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Sun Belt Bracket Analysis: Bracket Two – From the Bird’s Nest

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The Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins Wednesday at Eddie Stanky Field in Mobile, AL.  The teams in Bracket Two include #2 UT Arlington, #3 Arkansas State, #6 Troy and #7 South Alabama.   Here is my analysis of that bracket.

#2 UT ARLINGTON (19-11)

STRENGTHS:  A very good offensive club that ranks near the top of the league in most offensive statistics.  Ryan Bottger and Matt Shortall are two of the league’s best hitters.  They, along with catcher Greg McCall and J. M. Twitchell all provide home run power.  This team can also find the gaps.  Daniel Milliman has pitched well, and Brad Vachon has been better than his numbers down the stretch.  Chad Nack has shorn up a thin bullpen.

WEAKNESSES:  Team needs to hit the gaps because they don’t move runners well otherwise.  They’re near the bottom of the league in both steals and sacrifice bunts.  The bullpen, with exception of Nack, has been very inconsistent, and they haven’t shown much quality depth.  This team can turn the double play, but they’re not a good defensive team by any stretch of the imagination.

OUTLOOK:  This team started 1-5 in the league and won 18 of their last 24 league games.  They’re playing the best baseball of anyone in this bracket.  Their pitching has gotten much better.  Their depth will be tested as the tournament moves on.  But there’s an old saying:  You pitch your way into a tournament…you hit your way through a tournament.  This team is good enough to do just that.

#3 ARKANSAS STATE RED WOLVES (18-12)

STRENGTHS:  Very good fundamental team that won’t often beat itself.  Rock solid defensively at just about every position.  Matt Burgess is one of the league’s better hitters.  Austin Baker and Stuart Levy compliment him to make a solid middle of the lineup.  This team goes legitimately eight deep in the pitching staff and all of them can be effective on any given day.  Tyler Zuber has emerged as a very good late inning reliever.  The three man rotation is solid.  Bradley Wallace has one of the league’s better sliders.  Team has become more aggressive, trying to put pressure on the opposition.  Arkansas State is solid in the short game.  Team doesn’t strike out a lot and they work counts to get on base any way they can.

WEAKNESSES:  Outside of the three mentioned above, there’s very little pop in this lineup.  Only three players have hit home runs for the Red Wolves this year.  The lineup has been inconsistent, forcing quite a bit of shuffling during the season.  The team has had its share of doubles but only have 23 combined triples and home runs.  The pitching staff, while solid, lacks a front line starter the caliber of what we’ve seen from A-State the last couple of years.  This team is aggressive, to the point of running themselves out of innings.  They’ve been picked off a staggering 25 times this year. 

OUTLOOK:  There’s a lot to like about this team.  They play the game the right way.  You’re going to have to earn wins against them.  But if you take a close look, this team has really struggled against the opponents’ ace.  They were 1-7 in league play in game one of a series in the last eight weeks.  They’ll probably have to face Shane McCain in game one at 4pm Wednesday.  They match up well, pitching wise, after that.  But it’s not easy to start 0-1 in this tournament.  McCain will be stingy.  Whoever starts for ASU had better be able to match him.

#6 TROY (11-18)

STRENGTHS:  David Hall is of the league’s best hitters.  He’s the guy you don’t want up at bat with the game on the line.  Garrett Pitts has swung it well, too.  This team has some pop in their lineup, and it’s not just because of the short porch at Riddle-Pace Field.  Hall, Trevin Hall, Jo-El Bennett and Nick Masonia all have good power.  They can be aggressive on the bases, especially with Clay Holcomb.  Troy is usually pretty sound fundamentally, which means they can move runners.  Shane McCain is the reigning Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year.  Marc Skinner has become automatic out of the bullpen.  His ERA in league play is less than 1.00.

WEAKNESSES:  This lineup has holes.  You can pitch to the bottom half of their lineup.  Holcomb strikes out way too often for a leadoff guy, in fact, most of this team does too much swinging and missing.  This pitching staff has given up an awful lot of hits and runs during the season.  Even McCain has an ERA of about four and a half in Sun Belt play.  After McCain and Skinner, there’s no one on this pitching staff that’s going to strike a bunch of guys out.  Troy has had some great defensive teams in the past.  This isn’t one of them.  They’ve made 65 errors, and that’s a lot when you play on turf. 

OUTLOOK:  Troy had gone 3-11 in the league prior to taking two of three from South Alabama last weekend to qualify for the tournament.  It’s the first sign of life they’ve shown in a while.  When I saw them earlier this year, they looked like a team without much chemistry or desire.  McCain is capable of getting them a win on Wednesday, but that pitching staff after that gives up a lot of hits and runs…and their lineup just hasn’t been consistent enough to make up for that.  They showed they wanted to be in Mobile by winning the series.  Now it’ll be interesting to see if they want to hang around for a few days.

#7 SOUTH ALABAMA (11-18)

STRENGTHS:  Locke St. John is an all-conference caliber pitcher who is capable of being very stingy on any given night.  Kevin Hill has been good at times as a number two guy.  James Traylor, Ben Taylor and Brandon Hallford have been good out of the pen.  Cole Gleason is a really tough out.  Matt Wojciechowski and Drew LaBounty are solid as well.  This team is the toughest to strike out in the Sun Belt.

WEAKNESSES:  Team has been thoroughly been devastated by injuries.  This team has virtually no gap power or home run power, and that’s not good in a hitter friendly ball park.  Matt Bell, a preseason all conference pitcher, can’t get anybody out.  This team doesn’t strike out much, but they don’t walk much either.  They’ve got virtually no team speed.   Their pitching staff goes only six deep.  Team went 1-7 in their last eight conference games.

OUTLOOK:  Where has South gone?  Well, they’ve gone South.  After watching so many good Jaguars’ offenses, fans at Stanky Field this season have longed for the good ole days.  Injuries have wracked them, but I’m not sure how good they’d be even if everyone were healthy.  This offense has gotten a little bit better down the stretch, but overall, they’re pretty painful to watch.St. John will probably give them a quality start.  I have no idea what they’ll do with, or after that.

OVERVIEW:  UT Arlington is a very dangerous team right now.  They started poorly but have managed to get their record over .500 and they’re playing some of the league’s best baseball.  Arkansas State could be trouble if they win their first game, because they’ve got some depth to their staff.  But this bracket is UTA’s to lose.  Right now they are very, very good.

 

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