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Series Preview: #25 MSU at #15 Arkansas

Diamond Dawgs and Diamond Hogs

For the third SEC series of the year the Bulldogs travel to Fayetteville, AR to face the Razorbacks (19-7, 4-2).

Arkansas started the year off highly ranked at #3 in the country by Baseball America. Of course, Mississippi State started the year pretty high in that poll as well (#5), but both teams have taken a tumble.

The Hogs feasted early but took a trip out to Surprise, Arizona and lost all four games in the Coca-Cola Classic. That dropped them all the way down to #16 and they've been holding ever since. In SEC series, they've lost a series to Ole Miss and swept powerhouse South Carolina last weekend. Overall, they've won five in a row.

UPig is lead by a couple of guys who helped them get to Omaha last year - Ryan Stanek (2-1, 2.35 ERA) and Randall Fant (1-0, 1.19 ERA). Although Stanek tore it up last year and was expected to be the Friday night starter this year, he's been moved to Saturdays with the move of closer Barrett Astin (2-1, 2.48 ERA) to a starting role. Arkansas has one of the best pitching staffs in the country, starting rotation and bullpen (1.64 team ERA). Here's what Baseball America's Aaron Fitt had to say about them in the preseason...

Stanek gives Arkansas one of the nation's most electrifying Friday starters, with a 93-96 fastball, plus power slider, solid downer curve and changeup. Fant made huge strides in the fall, showing more maturity and adding an effective cutter/slider to his quality fastball-changeup combination. Killian also has a good hard cutter and very good changeup, to go along with an 88-94 mph fastball.

Bullpen: Without question, the bullpen is Arkansas' greatest strength-and it is the nation's best, assuming Astin stays in the bullpen instead of moving into the rotation. The unflappable Astin already drove hitters bonkers with a 90-92 mph fastball that bumps 94-95 and a disappearing split-change, but he'll be even more dangerous now that he's developed a filthy 87-90 cutter. Jr. RHP Colby Suggs ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Cape Cod League thanks to a 93-97 mph fastball and an overpowering downer breaking ball. Sinkerballer Brandon Moore gives Arkansas a valuable long man, while Trent Daniel, Colin Poche and maybe Cade Lynch (if he is fully recovered from offseason surgery to relieve migraines) form a nice group of lefthanded options.

Trey Killian who was mentioned in that excerpt will not start this weekend, but he does have four starts on the year and a 3.08 ERA - but that's not good enough for this staff I guess. Here are the matchups this weekend:

Friday - Barrett Astin vs. Luis Pollorena (4-0, 2.77 ERA)

Saturday - Ryan Stanek vs. Kendall Graveman (2-2, 2.84)

Sunday - Randall Fant vs. Jacob Lindgren (2-0, 2.76)

Technically, Sunday is listed as TBA for MSU because Lindgren had some discomfort in his left elbow during his bullpen session on Tuesday. Cohen also said he would start Sunday so there are mixed signals, and based on the deterioration of our staff I'll assume he takes the hill.

Pollorena isn't known as a guy who can go past 5 innings or so, which isn't what you want on Friday. Also, State's hottest pitcher right now is Ross Mitchell (5-0, 1.19) who went 4.2 innings against Austin Peay on Tuesday night - will he be available in Game 1?

On the offensive side, Arkansas is middle of the pack in the SEC in most statistical categories. They don't really have a big time long ball threat like Hunter Renfroe - Tyler Spoon is the closest with 3 HR and 33 RBI. Brian Anderson, Jacob Mahan and Matt Vinson are all hitting > .330, everyone else is < .300 (other than Spoon). Here are their stats.

State will be without the valuable services of catcher Mitch Slauter this weekend. He was hospitalized this week due to strep throat and had to have surgery. Zach Randolph will make the trip in his stead, but will not play unless something happens to Nick Ammirati.

Game 1 - (Good) Friday, 6:35 pm; televised by Cox Sports if ya got it.
Game 2 - Saturday, 2:35 pm
Game 3 - (Easter) Sunday, 1:05 pm; televised by Cox Sports and CSS.

We haven't gotten that SEC series win yet, but we've been really close. Needless to say, this is a critical series. The once super-deep starting rotation has been depleted, so expecting to take 2 out of 3 on the road against a really good team might be too much. You don't want to get swept and go to 2-7, so at the very least we need to take one game and make up some ground at home vs. Florida and Auburn in the weeks to come.