Diamond Hogs face Florida in big, early season series

In the immortal words of “Crash” Davis, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains.”

If you are wondering who Davis is, he’s the lead character in writer/director Ron Shelton’s classic baseball romantic comedy “Bull Durham.”

The fictional veteran, minor-league catcher made the above observation on the fickle nature of the sport and relationships, and you have to admit, he’s pretty much right.

Dave Van Horn’s No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks’ have embodied 2/3’s of Crash’s philosophical point with a rainout Tuesday and a midweek, 6-3 loss to North Caroling Charlotte on Wednesday.

If the Hogs (16-4, 3-0 SEC) are to hit for the cycle, as far as the quote is concerned, the Razorbacks should win at 5:30 p.m. when they face the No. 2 Florida Gators (19-4, 2-1) at McKetcham Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.?

If only baseball were that simple.

Taking even a game from the defending national champions might be a difficult task for the Razorbacks, whose three-game sweep of No. 8 Kentucky last week made them “The Team of the Week” in college baseball and a big-time target.

The Razorbacks played impeccably well last week when they bombed the Wildcats with 13 home runs and 39 runs, but that performance guaranteed that Arkansas should expect to get every team’s best shot.

Arkansas absorbed UNC-Charlotte’s best shot on Wednesday, but the Hogs failed to give as good as they received.

The Razorbacks also gave less than their best on a trip out West during the second week of the season. They Hogs basically gave a pair of one-run games away with mistakes and errors 4-3 to Cal Poly and 7-6 to San Diego.

It was a similar situation Wednesday against UNC-Chalotte.

With all due respect to the 49ers, who scored six-unanswered runs for a the 6-3 victory Wednesday, the Hogs’ gaffes were as complicit in the loss as was the 49ers’ play.

The Razorbacks basically authored a how-to manuscript on how to give a game away to a capable yet less-talented opponent by making base-running mistakes, three errors as well as hitting a batter, yielding a wild pitch in the 49er’s critical, three-run eighth inning.

UNC-Charlotte was good enough to take advantage of those flakey Razorback mistakes and notch a major win for its program.

The Razorbacks should just shrug that loss off, but going into this weekend’s series, they have to know if they play as poorly against the Gators, they won’t just lose but get embarrassed.

The Hogs could play great this weekend and still lose the series or even get swept. That’s how strong Florida is.

Van Horn certainly knows that, but it’s hard to gage if his Razorbacks get it just yet?

Taking a midweek road loss isn’t that big of a deal in and of itself, but losing in the manner the Razorbacks did on Wednesday on top of those two early season losses out West, sends up warning signals.

Inconsistency is a major obstacle to any talented team seeking to reach its full potential.

Admittedly, I may be pushing a bit of a panic button. Van Horn is one of the best coaches in the business, and he knows better than I how to make Wednesday’s to work motivationally for his team.

Without the pitching mistakes Wednesday, the Razorbacks might have survived the errors and the base-running lapse.

But they again, any one of those mistakes might be the difference in a game or a series with a team like Florida or No. 6 Auburn, No. 7 Ole Miss, No. 9 Vanderbilt, No. 13 Texas A&M, No. 18 LSU, and honestly any other team in the SEC.

In the SEC, there is no living on last week’s laurels. The Hogs proved that by roughing up the Wildcats last weekend and sending them home with their tails between their legs. One hopes the Razorback don’t feel a similar sting this weekend.

Play less than your best any weekend in the SEC, and you’re liable to lose a series or get swept. Give away a series, and you might just give away a national seed. Give away two, and you might lose a chance to host an NCAA Regional.

Again, that’s probably alarmist, but it’s also true.

Pitching Duel

Friday’s 5:30 p.m. opener is somewhat of a missed opportunity for one of the TV networks.

Yes, most eyes are going to be on the NCAA Basketball Tournament tonight, but perhaps one of the best pitching matchups of the entire season is on tap when the Hogs and Gators play at 5:30 p.m.

The Razorbacks will send Blaine Knight (3-0, 1.30 ERA) to the mound, while the Gators will have Brady Singer (5-0, 1.97) on the bump, two of the nation’s best junior hurlers, and yet the only telecast of the game is streaming on SEC Network Plus.

ESPN2 is televising Saturday’s 11 a.m. game and the SEC Network is televising Sunday’s 11 a.m. finale.

Isaiah Campbell (2-2, 1.73 ERA), who had an excellent day last week in a 14-2, eight-inning victory over Kentucky, will pitch for the Hogs on Saturday, but Van Horn has yet to announce a starter for Sunday. Kacey Murphy (3-0, 1.69 ERA) is an option. The Gators plan to start Jackson Cowar (3-1, 3.16) on Saturday and Tyler Dyson (4-1, 1.48) on Sunday.

Doing It Differently

Something’s going to have to give in the Arkansas-Florida series.

The Hogs are tied with Kentucky with the SEC’s top batting average at .321, but are tied for 13th in the SEC for the worst fielding percentage at .970.

The Gators, however, have the SEC’s top fielding percentage of 2.91, but are 10th in the league in batting average with a still strong .294.

So the Gators’ and Razorbacks’ relative weakness will be pitted against their strengths this weekend.

A for pitching, Arkansas’ team ERA is third in the league at 2.66, while Florida’s is fifth at 2.91.

It should be an interesting weekend.