Mississippi State’s next opponent, the University of Arkansas, is without a doubt the most difficult opponent that the Bulldogs will face up to this point in the season. You don’t have to be Bill James, the famous baseball stats guru, to see that. The Razorbacks are 20-2 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC thus far. Their ace, D J Baxendale, is a likely first round pick and is already 5-0 with an ERA of 2.30. Ryne Staneck’s numbers are even better- 5-0 with an ERA of 1.52. Arkansas is also led by several veteran players such as Matt Reynolds (.366 with 3 home runs), Tim Carver (.388), Dominic Ficociello (.333 with 2 home runs), Sam Bates (.333 with 5 home runs), and Bo Bigham (.268, but always seems to play well against MSU). Arkansas is very good- and that’s exactly what John Cohen and the MSU players want right now.
Now, I’m not going to make a Joe Namath-esque prediction that MSU will sweep Arkansas or anything like that- although that would certainly be nice. But more specifically, what the MSU team wants is the opportunity to play against a high quality opponent and have the chance to win a series from a team like Arkansas. Obviously, thet may or may not happen- but it certainly can’t happen if you don’t play. Regardless of what happens this weekend, I do feel like MSU will probably become a better team because of it and learn from whatever happens good or bad.
But, as we stand MSU is continuing to build/re-build their baseball program- re-build in the sense that we want to be where Arkansas is now. MSU has gone up against opponents like Arkansas the past couple of years and competed well- most notably the Super Regional against Florida on the road last year where they took the Gators deep into the game with the lead. MSU also won one game last year against South Carolina, Florida at home, and Vanderbilt on the road as well as Arkansas on the road last year. But, what MSU has yet to do is win a series from a team like an Arkansas to this point- and that’s the next step for MSU baseball right now- whether that is Arkansas or someone else remains to be seen.
Now, I don’t think this is a total David vs. Goliath battle either. If you look at the stats, MSU and Arkansas have almost identical batting averages- MSU is hitting .291 to Arkansas .292. Arkansas’s pitching has been slightly better- their team ERA is 2.25 compared to MSU’s 2.62. Also, MSU is at home- and like most teams, the Bulldogs are better at Dudy-Noble. That may seem very obvious, but I think it may mean even more this weekend because Arkansas has not played a true road game yet. They did play at a neutral site tournament in Houston, TX- and one of their two losses was in that tournament- to the University of Houston. Also, MSU is a team that is tough to play because while we’re not the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals (shameless plug), this is a team that is going to scrap, scratch and claw and won’t give up. Oh yeah- and we have some good pitching and can play defense too. Teams like that are teams that people don’t like to play.
Winning this series would be huge for MSU on a couple of fronts- it would get the attention of the fans, and it would earn MSU more respect nationally. I think MSU fans in general are happy with MSU baseball right now, but I think at the same time there are extremely high expectations. Playing well against LSU and coming close, then beating people like Penn State while “looking good” and playing hard is only going to go so far with MSU fans that want to dominate the SEC and win the College World Series. And I think MSU fans know the “big series win” is going to happen at some point- it’s just that they- we, because I’m in that group too- are waiting for it. The National respect is already coming- we’re starting to see MSU ranked in polls and things like that, which is the start of getting respect.
So, if at all possible go to Dudy-Noble Field and treat the Arkansas outfielders as bad as they treated Brent Brownlee last year. Subjectively.