 presents a Razorback dilemma that a good pitching staff (like Carolina's) should be able to manipulate… especially one playing in front of the home crowd.

The key to this group is to give them nothing to work with… no lead off walks, no hit batters to start an inning and no 1-3 starts to an inning that will just add to the number of pitches thrown by a pitcher. All of this is what beat us last week and I would bet my last dollar it has been stressed this week to our pitchers, ad nauseum. If Arkansas is denied a lead by the sixth inning, they are 8-11.

It gets worse as the innings increase during SEC play; 7th inning trailing: 4-12; 8th inning trailing: 0-12. The best news for our pitchers is that their line-up is a right-handed hitter dominant group and it should be a tad easier to get prepared for the way they hit and what pitches they hit best if they are standing on the same side of the plate, almost every at-bat.

Here are Arkansas hitters, their numbers and stats as they stand today:

12, Bo Bigham 2B (R/R, Jr.); .296BA, 177AB, 32r, 53h, 2HR, 14RBI, 12w, 16k (.357 obp).

25, Collin Kuhn CF (R/R, Jr.); .263BA, 156AB, 30r, 41h,4HR, 31RBI, 11w, 41k (.344 obp).

27,James McCann C (R/R, Jr.); .318BA, 154AB, 30r, 49h, 6HR, 27RBI, 21w, 18k (.413 obp).

20, Dominic Ficociello 1B (S/R, Fr.); .345BA, 165AB, 24r, 53h, 4HR, 43RBI, 6w, 35k (.376 obp).

28 Kyle Robinson LF (R/R, Sr.); .304BA, 161AB, 32r, 49h, 7HR, 37RBI, 19w, 37k (.380 obp).

5, Matt Reynolds 3B (R/R, So.); .242BA, 157AB, 32r, 38h, 3HR, 20RBI, 28w, 31k (.366 obp).

11, Franco Broyles DH (R/R, RS Fr.); .174BA, 23AB, 1r, 4h, 6RBI, 1w, 8k (.200 obp).

14, Jarrod McKinney RF (R/R, Jr.); .281BA, 121AB, 17r, 34h, 2HR, 16RBI, 14w, 28k (.378 obp).

18, Tim Carver SS (R/R, RS Jr.); .233 BA, 129AB, 22r, 30h, 1HR, 11RBI, 10w, 13k (.299 obp).

16, Sam Bates DH (L/R, Jr.); .245BA, 49AB, 3r, 12h, 6RBI, 7w, 19k (.333 obp).

19, Jake Wise C (R/R, Fr.); .162BA, 37AB, 3r, 6h, 1HR, 5RBI, 2w, 7k (.205 obp).

26 Jacob Rice LF (R/R, Fr.); .135BA, 37AB, 2r, 5h, 3RBI, 2w, 6k (.179 obp).

1, Matt Vinson OF (S/R, So.); .212BA, 52AB, 8r, 11h, 1HR, 6RBI, 7w, 18k (.305 obp).


Arkansas (team) batting average: .269
Opponent (team) batting average: .238
Arkansas (team) On-Base Percentage: .349
Opponent (team) On-base Percentage: .326

Arkansas pitching is currently top of the line SEC pitching. They are ranked #4 in (SEC) conference games played with a team ERA of 3.29; Carolina's team ERA (SEC only) is currently ranked #1, with a team ERA of 2.44. In conference-only pitching, Matt Price leads all SEC pitchers (min. 1.0 IP/Team n a game) with a .72 ERA (14 app., 25.IP); Michael Roth is #3 with a 1.34 ERA (8 apperances/60.1IP) and John Taylor is #5 with a 1.57 ERA (18 app., 28.2IP). Arkansas's Trent Daniels (top shelf relief pitcher) comes in #6 with a 1.78 ERA (10 app./25.1 IP)

Friday starter D.J. Baxendale (RHP, So.) was recently selected to pitch for the USA Collegiate Baseball Team (Summer of 2011), which is a great honor… only the best of the best get to play for Team USA and we all wish him luck starting this Saturday.

Baxendale possesses a good fastball, throws it with control and locates it well. His work as a starter in early April was limited, due to a blister on his pitching hand. He suffered a similar (blister) injury that kept him from a starting role last year, consequently for the same amount of time (roughly two weeks). Last Thursday's start against Florida was his first full game (9 innings pitched); his start the week before Florida was against Georgia and in both games he threw well over 100 pitches (127 against Florida, 101 against UGa).

Baxendale comes in with a side-arm delivery with long arm action on the fastball, meaning he will "whip" the ball over the plate. His curveball is thrown from a 12-6 pitching movement and has a really sharp break over the plate; he will use his curveball primarily for his off-speed pitch. On rare occasions, he has a tendency to leave pitches over the plate and if he elevates his fastball, he can be hit hard. His curve locates better than his fastball and his fastball release can provide a lack of command over the pitch he makes. With a 1.58 ERA and a WHIP just barely over 1.0 (1.01), his mistakes are minimal and come around only when he has been off the bump for a period of time…. Specifically healing from an injury like a blister.

Arkansas' Saturday starter is Randall Fant (LHP, So.), a talented lefty from Texas. Randall ran into some trouble last year (public intoxication; walking back to campus from a house and was almost struck by the arresting officer), but has done a good job of putting it behind him as he has performed well on – and off – the mound in 2011. Fant can throw three pitches for strikes… fastball, change-up (slider) and curve. It is easy to spot when Fant gets tired, as he will primarily throw his fastball and slider, staying away from the curve. This is when he can get into some trouble and Coach Van Horn will usually pull him before any damage is done. Fant goes for a pitch count in the high 70s mid 80s (5-7 innings).

During the last two SEC Sunday games (Saturday against the Gators), Cade Lynch (LHP, So.) has been the third man in the Hawg weekend starter rotation. Prior to the start of the 2011 season, it was thought he would fulfill bullpen duties, working behind Baxendale. Lynch underwent surgery before the start of winter ball to alleviate migraine headaches (1/4/11), which left a question mark on exactly what his role would be before the season.

His use as a relief pitcher was fulfilled so well that it was inevitable that he would get a look at a starting role on weekends. That opportunity came about against Georgia; his only drawback could be is his durability, as he has pitched really well, but for only +4.0 innings in losses to both Georgia and Florida. Lynch throws a fastball in the 83- 85 mph range, has touched the gun at 90-91. Lynch will rely upon low velocity, accurate pitches to get strikes and currently averages a little over a strike an inning on his outings (55 innings pitched, 59 strike outs = 1.07 ks/inning).

One of their top closers is Nolan Sanborn (RHP, Fr.; 8 saves) and has provided the Razorbacks some unexpected relief. Most of his saves have been on weekdays (one SEC save against MSU), which has helped the team out tremendously in preserving weekday wins in some tight games. He reminds me of Matty Ott in his freshman year at LSU, providing some unexpected but welcome closes to end close games. Sanborn's fastball comes in around low-90s and he is capable of bringing the fastball on the inside of the plate for left-handed hitters, which makes him a tough hit for them. His curveball comes in high and breaks down, usually for a strike. Very athletic, he has the potential of playing two positions, per Coach Van Horn, as an outfielder and closer. Trent Daniel (LHP,RS So.) has one save for the Razorbacks against SEC hitters, but unlike Sanburn, Daniel is brought in for late inning relief and a set-up guy for the closer.

Some primary bullpen relief to keep an eye on… Barrett Astin (RHP, Fr.) comes to mind. Doesn't possess a lot of speed on his fastball, but he hits the strike zone with it. From what I saw of his pitches against Florida his fastball looks like it has good movement once it leaves his hand and so does his slider. He is very consist with these pitches and rang up 4 Gator batters using 36 pitches in 3.1 innings, an outstanding performance for the freshman.

As mentioned above, one of the closers you will see in middle to long relief is Trent Daniel (LHP, RS So.). Daniel can give the razorbacks up to +4.0 innings of solid relief. Of all relief pitchers which Arkansas has on its roster, Daniel has the lowest opponent batting average of them all… hitters average only .175 against Daniel. Daniel possesses a very good fastball with location and has an effective curveball which he will use to keep hitters busy.

One young man we may see could be Brandon Moore (RHP, Fr.). Brandon got a Friday start against MSU (4/15), but wasn't impressive. He got a Sunday start the following weekend at Kentucky but faced a similar outing; a day in the life of a Freshman pitcher! He has been working on weekday relief and has progressed.

He has managed to work his way into a couple of weekday starts as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him come in as a reliever, as a test… given that his 3.66 ERA and amount of time on the mound (+34.IP) has given him a lot of experience. His next may be to face SEC quality batters again, before the post season starts up. This is just a hunch on my part, but any addition he could provide to an excellent pitching staff is icing on the cake for the Hawgs.

The Arkansas staff is deep with talent and are extremely youthful… weekend starters are sophomores; a large majority of relief pitching/closers are true freshmen. It is a very sound staff indeed. The following pitchers have provided the majority of weekend work and their statistical data is included for review:

24, D.J. Baxendale RHP (R/R, So.); 1.58ERA, 7-1, 2SV, 57.IP, 47h, 14r(10e), 11w, 53k (.305 oba; WHIP: 1.01).

32, Randall Fant, LHP (L/L, So.); 3.09ERA, 2-3, 55.IP, 47h, 20r(19e), 12w, 30k (.236 oba; WHIP: 1.07).

51, Cade Lynch LHP (L/L, So.); 2.62ERA, 4-2, 1SV, 55.IP, 43h, 18r(16e), 19w, 59k (.218 oba; WHIP: 1.13).

34 Colby Suggs RHP (R/R, Fr.); .79ERA, 2-1, 11.1IP, 6h, 1r(1e), 10w, 14k (.143 oba).

30, Brandon Moore RHP (R/R, Fr.); 3.66ERA, 3-1, 51.2IP, 56h, 24r(21e), 15w, 31k (.286 oba; WHIP: 1.39).

37, Trent Daniel LHP (L/L, RS So.); 2.08ERA, 2-0, 1SV, 34.2IP, 21h, 10r(8e), 16w, 36k (.175 oba).

17, Barrett Astin RHP (R/R, Fr.); 2.79ERA, 4-1, 1SV, 42.IP, 43h, 16r(13e), 14w, 46k (.272 oba).

15, Nolan Sanburn RHP (R/R, Fr.); 3.72ERA, 2-4, 8SV, 29.IP, 23h, 12r(12e), 13w, 33k (.225 oba).

55, Ryne Stanek RHP (R/R, Fr.); 4.50ERA, 2-1, 1SV, 44.IP, 36h, 25r(22e), 21w, 27k (.222 oba).


Arkansas (team) ERA: 3.17
Opponent (team) ERA: 5.03
Arkansas (team) Oppo. Batting average: .238
Opponent (team) Oppo. Batting Average: .269

This weekend series with Arkansas possesses some great match-ups. Friday night's match-up between Baxendale and Roth will be epic. Rotation to match pitcher with hitter will be very important in this series and I like the fact that Arkansas batting order possesses a lot of right-handed hitters. At least we know what we are getting when a Razorback hitter steps to the plate! There exists a bit of a chess match in our outfield to match the pitcher they will have on the mound.

By far, it helps us to play in front of a home crowd this weekend. Arkansas is used to big crowds too as they average about +7,800 fans/game in Fayetteville. But this one is a long way from Fayetteville, Arkansas. The home team can pull 2 out of 3 from Arkansas this weekend as long as we play our game and not theirs (As we did in Oxford last weekend). They will be motivated and will play each game for 27 outs. They will make us proud this weekend!

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