From the Bird’s Nest: Lots of baseball left
We're halfway through the Sun Belt schedule and the only thing we've learned is that no one is going to run away with this thing.
In fact, one should not assume that the top of the league will remain there, or that the bottom can't move up.
Here's where we stand at the halfway point.
1. TROY 11-4 (7-2 home, 4-2 road) REMAINING: WKU, at FAU, LOUISIANA, at ULM, at USA
A week ago the Trojans were in the conversation as a possible host site for a regional. But now the Trojans have dropped four of five, their RPI has dropped into the 40's and they're wondering what the deal is after inexplicably shut out twice by then-last place Middle Tennessee over the weekend. Troy got some tough news last week with the revelation that Saturday starter Drew Hull needs Tommy John surgery. The bad news for Troy is they still have to play WKU, Louisiana and FAU. The good news is they get the Toppers and Cajuns at home. They'll close at ULM and at surging South Alabama. They have to be considered the favorite, but there are plenty of land mines between them and the title, especially if they continue to struggle at the plate.
WKU 10-5 (7-2 home, 3-3 road) REMAINING: at TROY, at ULM, FAU, USA, at MT
Chris Finwood's team missed an opportunity on Sunday when they lost to Arkansas State at home. They have a tough series this weekend at Troy, but get FAU and USA at Nick Denes Field. Neither ULM or MT on the road will be a cakewalk, but the Toppers should be able to win both series. Watch that series at Troy this weekend. If the Toppers find a way to get two over there, they'll suddenly become the favorite. Their closing series is against improving Middle Tennessee, who they swept earlier.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC 10-5 (Home 8-1, Road 2-4) REMAINING: at ASU, TROY, at WKU, UALR, at FIU
John McCormack's team has won five league games in a row to move into a tie for second place in the league. Now the road beckons for three of the last five series, and the Owls haven't been very good outside of Boca this season. They do get Troy at home and should take care of UALR. But Jonesboro is never easy, Bowling Green could be an ambush and, although they beat FIU 2-3 to open conference, the last three are at Universitiy Park. FAU is going to have to win some road games if they're going to be there at the end.
LOUISIANA 8-7 (Home 4-2, Road 4-5) REMAINING: USA, UALR, at TROY, MT, at ULM
It's no coincidence that the top three teams in the league have played three of their series at home. Louisiana has three of their last five at home and they have three series against the three teams that are currently in the league's bottom four. USA is a bitter rival, but the Cajuns get the Jags the "Tigue." The trip to Troy won't be a cakewalk, and ULM might be fighting for a berth in the tournament that they are hosting when the Cajuns travel up US 165. Louisiana is 14-4 at home this year and the schedule sets up all right for them. They have to make sure they win the series against USA this weekend. If they can do that, and find a way to take two in Troy, they have a good chance to be there at the end.
SOUTH ALABAMA 8-7 (Home 6-3, Road 2-4) REMAINING: at UL, at FIU, ASU, at WKU, TROY
The Jags have won five in a row to move over .500 and they're starting to hit like the South Alabama teams of old. But look at that remaining schedule. Trips to Lafayette, Miami and Bowling Green will be daunting, indeed. They should handle ASU at home, but Troy at home won't be a gimme. If Steve Kittrell's club moves into contention, they'll have earned it.
FIU 7-8 (Home: 3-3, Road 4-5) REMAINING: at UALR, USA, at MT, ASU, FAU
Don't let this record fool you. They've played Troy. They've played Louisiana. They've played WKU. And, down the stretch they get USA and FAU at home. The trip to UALR won't be a walk in the park. Neither will the trip to Middle. But the Panthers have already stared down the barrel of the gun. They might not win it, but they've got a real chance to finish strong.
UALR 6-9 (Home 6-3, Road 0-6) REMAINING: FIU, at Louisiana, ULM, at FAU, at ASU
No question Little Rock has improved. But oh, that road record. I won't be surprised if they win their home series against FIU and ULM. I will be shocked if they win a road series. This team may be improved, but the schedule tells me that they're still going to struggle to make it to the conference tournament. It will probably come down to the series in Jonesboro. UALR took 2-3 from ASU in Little Rock.
LOUISIANA-MONROE 5-10 (Home 2-4, Road 3-6) REMAINING: at MT, WKU, at UALR, TROY, LOUISIANA
The Warhawks are a better team than most folks thought before the season started. They've got three of their last five series at home, but look who they have to play. And, they travel to UALR and Middle, two teams that their fighting for a spot with. They don't have much room for error. A series win in Murfreesboro this weekend would be a good start. Still, they'll probably have to win a series or two at home in order to be simply the tournament hosts.
ARKANSAS STATE 5-10 (Home 1-5, Road 3-5) REMAINING: FAU, MT, at USA, at FIU, UALR
Three series at home and two of them are against Middle and UALR, two teams that haven't exactly been road warriors. ASU won't have an easy time in Mobile or Miami. They need to make sure they don't get swept this weekend against FAU. If they can go 6-3 at home and 2-4 on the road, they'll be in good shape. If not, it'll be a sweat on the final weekend.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 5-10 (Home 4-2, Road 1-8) REMAINING: ULM, at ASU, FIU, at LOUISIANA, WKU
The young Raiders were left for dead a couple of weeks ago, but have won series against South Alabama and Troy. There is a pulse. The question is whether Steve Peterson's team can take that pulse on the road. The next two weeks will tell a lot about their chances, when they go head to head against teams they are battling with for a spot in the tournament.