Weekend preview: #3 South Carolina Gamecocks host #16 Arkansas Razorbacks

This week the South Carolina Gamecocks (39-10, 18-6 SEC) began a six-game home stand by hosting Presbyterian College (20-29, 5-16 Big South) on Tuesday. Steven Neff (3-1, 2.45 ERA) took the mound for the first time in a long while, and the results were quite positive. Neff went 5 innings  while striking out 5, walking 1, and allowing just 1 run. USC took the game 6-1 behind 9 hits and 6 walks. Given Neff's solid outing and relatively short appearance, there has been some speculation in the twittersphere (is that a word?) Ray Tanner will move Forrest Koumas up to a Saturday starter and slide Neff into the back end of the rotation. That idea has been bolstered by the fact that Colby Holmes (4-2, 4.17 ERA) , the usual Saturday starter, pitched 1.2 innings of relief work on Wednesday night. Tanner also confirmed on Friday that Koumas will be the Saturday starter. Certainly, Neff's presence in the weekend rotation could provide a needed spark to a team that struggled last weekend against the Ole Miss Rebels. Right now all signs point to Tanner making the move, but an minor injury that Neff sustained while shagging fly balls before the Wednesday game won't make the decision any easier. Fortunately, the injury was to the thumb on his non-throwing hand, and he is expected to be fine come Sunday.

The Gamecocks followed their Tuesday night win with an 11 hit performance against Charleston Southern (25-24, 12-9 Big South) on Wednesday. Patrick Sullivan (2-0, 1.47 ERA) got the start for the 'Cocks and went 6 innings, struck out 6, allowed 1 walk and 1 run. USC took the win 11-1. One point of interest; Jose Mata came on in relief of Colby Holmes in the 8th inning, but left without recording an out. In fact, Mata issued two straight walks - both on full counts. Carolina needs Mata to improve his game, as we cannot continue to rely exclusively on John Taylor and Matt Price from the bullpen in tight situations.

We'll take a look at the weekend series with Arkansas after the jump.

After losing their first series of season to Ole Miss last weekend, the Gamecocks are looking to regain a little confidence (that's swagger for you kids out there) against the Arkansas Razorbacks (32-15, 12-12 SEC). The only problem is that Arkansas may not be so accommodating. At 12-12 the Razorbacks are tied atop the SEC West with Alabama. Historically the Hogs haven't been very kind to the Gamecocks, either. Arkansas (please don't pronounce the last "s") is one of only two SEC teams that owns the all-time series with USC at 29-22 (the other is LSU at 29-21-1).The Gamecocks only fell two spots in the RPI to #7 while the Razorbacks are holding steady at #16.

Arkansas isn't exactly a powerhouse at the plate. In fact, they're last in the SEC in batting average (.269), but 1st in stolen bases (95). They rank in bottom half of virtually every hitting category and are 11th in OB% and total bases. By contrast South Carolina is 4th in batting average (.296), 4th in slugging percentage (.439), and 3rd in OB% (.392). Offensively, the Hogs are led by Dominic Ficociell. Ficociell is hitting .345, slugging .521, with 4 home runs and 43 RBI. By the way, Christian Walker leads the league in RBI with 50. Their biggest threat on the base paths is Collin Kuhn, who is 18-20 and carries a .344 OB%.

The Razorback pitching probably deserves the most credit for keeping the team afloat in the SEC West. Arkansas ranks in the top half of most pitching statistics, usually right behind some combination of Florida, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. The Hogs are 4th in ERA (3.17), 4th in opposing batting average (.238), tied for 3rd in batters struck out looking (109), and 2nd in home runs allowed (17). Arkansas is led by BJ Baxendale (7-1, 1.58 ERA) and Cade Lynch (4-2, 2.62 ERA). Both have strike out ratios hovering around 9/ 9 innings pitched, but Lynch is the only one that can claim to lead the SEC in hit batters (13). Meanwhile, Michael Roth (10-1, 1.23 ERA) continues to be the one constant of this Carolina team. The junior will try to become the SEC's first 11 game winner on Friday. He now holds the distinction as having the lowest ERA in the league thanks to John Taylor's blip last Sunday.

I don't have much to add in the way of predictions for this series. Carolina has shown that it can compete with anyone when it's bats show up. Assuming we find somebody with some moxy to pitch on Sunday, USC has a great shot to win this series - even sweep if the stars align. But one thing the Gamecocks can't do is drop another series. With only one series left before the SEC Tournament, a second series loss this weekend would all but guarantee that the SEC regular season championship evade Carolina yet again. If there's one thing USC has going for it, it might be (recent) history. After mid week drubbings of College of Charleston and Rhode Island  in March, the Gamecocks' offense showed up in a big way against the Florida Gators. Hopefully USC will experience a little of that same carry-over from it's two mid-week victories against Presbyterian and Charleston Southern.

 

Go 'Cocks!

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