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LSU vs. Arkansas: A Preview

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By now, faithful readers of this page know our own team pretty well.  The faithless readers?  Do we really want to kowtow to them?

Alright, that's not really true.  No one really knows this team, as we've just added two new relief pitchers to the lineup; pitchers who have pitched to a total of 7 hitters and recorded a total of 5 outs.  The two pitchers are of course Chad Jones and Buzzy Haydel, who began their LSU careers as a defensive back (then outfielder) and a utility infielder respectively.

This is also a team that is hard to know in other ways.  Is Blake Dean the man who hit a "majestic" home run followed by another ordinary home run against Tulane?  Or is Blake Dean the man who had 2 home runs through the first 30 or so games of the season?  This team has a certain Jeckyl & Hyde quality, and while we have seen the good side of it in the last week, we must remember this is a team that is only 2 weekends removed from giving up 2 of 3 to the worst team in the conference.

This weekend, we get the second place team in the West, the Arkansas Razorbacks, in a series that will go a long way to determining the winner of the Western Division.  As always, the first thing I look for when examining an opponent is where the left-handed pitching is.  We don't have to look far, as Arkansas is expected to throw lefty Dallas Keuchel at us tonight.

Keuchel is 6-1 with a 4.30 ERA, and he's a pretty solid pitcher.  He does not give up many home runs.  He has recorded 46 strikeouts to 12 walks.  This is about half as many walks and about half as many strikeouts as LSU's expected starter Anthony Ranaudo has.  Hitters are batting .290 against him.  This will be his 11th start on the season, so the Arkansas coaches clearly have a lot of faith in him.  He goes an average of about 6 innings per start.

It will be contrasting styles as Ranaudo is a strikeout pitcher and Keuchel seems to be more of a control pitcher.  We will need Ranaudo to have a good night and go 7 or 8 innings, because I doubt we're going to score much on a good lefty like Keuchel.  We will need to be patient and get a couple runs and hope we chase him relatively early and get into that bullpen.

On Saturday and Sunday, Arkansas will go with righties Brett Eibner and TJ Forrest.  Eibner's ERA is pretty solid at 3.23.  He's got an outstanding BAA, as opponents are hitting only just over .200 against him.  The problem is that he has pitched not even 40 innings despite 10 starts.  So, he doesn't get very far in games.  He also walks a lot of hitters.  Eibner's also not a bad hitter at .248 with 10 home runs.

Forrest is a pretty typical right-handed pitcher in the SEC.  His ERA is 4.74, which is pretty good for a 3rd starter.  He typically goes about 5 innings.  Opponents are hitting .265 against him, and he gets about twice as many strikeouts as walks.

If Arkansas carries any lead late, we will have to go up against arguably the best closer in the conference.  Stephen Richards boasts a 1.03 ERA in 21 appearances, over 26 innings.  Opponents are hitting .159 against him.  He's also a lefty.  Arkansas has a lot of left-handed relief pitching available if you look at their roster.  At least this first night, we should probably seriously consider sitting Jared Mitchell in favor of Derek Helenihi or somebody who can hit left-handed pitching.

Offensively, Arkansas is about the worst-hitting team in the conference.  They are quite literally last in the conference in batting average at .277, and their slugging percentage is in the back half of the conference.  Their offensive numbers are truly horrible, as they are last in the league in runs scored, and that's the way all offenses should be ultimately judged.

And yet, they're one of the best teams in the conference.  Their pitching looks outstanding, and their defense is such that we don't want to try to run on their catcher, who throws out almost half the runners who attempt to steal.  Yet another reason not to put Mitchell in the lineup.  He can't hit lefties and even if he gets on we won't want to run him.

Their best hitter is Chase Leavitt, an infielder who hits .343, but does not get a lot of home runs, with only 1 on the season so far.  His relatively low number of at-bats suggests he may be a platoon hitter or he may have spent some time hurt.  Their best hitter for power is infielder Andy Wilkins, who hits .320 and has belted 13 home runs.  He has a slugging percentage of over .650, which is pretty darn good.

This is a dangerous team.  They don't score a lot of runs, but their collection of left-handed pitchers is pretty scary.  They could easily throw 9 innings of quality left-handed pitching at us tonight, and it wouldn't surprise me if they could throw 15-18 innings of left-handed pitchers at us over the course of the weekend.  We will have to scratch and claw for wins here.