The No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks have been a better baseball team across the course of this season than the unranked LSU Tigers.
It’s that simple.
However, beating LSU at Alex Box Stadium hasn’t been simple for the Arkansas at all, and despite the fact the Razorbacks are the better team this year, don’t expect Pau Mainieri’s Tigers to be impressed by the Hogs’ ranking, record, or position atop the Western Division standings.
The veteran coach is no doubt using all of that to ignite a fire in his clubhouse for the Razorbacks’ visit. The series with the Hogs is an opportunity for the Tigers to get back some of the swagger they’ve lost this season. A win over this highly touted Razorback squad could help LSU get on the right side of the fence for another NCAA Regional appearance.
The Tigers (26-19, 10-11 SEC) fell out of the USA Today Coaches poll for the first time since 2011 this week after losing five of their last six SEC games, including being swept at South Carolina. That season was the last time the Tigers failed to make the NCAA Baseball Tournament and not coincidentally, it’s the last time the Razorbacks have won a series against the Tigers. But that series was in Baum Stadium at Fayetteville.
The Hogs have to reach back to 2004’s SEC championship team to find a series victory at Baton Rouge, La. That’s how dominant the Tigers have been in the series with the Hogs.
LSU leads the series overall 70-31 with a 34-11 advantage in Baton Rouge, and a 24-16 lead at Arkansas. In postseason play, LSU has a 13-2 stranglehold on the Razorbacks.
When you consider history, it’s hard to tell which program should deem this series more meaningful.
The Razorbacks also have a lot to gain this weekend. Again, beating LSU in baseball is meaningful anytime. Period.
However, winning this series is key in the Razorbacks maintaining and perhaps increasing the gains they’ve fought for all year.
The Razorbacks (31-13, 13-8 SEC) hold a slim one-game lead over No. 3 Ole Miss (35-11, 12-9 SEC) in the Western Division standings. The Rebels play at South Carolina (26-19, 11-10 SEC). Winning the LSU series would ensure that the Hogs would be no worse than tied with Ole Miss for the Western Division lead, coming out of this weekend.
A victory over the Tigers would also push the Razorbacks that much closer to a earning a National Seed form the NCAA Selection Committee. With an RPI of No. 5 along with the rest of the their accomplishments, the Hogs are in the thick of the fight for one of the eight National Seeds, but now is not the time to let up.
The one slight blemish on the Razorbacks’ NCAA resume is their road record. Arkansas hasn’t won a road series this year with a 4-8 overall road record and 2-7 SEC road mark. However, their record doesn’t mean the Hogs have played poorly on the road. Four of their seven SEC road losses were single-run games, and only one loss was by more than two runs.
However, if the Hogs can win the series at LSU this weekend, it would erase that road quibble as a talking point.
When asked why it’s so hard to win at Alex Box Stadium, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said winning on the road, period, is difficult.
“There’s a lot of difficult places to win,” Van Horn said. “It’s hard to win at Ole Miss. It’s hard to win on the road unless you play good. You can’t make many mistakes. What makes it hard is that they [LSU] have good players and good teams. The fans are load, but it’s that way at a lot of places. It’s more about how well your team plays that day on the field. It’s about doing all the little things right, and not giving teams extra outs. If we do that, we’ll have a chance to win.”
Van Horn said the key to winning the series is winning the first game, but added that playing sharp baseball is a necessity.
“Bottom line we just have to play better,” Van Horn said. “We having finished off games on the road. We’ve had an error at the wrong time, or not gotten the hit we needed at the right time. We just have to play better.”
Blaine Knight (7-0, 2.45 ERA) will pitch the first game and face LSU’s Zack Hess (6-4, 3.92 ERA) at 7 p.m.. Kacey Murphy (5-3, 2.54 ERA) will pitch at 7 p.m. Saturday against Ma’Khail Hilliard (8-3, 2.89 ERA).
Saturday’s game will be televised on the SEC Network. Friday and Sunday’s games will be streamed on watchespn.com.