Much to the relief of Dave Van Horn, there are no more midweek games on the remaining Arkansas baseball schedule.
That’s not to say the Razorbacks have it easy down the stretch, though. They have road trips to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt sandwiched around a home series against South Carolina for their final nine games of the season, but they don’t have to worry about any extra non-conference matchups thrown in between.
Considering all of the injuries on the pitching staff, not to mention being down two starting outfielders, piecing together 27 innings on the weekend is already a challenge, but especially so when there’s another nine innings on a Tuesday or Wednesday leading up to the SEC series.
“We’ve got three games worth on the weekend,” Van Horn said after the loss to Lipscomb. “Until we get some guys healthy, we have just enough.”
Even with a depleted staff and banged up lineup, Arkansas is still a unanimous top-6 team in the national rankings with a 33-12 overall record and second in the SEC West with a 14-7 conference mark.
As the Razorbacks inch closer to the end of the regular season, Best of Arkansas Sports felt like it was a good time to check in on their resume when it comes to the upcoming SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
Within Striking Distance in West, But…
As mentioned above, Arkansas baseball enters the eighth weekend of its SEC slate with a 14-7 conference record, which is good for second in the division. The only SEC West team ahead of the Razorbacks is LSU, which has a 1.5-game lead with a 15-5 mark.
The “half game” there is the result of LSU playing one less game than most of the conference, as its rubber match at South Carolina was rained out and couldn’t be made up.
That is significant because it ensures the Tigers and Razorbacks can’t finish in a tie atop of the SEC West standings, barring the cancellation of one of Arkansas’ last nine games. If they did tie, both teams would get to claim a division title, but LSU owns the head-to-head tiebreaker by winning two of three games against Arkansas in Baton Rouge and would be awarded the higher seed at the SEC Tournament.
Alas, that shouldn’t come into play. Instead, for the Razorbacks to overtake the Tigers and win the division title, they must win two more games than LSU over the next three weekends.
It would be very difficult for that to happen because of the vast difference in the quality of the two teams’ schedules down the stretch. Arkansas does play 12th-place Mississippi State this weekend, but it’s on the road. It then finishes up with back-to-back series against top-5 teams in South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
That trio of opponents has a combined SEC record of 36-26, which makes it the fourth-toughest closing stretch in the conference. LSU is on the other end of the spectrum, as it hosts Mississippi State with road series at Auburn and Georgia — which have a combined SEC record of 23-40, making it tied for the second-easiest remaining schedule in the SEC.
Even if the Razorbacks had managed to win two of three games at Georgia instead of getting swept — a moment that some fans may point to as when they lost their grip on the division — they would probably still have a hard time holding on to the title because the lead would be just half of a game and they’d need to win more games against Mississippi State/South Carolina/Vanderbilt than LSU wins against Auburn/Mississippi State/Georgia.
Arkansas does have a five-game lead over the rest of the SEC West, so it will almost certainly finish at least second in the division, but that doesn’t mean much because beyond the East and West champions earning the top two seeds at the SEC Tournament, the division standings don’t really matter.
The rest of the seeding is determined by conference record, regardless of division. Finishing in the top four is the goal because that comes with a bye into the double-elimination portion of the tournament that starts Wednesday.
As things currently stand, there are five teams vying for those four spots, with Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas separated by only two games — and everyone else at least three games behind that group.
While the Tigers have a very easy closing stretch, the three teams in the East end the year with similar stretches as Arkansas.
The Commodores technically have the toughest remaining schedule, as their last three SEC opponents have a combined 37-26 conference record, but this weekend’s series may have just gotten much easier.
They travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for three games against an Alabama team that just fired head coach Brad Bohannon amid a betting probe. As good as Vanderbilt is, road sweeps in the SEC are few and far between, but being without a head coach and dealing with the distraction of the controversy could make the Crimson Tide more susceptible to losing all three games.
That could potentially put the Commodores in control of the East – leaving Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida to fight it out for the other two byes.
Arkansas Baseball’s Case for Hosting
Arguably more important than where it is in the SEC standings, Arkansas baseball is still in good position to host a regional and possibly earn a top-8 national seed.
Considering their sparkling 28-3 record at Baum-Walker Stadium and 3-7 mark in true road games, playing the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament at home would be a major boost to the Razorbacks’ chances of returning to Omaha for the fourth time in five tries.
D1Baseball’s latest Field of 64 projection has Arkansas doing just that, as the No. 5 overall seed.
If the season ended today, that’s likely about where the Razorbacks would end up. On top of being tied for fourth overall in the SEC, they have a very strong ranking in the RPI, checking in at No. 6.
That metric is the most vital aspect of Arkansas’ resume because the RPI — which is calculated based on win-loss results and strength of schedule — is a major factor in the NCAA Tournament selection.
At No. 6, Arkansas might already have an NCAA Tournament bid wrapped up. It still has some, but maybe not a lot of, work to do to clinch a top-16 or top-8 seed.
Three more wins could be enough to become at least a regional host because that would make the Razorbacks 17-13 in the SEC and its RPI likely wouldn’t drop much.
This weekend’s trip to Mississippi State is the “easiest” of the remaining series, as the Bulldogs are just fighting for a spot in the SEC Tournament at this point, but they are still No. 48 in the RPI and it’s on the road, so a series loss wouldn’t be devastating to Arkansas’ RPI.
About a month ago, Alabama lost two of three home games against Mississippi State and dropped just five spots in the RPI. More recently than that, Arkansas didn’t move at all after getting swept at Georgia, which entered that series ranked No. 27 in the RPI.
South Carolina (No. 2) and Vanderbilt (No. 5) are both inside the top 5 of the RPI, so those games won’t hurt the Razorbacks much, if any, if they lose more than they win.
It’s not inconceivable for Arkansas’ RPI to remain in the top 20 even if it wins only one of three games each of the next three weekends. That’s not an ideal scenario, but a 17-13 SEC record with a top-20 RPI is a combination that always results in hosting a regional – as seen with 2019 LSU (17-13, No. 16) and 2021 Florida (17-13, No. 17).
To earn a top-8 national seed, though, Arkansas probably needs one more win than that. That’d mean it won at least one of the three remaining series, which would likely be enough to maintain a top-10 RPI.
In 2018, a trio of SEC teams – Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas – went 18-12 in conference play and finished in the top 10 of the RPI. All three earned a top-8 seed.
Arkansas baseball fans may be quick to point out that the Razorbacks went 18-12 last season and weren’t even a regional host. However, they ended the regular season with an RPI of No. 41 because of an abysmal non-conference schedule – which was a major point of emphasis by Dave Van Horn when constructing his 2023 slate.
The change of course has been a major success. Last year, the Razorbacks’ non-conference strength of schedule ranked 251st in the country. Even playing in the loaded SEC, that caused their overall strength of schedule to check in at No. 57. This year is a different story, as they have the 40th-toughest non-conference slate and eighth-toughest overall.
Barring a monumental collapse these last three weeks, which is entirely possible given the mounting injuries, postseason baseball should return to Baum-Walker Stadium after a one-year hiatus.
2023 SEC Baseball Standings
|Team||SEC Record||Overall Record||Remaining SEC Series||Remaining SOS|
|1. Vanderbilt||16-5||33-11||at ALA, at FLA, vs. ARK||37-26|
|2. South Carolina||14-6||35-8||at KENT, at ARK, vs. TENN||36-27|
|3. Florida||14-7||36-10||at A&M, vs. VAN, at KENT||36-27|
|t-4. Kentucky||11-10||30-13||vs. SC, at TENN, vs. FLA||39-23|
|t-4. Tennessee||11-10||31-14||at UGA, vs. KENT, at SC||33-29|
|6. Georgia||8-13||25-20||vs. TENN, at MIZZ, vs. LSU||31-31|
|7. Missouri||5-16||25-19||vs. MISS, vs. UGA, at AUB||22-41|
|Team||SEC Record||Overall Record||Remaining SEC Series||Remaining SOS|
|1. LSU||15-5||36-8||at AUB, vs. MSU, at UGA||23-40|
|2. Arkansas||14-7||33-12||at MSU, vs. SC, at VAN||36-26|
|t-3. Alabama||9-12||30-15||vs. VAN, at A&M, vs. MISS||30-33|
|t-3. Auburn||9-12||25-18-1||vs. LSU, at MISS, vs. MIZZ||25-37|
|t-3. Texas A&M||9-12||26-19||vs. FLA, vs. ALA, at MSU||29-34|
|6. Mississippi State||6-15||24-20||vs. ARK, at LSU, vs. A&M||38-24|
|7. Ole Miss||5-16||24-21||at MIZZ, vs. AUB, at ALA||23-40|
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