Ahead of this weekend's massively important series in Fayetteville, we talked with Doc Harper, one of our counter parts at the excellent Arkansas Expats, to find out what makes these hogs tick.
Kris: After being a bit unsettled early on with the rotation, it appears that Arkansas has really settled in with Barrett Astin on Fridays, Ryan Stanek on Saturdays and Randall Fant on Sundays. It seems the whole team has found its groove and starting to play like most figured the Hogs would this year. Is that an accurate observation?
Doc Harper: They're better but still not as consistent as we'd like. Everyone freaked out when they lost all four games in Arizona, but they've settled in a bit. Lost their first SEC series to Ole Miss in Fayetteville when they lost the Sunday game in 13 innings and lots of fielding errors. But since that series, they sweep South Carolina in Columbia (scored 15 in Game 1), which was huge, then they win series against Mississippi State and against Alabama, so we think everything is back to normal. But they got shut out in the last Alabama game and the first game against New Mexico this week. They went 20 innings without scoring, which raised another red flag. Then they scored enough in the second game against New Mexico to pull out a win in the 9th with a walk-off single.
All this to say, we have no clue what to expect from our bats. At all. 1.7 runs per game in losses, 7.2 rpg in victories. So it comes and goes.
Kris: Arkansas has some seriously good numbers from the bullpen guys. You normally look forward to getting into another team's pen, but that may not be the case for LSU this weekend. Just how good has the bullpen been?
Doc Harper: We've got 10 pitchers with ERAs below 2. 9 of them have pitched at least 11 innings this year. The highest ERA on our staff is 2.73. There's not a pitcher on staff that makes us think "oh no, not that guy".
Kris: The Hogs' woeful fielding jumps off the stat sheet. A league leading 58 errors as opposed to 22 for LSU. What's going on there? Is it just a mental thing or do the Hogs have a few too many guys who are in the lineup due to their bats...and their bats only?
Doc Harper: It's definitely frustrating. Arkansas lost the Ole Miss series because of it. It's why the Hogs lost some of those games in Arizona. Our third baseman, Brian Anderson, is our leader with 15 of them. The next worst offender has seven. Our shortstops and second basemen have also been unreliable. It's scary. More scary than shaky hitting. When you don't have confidence that a routine grounder is an easy out, it's not good.
Kris: There is no question that Arkansas is so successful due to their pitching. With the league's top hitting team coming in this weekend, something has got to give. What's the confidence level that the Hogs can take the series?
Doc Harper: I'd be shocked if the Razorbacks didn't think they could win. The team and the fans have total respect for this LSU team and the quality of the overall program, so everybody's really excited for this series. There's not a series result that would shock me. Sweeping South Carolina in Columbia, which no one had done in many years, gave the team the confidence they can play with anybody.
Kris: Is anyone really hot right now at the plate that LSU fans should know about?
Doc Harper: Tyler Spoon is a newcomer and he's been our best offensive player. Joe Serrano has been very good. Matt Vinson has also been coming on as of late. Dominic Ficociello has been a great offensive player the last couple of years but got hurt early in the season and hasn't fully recovered yet, but he is playing and you have to respect his ability as a hitter, even if his average is down.
Kris: How freaking fun is Saturday going to be with Stanek (3-2, 1.90 ERA) vs. Eades (7-0, 1.30 ERA)?
Doc Harper: Saturday's going to be outstanding. The whole series should be great. I believe at least Friday and Saturday are sold out. I know they released 500 extra general admission tickets for Friday and I'd be surprised if they haven't sold them all. I applied for media credentials for Friday and Saturday but was denied due to the press box already being fully reserved. That may be true, it may be just because they don't want me drinking my strawberry Abitas in the press box.