KU travels to Fayetteville this weekend for a three game series vs. the Razorbacks. Arkansas is the toughest opponent KU has faced so far this year and they will be damn tough to beat at home. This year they are 5-1 at Baum Stadium where they went 21-6 last year while playing in the toughest conference in NCAA baseball.
Last year Arkansas went 39-21 (18-12 SEC). Their season ended when they were knocked out of the NCAA regionals by Oklahoma State. The Razorbacks returned 14 players off that team and opened the season ranked #8.
Probable Pitching Match-Ups
Friday 12:35: Zach Ashwood (2-1, 4.15 ERA) vs. Jess Todd (1-1, 2.19 ERA)
Saturday 12:05: Nick Czyz (2-1, 2.18 ERA) vs. Nick Schmidt (3-0, 1.50 ERA)
Sunday 1:05: Andy Marks (3-1, 4.12 ERA) vs. Shaun Siebert (0-1, 4.80 ERA)
As far as I know the KLWN (AM-1320) broadcast team will not be traveling to Arkansas to provide a KU radio broadcast, but you can listen to the Arkansas webcast free here. Just go to that "Razorzone" area and click the "free" button. It looks like you can also watch a webcast of the game there if you shell out a bit of money.
Arkansas in a Nutshell
They're good. After 14 games as a team they are hitting .308/.420/.481. That is an OPS of .901, ... as a team. So far they are averaging 9.5 runs per game, and unlike KU they have not been beating on NAIA competition lately. Their pitching is also fairly solid. The team ERA is 4.28. The average score of their games this year has been 10-4 in their favor.
According to Baseball America the Razorbacks have three of the top-100 College prospects on their team. Saturday's starting pitcher Nick Schmidt comes in at #13, Duke Welker, another pitcher, is ranked #70 but is not scheduled for a start this weekend. The Friday starter, Jess Todd, is ranked #73. Three starting pitchers on one team, all ranked in the Top-100 NCAA prospects, must be nice.
The Razorback line-up features nine players seeing regular time hitting over .300. I'd type out their stat lines but I think that would be too depressing. If you want to get your anxiety level up just click on the Arkansas stat button above.
One additional note, Arkansas is one of the national leaders in attendance. The Jayhawks will be playing in front of four to six thousand hostile fans. For the upper-classmen this will be nothing new. Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska bring in good crowds, the established players will be used to loud road games. The players new to the team might find this distracting. It seemed to me that part of the reason Western Illinois came so unglued in Lawrence during the first game of last Sunday’s double-header was the crowd "commentary," and there were only about 600 Jayhawk faithful at that game. My favorite heckle of the day was directed at relief pitcher Frank Zenisek. Zenisek was having trouble hitting the strike zone and seemed very aware of the crowd’s opinion of his work. "Hey Zenisek, your pitching reminds me of the days before unions, … No strikes!" Ahhh, good times, good times.
KU has been beating on lesser competition so far this year, but they lack a single victory versus an opponent of status. The Jayhawks lost all three games at Stanford and their single game at Oral Roberts. Even winning one game in Fayetteville would make the trip a mildly positive affair. But let's be optimistic. As I've written before, taking this series will turn the KU season around fast. Ashwood looked great in his last start. Czyz has been solid all year. Marks is well rested and has shown the ability to command a game. The bullpen has been amazingly stable all season. Smyth looks bulletproof closing games. The KU offense seems to have finally kicked in this last week, scoring ridiculous run totals vs. Western Illinois, Tabor and Baker. Runs will be scored on those highly touted Razorback pitchers. As long as the KU pitching staff hangs tough and prevents Arkansas from running wild in any one inning there is no reason why KU can't sneak out a few wins of the 6-4 variety. Last year KU went to #2 Clemson and took a game (almost two), let's hope they get the job done this weekend.