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Goodbye Hawaii - Hello Arkansas

Well, so much for spring optimism.  The KU baseball team limped out of Hawaii after going 2-3 vs. the University of Hawaii-Hilo.  Over the last few years the Vulcans of UHH have been terrible and so these early losses really blindsided me.  I was expecting either four or five wins.

My effort to deconstruct the weekend did nothing to lift my spirits.  The causes for the defeats could not be isolated into any one area.  Kansas struggled at the plate, in the field, and on the mound.  Which, yes, basically means they struggled playing baseball.

Kansas was out-hit by UHH 48 to 42.  On the weekend KU hit .261/.360/.342, which is low but not horrible.  However, when you factor in the opponent and remember that 38% of the KU hits and 45% of their total bases occurring in the 5th game the final tally looks more damning.

KU's pitching staff fared a bit better.  The staff gave up 17 earned runs in five games, for a team ERA of 3.79.  Not bad.  Digging into the numbers reveals some ugliness.  UHH hit .293/.381/.384, so there were Vulcans all over the basepads this weekend.  The team's BB/K ratio was 17/28 (3.6 BB/9 vs. 6.0 K/9).  The only thing the pitching staff did unqualifiedly well was prevent extra base hits.  UHH did collect 13 doubles and one triple, but no homeruns.

While the pitching performance was okay, and the hitting less so, it was fielding that perhaps hurt the team the most.  KU committed 10 errors in five games, allowing 8 unearned runs to score.  These unearned runs were the difference in two of the three KU losses.  Tony Thompson and Robby Price both committed two errors on the weekend.  When the team is struggling to score runs and when the pitching staff is being stretched out over 40+ innings in three days giving the opponent extra outs welcomes misery.

I am not one who subscribes to the philosophy of the "good loss."  I do think the only thing that losing teaches a person is how to lose.  And once you become used to living with defeat, it makes a home inside you.  So, while I will focus on a few positive performances next, overall this weekend has to be seen as a significant blow to the team.  A blow that will not easily be shaken off.  It was the first time the team could play outdoors all year, and they were facing a much looser opponent flush with a wave of surprisingly good new players, and the Jayhawks were dealing with 16 hour flights and jet lag, but those factors do not transform loses into wins.

Onto the positive.  Nick Faunce, in his first weekend as KU's centerfielder and lead-off man, rewarded Coach Price's faith in him by hitting .444/.615/.556 on the weekend.  His 0-2 effort as a base stealer is troublesome, but overall he obviously got his job done this weekend.  Buck Afenir (5-11 w/ 3 RBIs) and Preston Land (4-13 w/ a double, a homerun and 5 RBIs) also had good weekends at the plate.  Sam Freeman pitched very well in his KU debut.  Andres Esquibel, Wally Marciel also provided strong starts.  Brett Bollman made an instant impression out of the bullpen, and Thomas Marcin showed why he might be one of the team's surprise contributors.  Paul Smyth pitched a lot of innings for a closer (4.1 over three games) and did not give up an earned run, but he did allow an unearned run to score, committed an error and hit a batter.

Next up for KU, Arkansas
KU will play a single game at Arkansas on Wednesday.  Game time is 3PM CST.  I had thought there would be an audio webcast for this game but there is no information to confirm this on the KU Baseball website so it looks like these webcasts might not start until this weekend's games.  The game can be followed by gametracker, and if a webcast is in fact offered it can be found here.

Arkansas is off to a 3-0 start.  The Razorbacks traditionally are a baseball powerhouse.  Last year they finished with a 43-21 record and were ranked #17 in the final RPI rankings.  For those who would like to study up on the team 2007 and 2008 Arkansas statistic can be found here.  Arkansas owns a 38-25 lead in the overall series. KU is 0-4 against the Hogs during the Ritch Price era.

The pitching match-up will be Wally Marciel (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. James Mahler (0-0, 27.00 ERA).  Mahler is a 6'6 freshman right hander.  He was roughed up in his first collegiate start vs. Wright State on Friday.  So it looks like KU may have an advantage on the mound.  Needless to say, a KU victory in Fayetteville would go a long way to righting the Jayhawk's season.

Be sure to check the comments section below for bkmhoxx' take on professional prospects playing for Arkansas.

Arkansas baseball is famous across the nation for its enormous fan base and game day atmosphere.  Arkansas baseball games often draw 7,000+ fans, only some of which come out to watch the RBI Girls dance on the dugouts in between innings.