Photo by Christina DeRuyter, TexAgs
Texas A&M Baseball

Series Preview: No. 24 Texas A&M vs. No. 17 Arkansas

May 18, 2017

Who: Arkansas Razorbacks (37-14, 16-10 SEC)

Where: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park — College Station, Texas

When:  Thursday 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC+)
             Friday 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC+)
             Saturday 11:00 a.m. CT (SEC Network)

Pitching matchups

  • Thursday: Brigham Hill (RHP, 7-3, 2.92) vs. Trevor Stephan (RHP, 5-3, 3.21)
  • Friday: Corbin Martin (RHP, 5-3, 3.12) vs. Blaine Knight (RHP, 6-4, 3.50)
  • Saturday: Stephen Kolek (RHP, 3-3, 3.46) vs. TBA

Scouting Arkansas

After a disappointing 2016 that uncharacteristically found head coach Dave Van Horne and his Razorbacks at the bottom of the SEC standings and outside of the NCAA regional field, Arkansas has bounced back with a solid season and is looking to position itself for a long postseason run.

Currently, the Hogs sit at No. 17 on the RPI. Oh, and there happen to be 16 regional host spots in the NCAA regionals. So this is a big weekend for Van Horne and his club. Winning a road series at No. 24 Texas A&M could certainly be the deciding factor as to whether the Hogs are playing in Fayetteville or somewhere on the road during regional play.

Arkansas is a team that is solid across the board. The pitching staff is deep with good, solid pitchers with ERA's in the 3.00 range.
Arkansas is a team that is solid across the board. The pitching staff is deep with good, solid pitchers with ERA's in the 3.00 range, but nobody boasts dominant, All-American statistics.

Offensively, six starters hit .290 and above, but only one batter is hitting over .303.

However, there is one area where the Razorbacks separate from the rest, and that's the ability to leave the yard. In fact, they lead the SEC in home runs (66). Sophomore catcher Grant Koch (.296) leads the team with 13 long balls, which places him fourth overall in the SEC. He's closely followed by Chad Spanberger (.293) with 11 homers and Dominic Fletcher (.279) with 10. In fact, five starters in the batting order have eight or more home runs. In contrast, the Aggies have just one hitter with more than five (Shewmake, 9). So Texas A&M pitchers will have to contend with a south wind blowing out of the park and a lineup that can swing a big stick.

On the mound, Arkansas will send junior Trevor Stephan to the mound for game one. While his 5-3 record and 3.21 ERA are solid, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is spectacular (93 K's, 14 BB's). Stephan's 93 strikeouts tops a Razorback staff that leads the SEC in punch-outs (496). He's collected SEC Pitcher of the Week honors and National Pitcher of the Week accolades, so he has the ability to dominate an opponent.

Right-hander Blaine Knight is slated to be the Hogs' game two starter. He has a 6-4 record and a 3.50 ERA. Batters are hitting just .232 against him. The game three starter has not been announced, but don't be surprised to see veteran Dominic Taccolini in that spot. The senior righty passed up a chance to sign with the Blue Jays in last year's draft (16th round) after being the anchor of the 2016 weekend starting rotation. Injuries have sidelined him in 2017, and he's been working out of the bullpen as he works back into shape. He had a good outing in a 75-pitch appearance last week against Vanderbilt and may be ready for a starter's role this weekend.       

The Razorback bullpen is respectable. Jack Reindl is the most trusted arm out of the pen with a 2.21 ERA in 40 innings of work. Cannon Chadwick (3.23 ERA) and Kevin Kopps (3.26) are the other two relievers logging a lot of work for Coach Van Horne.

TexAgs Kaylor Chafin has been the most consistent member of the Aggie pitching staff over the last two weeks.

Texas A&M storylines to watch

Two weeks ago, the Aggies seemed to have everything almost worked out with the pitching staff. Brigham Hill, Corbin Martin and Stephen Kolek were all on cruise control and giving the team quality starts. John Doxakis, Mitchell Kilkenny and Cason Sherrod were all pitching well for the most part, while Kaylor Chafin was un-hittable – literally. Well, two weeks later Kaylor Chafin is the only Texas A&M reliever that has pitched well over the last seven games.

Kilkenny had settled into the closer's role, allowing Chafin to be the middle reliever that bridges the starters. However, Kilkenny has been ineffective of late. Rob Childress even brought him into a low-stress outing against Sam Houston on Tuesday to see if he could get back on track. Once again, he struggled with his location and his off-speed pitches. At this point, does the coaching staff try to ride out this rough patch by Kilkenny and hope that he rights the ship for regional play, or does it prepare to move Chafin into that closer role? If they decide to make that move for the post-season, you'd expect to see Chafin in that closer spot this weekend.

The other big storyline on the mound will be the performance of Stephen Kolek in game three. Until last week's struggles in Oxford, Kolek had become Texas A&M's most consistent pitcher over the past month with several dominant outings. The sophomore entered last week's contest allowing just 14 walks all season, but he surrendered five free passes in four innings of work last Saturday which was very uncharacteristic of the Shepherd native. For this team to have any chance at advancing in the post-season, Kolek has to be sharp and give the coaches at least six quality innings.

At the plate, the offense will have the luxury of facing all right-handed starters this weekend. The Aggies' top hitters swing from the left side. Last weekend, the lineup feasted on the Ole Miss' one right-handed starter but struggled significantly against the Saturday and Sunday starters – both lefties.

The other key will be the production from the middle of the order, which has been largely silent during this recent rough stretch. Keep an eye on what the staff does at first base. Joel Davis left Tuesday's game early with an undisclosed injury. We're not sure of his status for the weekend. Any way you slice it, the offense can't rely on Braden Shewmake to drive in every run. Guys like Blake Kopetsky and even Jose Gutierrez have shown signs of heating up with several quality at-bats last weekend.

Lexie Hudson, TexAgs Texas A&M's fate will be decided by pitching and defense. The Aggies need to clean up both areas before regional play.
In the end, Texas A&M's fate will be decided by pitching and defense. The defense let down the team in Saturday's loss, while pitching was the culprit in Sunday's defeat. This team is not good enough to win without quality pitching and spotless defense, especially against a nationally-ranked opponent like Arkansas.

What's at stake this weekend

Really, there's not a lot at stake for the Aggies this weekend in terms of seeding for the SEC tournament. Barring a sweep of Arkansas or getting swept by the Hogs, Texas A&M will enter the SEC Tournament as a No. 6 seed playing the 9:30 a.m. game next Tuesday. As far as the NCAA's are concerned, the team will be going on the road as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

The Aggies will be a lock for a regional spot with a single win this weekend. The only scenario where the team might be sweating out the NCAA Selection Show would be a sweep by the Razorbacks and an opening-round loss in the SEC Tourney. At this point, D1 Baseball's Kendall Rogers believes the Aggies would still sneak in losing their last four games. But why tempt fate and the ghosts of Eric Hymans past on the selection committee? On the positive side, winning the series against Arkansas should wrap-up a No. 2 seed in the regional round.
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Series Preview: No. 24 Texas A&M vs. No. 17 Arkansas

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