Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
While we thought this team had a chance to vastly improve from last year’s dismal 7-23 SEC mark, we could not foresee this kind of start. Especially after losing two of their best starting pitchers (Isaiah Campbell and Keaton McKinney) at the beginning of the season.
The 11-4 mark is our best start since 2010 (12-3).
The reasons for the turnaround are really two fold…pitchers that throw strikes, and hits that leave the park.
New pitching coach Wes Johnson has his unit throwing more strikes. Arkansas leads the SEC in strikeouts (377), and have drastically reduced walks (114) from a year ago. Golden Spikes nominee Blaine Knight, (6-1, 1.89 ERA) leads the pack, striking out 59 and walking only 6 in 52.1 innings pitched.
While things are better on the mound, Johnson is still looking for a Sunday starter, and consistency from the bullpen. The Hogs have no closer…don’t even have a set up man that could get to a closer. Kevin Kopps (2-0, 3.81 ERA) has showed some flashes of late, going for 5.2 innings scoreless Saturday to get the win vs. Georgia.
At the plate, Arkansas may have the best top-to-bottom offensive lineup in the league. When your 9-hole hitter…shortstop Jax Biggers…is raking at a .333 clip with 8 doubles, it tells you all you need to know. The Razorbacks lead the league in home runs (52) by a lot. Second on the list is Mississippi State with 39.
The Hogs have 5 of the top 12 home run hitters with Grant Koch (9), Carson Shaddy (8), Chad Spanberger (8), Luke Bonfield (7) and Dominic Fletcher (6) all among the SEC leaders. The power surge this year has radio play-by-play man Phil Elson referring to this bunch as “The Sooieville Sluggers”…pretty catchy, huh.
Spanberger has had an incredible turnaround, raising his average over 140 points in the last 6 weeks to .303. Credit Van Horn and hitting coach Tony Vitello for not giving up on the senior when things were going bad. Eric Cole is another who is heating up…raising his average 80 points in the last month to .257.
The Hogs have been good in the field with the exception of Shaddy at second base. His 12 errors are the third most in the SEC. Carson has always been in there for his bat, but you’ve got to be better than that. We’re surprised we have not seen more of Jaxon Williams as a result…especially late in games.
A big series with 9th ranked Auburn (27-11, 10-5) is on tap for next weekend. If we can find some more consistant contributors from the bullpen, this could be a fun ending with a chance for some hardware. “We’re only halfway there,” Van Horn said. “A lot of work to do.”
We agree 100 percent…but we are half way home. See you at the Baum.