Media’s Pro-Arkansas Bias Is More Legit Than What FloSports Is Trying to Do for College Baseball Series

Kubota College Baseball Series, Arkansas baseball, Oregon State baseball, Oklahoma State baseball, Michigan baseball
photo credit: Instagram/Aiden May / Baumology / OSU Athletics / Michigan Athletics

There’s an interesting phenomenon with Arkansas baseball that doesn’t really apply to the other major sports on campus.

Despite some fans’ insistence that the Razorbacks are overrated and consistently underachieve (which is a ridiculous notion), the program is viewed in the same realm as Alabama football and Duke basketball at the national level.

In fact, fans of other programs see it as bias in favor of Arkansas. That was the case once again with this week’s D1Baseball rankings, which saw the Razorbacks move up one spot to No. 2 after winning two of their first three games against James Madison. (The rankings came out before the final game.)

First of all, what many casual fans have a hard time understanding is that baseball isn’t like football or basketball. Losing one out of three games, or dropping a midweek game (like No. 1 Wake Forest did on Tuesday), is almost never enough to drop a team in the rankings. Winning the weekend series is the goal, whether that’s 3-0 or 2-1.

Secondly, it’s wild to think about how different the narrative is between Arkansas baseball and football/basketball. A lot of fans are convinced ESPN announcers and other national media “hate the Hogs” in those other sports, but here’s arguably the top college baseball outlet in the country giving Arkansas love.

That is because the Razorbacks have consistently been one of the top programs in the sport since Dave Van Horn returned to Fayetteville as the head coach. They’ve taken it up a notch the last seven years or so, winning multiple SEC divisional and overall titles, hosting regionals and super regionals, and making it to Omaha three times. Arkansas has done basically everything…except win a national title.

The hope is that will change this year and the national rankings reflect that. This weekend will provide the Razorbacks their first real test of 2024, as they head to Arlington, Texas, for the third time in four years to face some stiff competition.

Arkansas will play Oregon State, Oklahoma State and Michigan in the Kubota College Baseball Series at Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers.

“What we’re going to start seeing this weekend is we’re going to see some elevated velocity on the mound,” Van Horn said. “That’s going to make the competition ramp up. Neutral site, it’s going to be a super big challenge for us.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we play. How do we react when we get there? I think when we walk away on Sunday afternoon, we’ll have a lot better feel of what we are all about or what we really need to work on.”

Here’s an in-depth preview of the event, including how to watch the three games…

Projected Starting Pitchers for Arkansas, Opponents

Friday

  • ARK Jr. LHP Hagen Smith (1 IP, 1 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K)
  • OSU Jr. RHP Aiden May (5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K)

Saturday

  • ARK Jr. RHP Brady Tygart (5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K)
  • OSU Jr. RHP Brian Holiday (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K)

Sunday

  • ARK Jr. LHP Mason Molina (3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 9 K)
  • MICH Sr. RHP Chase Allen (6 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) -OR-
  • MICH So. RHP Mitch Voit (4 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 5 K)

Even though the first series didn’t go like many expected, Arkansas still has arguably the best starting rotation in college baseball.

Poor weather conditions certainly played into it, but it was a bit of a shock to see Hagen Smith give up a three-run home run before recording an out and get pulled after a 42-pitch first inning.

The Razorbacks aren’t hitting the panic button, though. Head coach Dave Van Horn sounds confident that his ace will bounce back and look like the projected first-round pick he is against Oregon State.

“My conversations with Hagen are, ‘Hey, look forward to watching you pitch Friday night,’” Van Horn said. “I ask him how his dog is doing. I don’t talk about pitching with Hagen. Hagen knows how to pitch. He’s fine. I’m not worried about it.”

Brady Tygart gave Arkansas five strong innings, but did struggle with his command some. In addition to two walks, he also plunked three batters. The good news was that he continued to show a knack for working out of jams.

It was a similar issue for Mason Molina. Two of his three walks were to James Madison’s best player, which is fine, but even when he avoided walks, he was still working deep into counts. That led to his pitch count getting up and him exiting in the fourth inning.

Here’s a few tidbits on the three starters Arkansas is projected to face in Arlington…

Oregon State RHP Aidan May: A transfer from Arizona, May didn’t exactly have the best numbers last season, posting a 6.33 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings. However, he earned the Opening Day nod for the Beavers and has received a decent amount of preseason hype – including landing on the Pac-12’s preseason all-conference team and being tabbed as the 36th-best starting pitcher in Division I by D1Baseball. According to Baseball America’s Peter Flaherty, May’s fastball sits 91-94 mph and has topped out at 97, but his best pitch is the slider.

Oklahoma State RHP Brian Holiday: Holiday was named the MVP of last year’s JUCO World Series after notching a win and a save to help Central Florida J.C. win the national title. He racked up 23 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings at the event, capping a sophomore season in which he had 141 in 88 innings. Last season, his fastball was 90-93 mph and he has a really good curveball.

It’s unclear who Michigan will start on Sunday. It has not officially tabbed a starter as of Thursday afternoon, according to a UA spokesperson. Its game note list right-hander Mitch Voit as the “probable” starter, but that is based on him starting Game 3 last weekend. That was part of a Saturday doubleheader, though. Right-hander Chase Allen started the Sunday game and actually pitched well.

Michigan RHP Mitch Voit: A true two-way guy, Voit made an immediate impact at the plate and on the mound as a true freshman last year. In addition to hitting .267 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs, he was also the Wolverines’ closer with five saves and a team-best 3.25 ERA in 36 innings. He had a solid 1.19 WHIP and held opponents to a .235 batting average in 19 appearances, as well. His first as a sophomore didn’t go so great, though, as he gave up seven runs on six hits and three walks in four innings.

Michigan RHP Chase Allen: Now in his fourth season at Michigan, Allen made his season debut out of the bullpen and gave up a couple of runs in one inning on Opening Day. Two days later, he started and gave the Wolverines five scoreless innings. He was primarily a starter last year, posting a 7.44 ERA and allowing opponents to slash .326/.416/.518.

What to Watch in 2024 Kubota College Baseball Series

Sure, the Razorbacks won three of their four games against James Madison on opening weekend, but they didn’t play perfect baseball by any means.

Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn was clearly upset with some mental mistakes, particularly on the base paths and in the field in Game 3, but those kinds of things can happen at the start of the season. His teams have proven they are capable of figuring those things out as the year progresses.

However, one thing to keep an eye on this weekend in Arlington that could be somewhat of an indication of what’s to come is how – or if – Arkansas produces runs.

That was an issue against the Dukes. Even though they hit .310 as a team and drew more free passes (30 – 26 walks, 4 HBP) than strikeouts (22), the Razorbacks managed only 28 total runs. Averaging 7 runs is not necessarily bad, but they had a chance to score much more.

“Swung the bat pretty good early in a couple of innings, but didn’t drive in some runs,” Van Horn said. “That’s kind of a thing. We’ve got to start picking up some runs when we have an opportunity, and a lot of times it’s with two outs. That’s how you build up a lead or catch up.”

Several things contributed to that. Arkansas was picked off twice and grounded into five double plays, plus it left 33 runners on base in 33 innings.

Those issues were especially evident in the game the Razorbacks lost. Twice they left the bases loaded, with one of those coming when Kendall Diggs flied out to right on a pitch down the middle that you’d normally expect him to hammer.

If Arkansas can get those things figured out, it should have a deep and dangerous lineup like the past few years.

“We’re not near what we’re going to be offensively,” Van Horn said after the James Madison series.

How to Watch Arkansas Baseball in Arlington

Dates: Friday, Feb. 23 – Sunday, Feb. 25

Location: Globe Life Field (Arlington, Texas)

TV/Stream: FloSports

NOTE: The games this weekend are available only on FloSports, a subscription service that costs $30/month. **DO NOT** select the annual plan, which is marketed as $12.50/month, but charges you one lump sum for the entire year ($150).

Schedule for 2024 Kubota College Baseball Series

Friday, Feb. 23

  • Michigan vs Oklahoma State – 3 p.m. CT
  • Arkansas vs Oregon State – 7 p.m. CT

Saturday, Feb. 24

  • Michigan vs Oregon State – 3 p.m. CT
  • Arkansas vs Oklahoma State – 7 p.m. CT

Sunday, Feb. 25

  • Arkansas vs Michigan – 1 p.m. CT
  • Oklahoma State vs Oregon State – 5 p.m. CT

Scouting Oregon State Baseball

2023 Record: 41-20 (18-12 Pac-12)
Final 2023 RPI: No. 34
2024 Record: 5-0
Projected Finish in 2024: 1st out of 11 teams in the Pac-12 (coaches)
Head Coach: Mitch Canham (5th season)

On paper, this appears to be the best Oregon State baseball team since the 2018 squad that beat Arkansas in the College World Series finals. The Beavers were tabbed the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 and are ranked as high as No. 4 in this week’s top-25 polls (Baseball America, NCBWA).

Led by former player Mitch Canham, an All-American on the 2006 and 2007 national title teams, Oregon State had five preseason All-Pac-12 selections. The most notable of that bunch is undoubtedly Travis Bazzana.

The second baseman and leadoff man is a unanimous preseason All-American and one of the top MLB Draft prospects in the country. The Australian lived up to the hype last weekend, going 9 for 16 (.563) with three home runs, a double, a triple and seven RBIs at the College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Ariz. That earned him some National Player of the Week accolades.

Even after going 0 for 4 against Texas Tech on Wednesday, Bazzana’s batting average “plummeted” to .450. And incredibly, that ranks just third out of the nine Oregon State players with at least seven at bats this season – behind Trent Caraway (.474) and Micah McDowell (.471).

As a team, the Beavers are putting up 10.4 runs per game and slashing .331/.452/.675 with 14 home runs through five games.

They’ve been pretty good on the mound, too. Even after allowing four runs to Texas Tech in the midweek game, Oregon State has a 2.00 team ERA. It doesn’t look like it’s an overpowering staff, though, as the pitchers have combined for less strikeouts (43) than innings (45) and they seem to struggle with command some, as evidenced by 30 walks.

That said, the Beavers do have a pair of preseason All-Pac-12 selections on the staff in right-handers Aiden May and Jacob Kmatz.

Scouting Oklahoma State Baseball

2023 Record: 41-20 (15-9 Big 12)
Final 2023 RPI: No. 23
2024 Record: 2-2
Projected Finish in 2024: 3rd out of 13 teams in the Big 12 (coaches)
Head Coach: Josh Holliday (12th season)

This will be the third straight year Arkansas has faced Oklahoma State and it’ll be the Cowboys’ second chance at revenge for the Razorbacks winning the 2022 Stillwater Regional en route to Omaha. Their first opportunity didn’t go so well, with Arkansas winning 18-1 in seven innings at this event last year.

Oklahoma State stumbled out of the gate this season, losing the first two games of a road series at Sam Houston State. After dropping the opener 7-2, the Cowboys lost the series in walk-off fashion, but did bounce back in a big way, crushing the Bearkats 19-2.

The infamous Roc Riggio is no longer there, as he was a fourth-round pick in last summer’s MLB Draft, but Oklahoma State does have a couple of stars on its roster.

Outfielder Nolan Schubart was a unanimous preseason All-Big 12 selection after a monster freshman season in which he hit .338 with 17 home runs and 74 RBIs. The former top-100 recruit was tabbed the fifth-best college prospect for the 2025 MLB Draft by D1Baseball.

The Cowboys also have one of the top two-way prospects in the country in redshirt sophomore Carson Benge. An outfielder when in the lineup, he hit .345 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs last year and is viewed as a possible first-round pick as a hitter. He also has good upside on the mound, but he posted a 6.69 ERA and struggled with his command with 24 walks across 35 innings in his first season back from Tommy John. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 26 overall prospect for the 2024 MLB Draft.

Benge is off to a hot start offensively, going 8 for 16 (.500) with three doubles and four RBIs through four games. He leads a lineup that is hitting .289, but has shown a propensity to strike out, averaging nine per game.

On the mound, the Cowboys have used 14 pitchers who’ve combined for a 3.93 ERA and 1.49 WHIP through four games. Opponents are hitting .256 against them, which isn’t great, but they’ve limited most of those hits to singles. Oklahoma State has allowed only five extra-base hits and all five are doubles.

Scouting Michigan Baseball

2023 Record: 28-28 (13-11 Big Ten)
Final 2023 RPI: No. 122
2024 Record: 2-2
Projected Finish in 2024: 6th out of 13 teams in the Big Ten (coaches)
Head Coach: Tracy Smith (2nd season)

Just five years ago, Michigan was one win away from winning the 2019 College World Series. Since then, though, the Wolverines made it to regionals in 2021 and 2022, but went .500 and missed the postseason last year.

That just so happened to be Michigan’s first season under head coach Tracy Smith, as former coach Erik Bakich left to take the same job at Clemson. Smith has taken a Big Ten team to Omaha before, doing so at Indiana in 2013, but he seems to have his work cut out for him in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines opened the season with four games against in-state foe Western Michigan, but the series was played in Phoenix to escape the cold weather. They split the series, dropping two extra-inning games before winning the next two — not an ideal result against a team that hasn’t finished above .500 in a full season since 2008.

Center fielder Jonathan Kim is Michigan’s best player. A preseason All-Big Ten selection after earning third-team honors in 2023, he hit .322 last season and has picked up where he left off, going 9 for 17 (.529) with a home run and five RBIs on opening weekend.

As a team, the Wolverines hit .295 and averaged 9.3 runs against the Broncos. They put up those numbers without much help from the long ball, as they hit only four in four games. Instead, they put the ball in play and got it done the old-fashioned way. Michigan struck out just 29 times – 7.3 per game – and drew 39 free passes (28 walks, 11 HBP).

Offense wasn’t the problem. Where Smith’s club struggled was on the mound. The Wolverines posted a 7.05 ERA and 1.92 WHIP with more walks (28) than strikeouts (26) in 37 innings, plus Western Michigan hit .307 against them.

With Arkansas set to play them on the third and final day of the event, that is worth noting because the Wolverines could be scraping the bottom of the barrel by Sunday – especially if Oregon State and Oklahoma State rough them up.

Arkansas Baseball Last Weekend

The Razorbacks hosted a four-game set against James Madison to open the 2024 season and took three of four games to win the series. Only one game was a true blowout and even it was close until Arkansas blew it open late.

If you missed any of the games, check out our in-depth recaps below:

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More on the College Baseball Series starting at 7:18 here:

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