This Weekend in the Sun Belt
As the Cajuns get ready to host FIU in a big three-game series at "The Tigue" this weekend, there are interesting matchups around the league. This is the weekend teams get to the halfway point in conference play. There are some trends beginning to develop but anything can happen in this league. Remember, in 2010, the Cajuns were 4-8 at this very time in the league. They finished 21-9 and dogpiled in Monroe.
South Alabama (7-5) at UALR (3-9)--It wasn't that long ago South Alabama was trying to figure out how to hit the baseball. They had a team batting average around .235 as conference play begin. Well, someone has awakened the Jaguars, who are second best in swinging the bats in league games, hitting .321. So, why are they juse 7-5? Well, their pitching has struggled the last two weekends, although their 7.27 league ERA is somewhat skewed after being skewered by Middle Tennessee in the final two games of last weekend's series (18 runs given up). Meanwhile, UALR, who had some lofty numbers against a week non-conference schedule, has come down to earth. Their .239 team batting average is ninth in the league in conference games and their lack of run production (averaging just four RPG) has contributed to their five game losing streak in Sun Belt play. But UALR has pitched decently, especially with Chance Cleveland on Friday night. Look for some runs to be scored this weekend at tiny Gary Hogan Field, especially as the pitching gets deeper into the weekend.
Western Kentucky (5-7) at Arkansas State (8-4)--The Hilltoppers have to be scratching their heads after dropping two of three at Louisiana last weekend, even though their pitchers gave up only three runs in the final two games. That anemic production is why the Hilltoppers are dead last in hitting (.229) in Sun Belt games. Justin Hagemann is pitching better, Tim Bado has been really good and Taylor Haydel and Ross Hammonds have been excellent out of the pen. ASU, meanwhile has been swinging the bat well, Third baseman Claude Johnson, shortstop Dustin Jones and catcher Ryan Roberts are all in the top 15 in hitting in conference games. But after Jacob Lee, their pitching has struggled, although John Koch has been really good in the pen. We'll see this weekend if WKU can muster some offense in a park designed to break the hearts of hitters.
Florida Atlantic (10-2) at ULM (4=8)--Want to know why the Owls have a two game lead in the league? In league play, they're first in homers (16), second in runs scored (6.0), first in team ERA (2.94) and tops in defense (.983). They've missed Kevin Alexander the last two weekends and that's a concern, but their bullpen has been awfully good and Austin Gomber and Ryan Garton are solid starters. ULM is playing better because they're starting to hit a little bit. Their .263 conference batting average is twenty points highter than they hit in pre-conference. Shortstop Jeremy Sy is one of the Sun Belt's hottest hitters. They've moved Randy Zeigler to Saturday after he took four losses pitching on Friday. That's helped them. They won a series agaisnt Arkansas State last weekend then gave Baylor all they wanted in two mid-week games.
Middle Tennessee (8-4) at Troy (3-9)--Middle Tennessee looks poised to make a move after taking two of three at South Alabama last weekend. But despite being in the top three in the league in major categories (first in hitting, second in pitching, third in defense), MT still finds itself two games behind FAU, mainly because they haven't been able to put three performances in a row together. They'll have a chance to do that this weekend against a staggering Troy team that's having trouble getting anyone out. Tyler Ray (3-4) is becoming ordinary and the rest of the staff has contributed to the worst ERA in the league in Sun Belt games (7.27) Boone Shear and Logan Pierce are getting it done offensively, but there are a lot of holes in the lineup. This t