It has arrived. The biggest weekend of the non-conference season for the Arizona Wildcats.
UA will play Mississippi St. Friday night at 7 PM, and again Sunday night at 5 PM as part of the Hi Corbett Classic this weekend.
The Bulldogs will also take on UC Santa Barbara Friday and Saturday at 2 PM as part of the three-team round robin.
I asked cristilmethod from the Mississippi State blog For Whom the Cowbell Tolls to give us some idea about what to expect from the Bulldogs this weekend, and a couple of other things.
Here is his in-depth look inside the team:
1. MSU got off to kind of a slow start, but seems to have gotten it turned around last week. What was the key to dominating Mt. St. Mary's and then sweeping Eastern Illinois and Michigan St.?
The key seems to be some improvements in fielding and State doing a better job taking advantage of runners in scoring position. MSU had one error the entire week last week after really struggling in the field the week before against Memphis and Holy Cross. State also was able to put together some big innings this past weekend, and they did a better job at capitalizing on scoring opportunities. State does still leave a lot of runners on base, which is concerning, so I'm hoping that is something that they can continue improving on.
2. Wes Rea and Alex Detz are both way down on the list in terms of batting average. Is that typical of those two?
Rea is hitting about two points lower than he did for 2013, so he's about where he's been average-wise. Detz is certainly down so far from his .318 last year, but his RBIs are up, and he's still drawing a ton of walks so far. I think it's just a slow start for him; I fully expect to see him push to get back around or above that .300 mark as the season goes continues. Back to Rea - I do think he has room to improve upon his average, and I expect him to do that like Detz as the season progresses further.
3. More on Rea. Are all of his home runs a product of a small ballpark, or is he really just that powerful?
Wes Rea is listed at 6'5" and 275 pounds, so he's definitely that powerful. Rea was a huge part of MSU's success last year, and with other leaders gone, he is being asked to be the main focal point of the offense this year. His average is down a bit now, but I think his RBIs and walks make up for that. If he can hover around .300 and continue to drive in runs like he is, he'll be exactly where MSU needs him to be. As for his power - if he gets a decent inside pitch then you can kiss it goodbye. Just ask Virginia. I think Rea's ball from last year's Super Regional is still going.
4. The Bulldogs have a ton of walks, HBPs and stolen bases this year. Is that due to the teams they've played so far, or is that a typical MSU trend?
The large amount of free bases is a key part of head coach John Cohen's philosophy. Cohen is all about getting on base by any means necessary and then having the next guy or guys move you up and score you. MSU's stats for walks and HBP have been a bit better this year and last due to having experienced, patient hitters like Alex Detz and Brett Pirtle in the lineup. These two were the main drivers behind that resurgence in free trips last year, and their high on-base percentages were part of what drove MSU's success. The stolen bases are trending up this year thanks to speedy guys in the lineup such as new leadoff hitter Jake Vickerson and Senior OF Derrick Armstrong. Both have plus speed, so I would look for Cohen to continue to keep running a good bit as the season progresses.
5. With four games this weekend, how do you envision the starting rotation looking? Do these guys overpower hitters or rely more on the breaking ball?
While this is just a best-guess, and not a good one at that, my assumption for the weekend rotation would be as follows:
Game 1: RHP Brandon Woodruff
Game 2: RHP Trevor Fitts
Game 3: RHP Austin Sexton/RHP Ben Bracewell
Game 4: RHP Dakota Hudson
I only guess that because that is how recent weekends have worked, namely last weekend. Brandon Woodruff is the ace of this staff, if/when he is on. Woodruff has experienced a slow start to this season, but Cohen continues to support the notion that when he gets warmed up and going, he will be MSU's ace, far and away. Woodruff has the best stuff on the staff, according to many, and he can run his fastball up into the mid to high 90s. He also has several plus secondary pitches.
Trevor Fitts is a guy who is going to get hit, but he keeps the ball down and works a lot of ground ball outs. He has surprisingly amassed 24 strikeouts already this season, which leads the team, so he does have the ability to throw around guys in addition to forcing the ground ball outs.
Sexton I do not know much about because I have not had the privilege to watch him pitch yet. Bracewell is the senior of this group and can really run it up there, as well. If he stays healthy he should vie for a weekend rotation spot by the time conference play comes around.
Dakota Hudson is MSU's freshman sensation that has touched 96-to-98 already this year. He's been aggressive so far at times this year and works ahead of counts, and he's coming off a pretty good outing Sunday. I will be interested to see how he pitches for the first time on the road in a hostile environment.
6. In close games, who are the main guys to look for coming out of the pen, and who is the closer?
The biggest names to watch out of the pen are ace reliever Ross Mitchell and new setup man Jacob Lindgren. When you see Mitchell at first, you're probably going to thing I'm joking. He's not a big guy, and he doesn't throw hard, but he always hits his spots, and his delivery and movement keeps batters off balance and forces a ton of ground-ball outs. Lindgren is a former starter who had health and control issues last year, but he has been lights out so far in 2014. Lindgren's stuff is really good, and he's one of the few left-handed arms that we will go to out of the pen in a big situation. Our closer is Jonathan Holder - ace reliever and a man not to be confused with Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers. Holder is a low 90s fastball guy with a disgusting 12-6 curve ball. He has battled a finger issue so far this year, but when he's on, and he can throw the curve for a strike, he's one of the best in the country at his job.
7. Be honest, living in SEC territory, what is your opinion on Pac-12 baseball, and really West Coast baseball in general?
I've always had a tremendous amount of respect and interest for west coast baseball. When you can have schools like Pepperdine, UC Irvine, and Cal State Fullerton that are relatively non-existent at the D1 level in any other sport be nationally ranked and competing for championships, then that's impressive. Also, the talent concentration out west seems to be unbelievable, which is what fuels so many teams out west to be so good. As for Pac-12 baseball specifically, the same respect applies. USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State - there is so much history in the Pac-12 baseball wise. I do have to say that I dislike you guys a bit, but mostly because you stole our AD (and you won a national championship in baseball).
8. Our head coach Andy Lopez was at Florida from 95-01. Do you remember anything from those years that's worth sharing?
I am not very familiar with Lopez's time in Gainesville, but from a quick look at his record there, I certainly should be. I've mostly known him for his work in Tuscon, and with two CWS appearances and a championship under his belt in 12 seasons there, I'd say he's earned his reputation as one of college baseball's best coaches.
9. If I were to go to Starkville, what's the one thing I have to do that's not an MSU football or baseball game?
Starkville gets a bad rap sometimes as one of the smaller towns in the SEC, but when school is in session there is usually always something going on. If you're into outdoor concerts, I usually suggest to people to try and attend Bulldog Bash in the fall. The concert is held on the street in one of Starkville's main areas to live and socialize, The Cotton District, and it's a big party going on with about 20,000-30,000 people, with music playing in the background. Last year they had the Black Crowes, which was fantastic.
Thanks again to cristilmethod for giving such great, detailed answers about this team. Give him a follow on Twitter @cristilmethod, check out For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, and give them a follow on Twitter as well.