The BBN will have most of their attention on the opening games of the NCAA Tournament, but it will be a big weekend for Kentucky Baseball. The BatCats will travel to Fayetteville to take on #5 Arkansas for a three-game set. UK is coming off a series win over #3 Texas Tech that gave the Cats a boost in the national rankings. This series will be one of the tougher weekends for UK this season. The Hogs are one of the most balanced teams in the country and a favorite for Omaha.
- Arkansas Razorbacks: 12-4 (0-0)
- Best wins: Texas x2, USC x2, San Diego State, Kent State x2
- Famous Baseball Alumni: Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Benintendi, Cliff Lee
- Last Season: 45-19- Lost to Missouri State in NCAA Regional
— Ryan Folkes (@RyanFolkes) January 1, 2018
This Friday will be the third straight opening game of a series where the Cats have faced a pitcher with an ERA below one. Blaine Knight (above video) enters Friday’s start with a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings this season. Knight is a guy that will throw a lot of strikes with a four-pitch mix. He has a good curveball and will sit in the low-mid 90s on his fastball.
After Knight, Isaiah Campbell will get the ball on Saturday. The sophomore brings a 2.00 ERA and opp. batting average of .229 to Saturday’s game against UK. Campbell has an impressive ERA, but the Cats could score some big numbers against the young righty. Campbell has given out a lot of free passes this season and allowed nine total runs, meaning that UK could attack against him if they get baserunners with walks or hit by pitches. As a whole, this is a really good pitching rotation.
Knight and Campbell are a good 1-2 punch with Bryce Bonnin and Kacey Murphy rounding out the staff. The pitching staff for the Hogs has faced some good teams this season, but not an offense like UK’s. It will be a fun matchup of the powerful offense of UK and an Arkansas staff that has allowed only five home runs this season.
For UK fans that followed the 2017 SEC Tournament, you know what this Razorback offense can do. Even though they lost 2017 SEC Tournament MVP Chad Spanberger, the Hogs have hit for high levels of power in 2018. Arkansas’ lineup is hitting .306 as a team with 25 home runs in the first month of the season. Eric Cole has developed into an All-SEC caliber hitter this season with a line of .390/four home runs/13 RBIs in 16 games. Casey Martin is driving the ball very well to open the season with 18 hits (nine for extra bases) for 18 RBIs. That should scare UK pitching who will already be without Saturday starter Zack Thompson against Arkansas. Opponents have an 8.73 ERA against the Razorbacks this season, meaning that no one has been safe against this lineup. It will be a tough test for UK to keep the ball in the park and quiet an offense that is second in the SEC in slugging percentage.
Much like last weekend, this one is a toss-up. The key to Kentucky winning this series will be on the mound. There is no question that Sean Hjelle will be dominant on Friday, but the rest of the rotation will need to have a big weekend if the Cats want to win their third straight series. Sunday starter Justin Lewis was doomed by a pair of home runs last week. Lewis will need to keep the ball in the ballpark and keep his strikeout numbers as high as they have been the last two weeks. Losing Thompson will hurt, but if UK can a solid start from his replacement, the offense should be able to boost their pitching staff on Saturday against Isaiah Campbell. Arkansas’ pitching staff, especially Knight, will stay around the zone. I expect UK to take advantage of a this and put up a crooked number on Friday. The Cats will need a big weekend from their power bats as well as quality at-bats from the top of their order.
Friday: 7:30 ET SEC Network and 630 WLAP
Saturday: 3 ET SECN+ and 630 WLAP or 98.5 FM
Sunday: 2 ET and SECN+ 630 WLAP
Reminder: The KSR Baseball Podcast will have a live recording next Monday at Performance Physical Therapy. Nick Mingione will join Trey Huntsman and Keith Madison at noon on March 19th.