So the Diamond Hogs got bounced out of the SEC tourney by the worst team in the conference. Again, our bullpen was the heart of the matter, giving up a 5-2 lead in the ninth on Friday night. This is the first trip to Hoover that Dave Van Horn has missed as head coach at Arkansas. Oh well. Sometimes people forget that Rocky Balboa actually lost that first fight.
A few folks think that the team's RPI will buy them a ticket to an NCAA regional, but that hope seems extravagant to me. Even with an RPI in the top 25, close games at Arizona State and Nebraska and a few big wins in our own conference, I'm not sure a 14-15 team gets to go to the dance. Pitching is everything in post-season play. We'd be traveling to lose, and whatever experience it might lend the players would always feel like a consolation prize.
(Still, the football team might want to take a look at their baseball brethren's nonconference play. The Diamond Hogs wouldn't even have a prayer if they hadn't filled their noncon schedule with some of the toughest teams in the country, including two teams ranked in the top 25: No. 12 Nebraska and No. 3 Arizona State. The rest weren't what I'd call cupcakes. Conversely, only one team on our upcoming fall schedule will crack the top 25.)
Not all the baseball news out of Arkansas is bad. Former Diamond Hog and Benton native Cliff Lee, now with the Cleveland Indians, posted some career-making stats to start off the season. Before the Reds shelled him for 6 earned runs in 5.2 innings on Sunday, he sported a 0.67 ERA. At its most ridiculous point, his ERA was 0.28. Now, it has swelled to a whopping 1.37. For the kids at home, those numbers are bananas (B-A-N-A-N-A-S).
How do you post stats like that? Even if you're Sandy Koufax, throwing 46 strikeouts and only five walks in 59.3 innings pitched is the shortest way possible. It helps that Lee's getting most of his batters to ground out, cutting down on extra base hits. This season he's working off of his fastball and a knockout changeup, bringing to an end his gestures towards junkballing over the last couple years. As Baseball Prospectus, the statistical analysis thinktank, notes, “Lee's stretch of pitching is unmatched in at least 50 years, and quite possibly ever, when you consider that strikeouts tend to decrease in frequency as you go back in time.”
At one point in his long career, Cy Young, the namesake of the league's most hallowed pitching trophy, was a Cleveland Indian. Last year's Cy Young winner, C.C. Sabathia, was only the second Indian to win the trophy. Gaylord Perry won it in 1972. Can the Tribe bring the Cy Young home two years in a row? If Cliff Lee stays in the same ballpark as his early figures, I have little doubt.