Andrew Hutchinson has been a multimedia reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2014.
Arkansas avoiding sweeps
Arkansas pitcher Chris Oliver fires a pitch in the 2nd inning of the Razorbacks' game against Vanderbilt Sunday, April 20, 2014, at Baum Stadium.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas has played its best baseball after losing the first two games of a series.
When facing the possibility of a sweep, the Razorbacks are 3-0 this season and average 10 runs per game.
“We’ve done a good job of finding a way to win a game,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We talk about that when we start working out in the fall. We start talking to the [young players] more than anybody about you hang in there by not getting swept.”
Since Arkansas was swept by LSU on April 1, 2012, the Razorbacks have won at least one game in each of their next 25 SEC series. Only Vanderbilt has a longer streak (27) among SEC teams.
A Sunday win has saved the streak four times. The Razorbacks scored at least nine runs and won by at least six runs in all four games.
While Arkansas’ three games following Friday and Saturday losses this year have had the same result, they have come in different forms.
Did You Know?
Arkansas outscored South Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss in three-game series losses this season.
In the first one, March 16 against Florida, starter Chris Oliver was chased after only two innings of work in which he gave up three hits and one unearned run. Instead, the Razorbacks relied on their bullpen.
After Dominic Taccolini allowed two earned runs in one inning of work, Jacob Stone and Michael Gunn tossed three shutout innings apiece in a 9-3 win.
The next time Arkansas faced a sweep was April 13 against LSU. Oliver pitched seven innings, but issued seven walks and the Tigers tacked him for four runs.
However, the Razorbacks never trailed thanks to timely hits, including a grand slam by Blake Baxendale in the first inning. Arkansas won 10-4.
“It seems like on Sunday we start getting big hits,” Van Horn said. “We put together two-out innings.”
In last Sunday’s 11-1 win over Ole Miss, Arkansas put it all together. The Razorbacks recorded a season-high 16 hits and Oliver gave up only one earned run in seven innings.
“Nobody else I’ve seen is better than him on Sunday,” pitcher Jalen Beeks said. “He’s a really great talent. We know that we’re going to have a really good shot of winning on Sunday.”
Despite the short outing against Florida and the tough start against LSU, Oliver’s 2.81 ERA when Arkansas is facing a sweep is better than his 2.89 ERA in all games combined. Oliver has been on the mound for three Sunday wins that gave Arkansas a series win.
“I like the pressure on Sundays,” Oliver said. “Sunday is the one day you can’t afford to lose.”
The Razorbacks’ ability to avoid being swept has been especially important this season because of college baseball’s RPI system that was changed before last season and is used when selecting teams for postseason play.
Instead of all games being weighted equally, road wins are valued more than home wins. Likewise, road losses do not damage a team’s RPI rating as much as a home loss.
Because all three of Arkansas’ sweep-avoiding wins came on the road, the wins essentially cancelled out the two preceding losses. The losses, which are valued at 0.7 apiece, outweigh the win, which is valued at 1.3, by only one-tenth of a point.
In this system, a 2-1 series at home (each win is valued at 0.7, while the loss is valued at 1.3) is worth only two-tenths of a point more than a 1-2 series on the road.
The RPI also factors strength of schedule into its formula and the three sweep-avoiding wins came against teams currently ranked in the RPI top 15 – No. 4 Florida, No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 15 LSU.
So while those three wins have not given Arkansas a series, they have kept its RPI from plummeting and perplexed its coach.
“I don’t know what it is – if we’re more comfortable with the surroundings or the setting,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully it’ll start coming a little bit earlier in the series."