It’s been a successful first week for UAB baseball as they are 4-1 with an extra innings loss to Alabama State on Tuesday being their only blemish.
Don’t sleep on that win against Alabama State on Wednesday at home, the Hornets are the favorites to win the SWAC and are a top 100 RPI team.
But now they shift their focus to Arkansas State.
The Red Wolves lost their opening series of the season to Illinois State, giving up 18 and 11 runs in their two losses. They bounced back and beat Southeast Missouri State on Tuesday.
They were picked to finish eighth in the Sun Belt this season.
What to Expect from Arkansas State:
Shortstop Grant Hawkins is the leader of this lineup, and is hitting .313 through four games with 4 runs scored. Transfer first baseman Kyle MacDonald has the lone home run on the early season for Arkansas State.
They’re hitting just .205 on the season – again, it’s just been four games – and are averaging just 3.75 runs per game. Last season they hit .254 as a team and scored 5.9 runs per game.
Justin Felix and Alex Howard are two key seniors that haven’t played yet this season. Felix broke his fibula right before the season began and will be out six-to-eight weeks, while Howard is dealing with some health issues and is out indefinitely. With those two out of the lineup, this offense has certainly received a big blow.
Outside of Bradey Welsh, the pitching has been shaky to start the season. They’ve posted a team ERA of 7.00 through 36 innings with 29 strikeouts.
Welsh pitched 7.2 scoreless innings in his first outing, allowing just 1 hit and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts. Last year he had a 6.23 ERA in 56.1 innings pitched with 43 strikeouts.
Peyton Culbertson started 15 games last year, but struggled in his first outing of 2018 giving up 6 runs (4 earned) in 5 innings with 5 strikeouts.
Jesse Kutzke is probably their best arm out of the bullpen. He picked up a save in their first game of the season.
This team has made 9 errors through four games, which is also something UAB has struggled with.
Without Felix and Howard in the lineup, this offense has obviously struggled to get going. I think the UAB pitching staff will be able to limit them offensively, but our offense will need to take advantage when they help us out with walks and errors.
What to Expect from UAB:
So the biggest positive for me through UAB’s first five games is the pitching staff. Tanner Graham was highly impressive on Friday night, while Ryan Ruggles and Ryan Wesson followed suit.
But the bullpen has been great as well – outside of a blown save on Tuesday. Ty Harris has been outstanding, as has Isiah Gonzales-Montoya and Troy Cordrey.
I think Coach Shoop has found his six arms that he can rely on, and they have been highly effective thus far.
I also think the offense has played pretty well, but they’ve had trouble stringing hits together and coming up with that big hit. They’re hitting .278 as a team, which is solid, but are only scoring 4.4 runs per game.
Zach Davis, Carter Pharis, Brett Blackwood and Antonio Ralat have all gotten off to great starts hitting .300 or better.
My biggest, and really only, complaint from the first five games of the season are the errors. They’ve made eight errors in five games, but honestly they could have been charged with even more.
That’s unlike a coach Shoop coached team. I think a lot of that has to do with people playing new positions and still adjusting. Hopefully things get smoothed out soon, because if so this UAB team is going to win a lot more game.
Playing on the road in baseball is not the same as basketball, but it’s still a challenge with all of the travel. Because of that, I’m giving Arkansas State the benefit of the doubt that they’ll find a way to pick up a win. But honestly, this Red Wolves team is just beat up offensively to keep up with UAB.
When Arkansas State came to Birmingham to start the year two seasons ago they won the series. The Blazers will get their revenge this weekend with at least a series win, and possibly a sweep.