FAYETTEVILLE — Dangerous and offensively productive. That's the best way to describe the New Mexico Lobos, who invade Baum Stadium at 6:30 p.m. tonight for a two-game series with the No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks.
New Mexico is not the average type of opponent the Hogs (26-6, 9-3 SEC) usually bring in for a mid-week series during the middle of its SEC slate. The Lobos (21-11, 8-4 MWC) lead the Mountain West Conference after taking 2 of 3 from Brigham Young last weekend.
"This is a team you're going to see in a Regional," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Ray Birminham's Lobos. "I'm very familiar with their coach. He's a tough-minded guy. When he was on the junior college level, I recruited his players."
The Lobos won't be looking to squeak by the Hogs in either game. It's not their style. New Mexico likes to win with offense and with a line-up that's hitting .345, coming into the series, they've had success in doing just that.
"They're going to come in here and swing the bat," Van Horn said. "Their numbers are pretty gaudy. Almost their whole lineup is hitting above .300. They are going to swing the bat and try to score some runs."
New Mexico ranks fifth in the nation in doubles with 75 this season, 10th in the country in hits with 364 a are tied at 21st in the nation with 12 triples.
They are led by senior Justin Howard, who is eighth in the nation with 53 hits, tied for 16th in the nation with 14 doubles and 76th in the nation in batting average at .421. Junior Rafael Neda, who was named the Mountain West Player of the Week on Monday for his play last week against BYU, also has 11 doubles.
"We haven't played our best baseball yet," Birmingham said. "Not even close. The Young men on our team are very strong minded. They are the type of young men you want to represent your school. They are very competitive and hard-minded group."
The fact that New Mexico does not play a league series this weekend and that they have not played since Saturday gives Birmingham the option of trying to pick up a marquee win or two against the highly rated Hogs by throwing his better pitchers.
Van Horn realizes that fact, but is firmly keeping his eyes on the importance of the SEC race. D.J. Baxendale is expected to get his first start tonight, while Geoffrey Davenport should get the ball Wednesday.
"This is going to be a very tough two games for us," Van Horn said. "We'll do everything we can do to win. We don't want to burn out our whole pitching staff trying to hold them down. We're going to have to hit the ball."
They Hogs have proven that they can handle that. The Hogs are averaging 9.25 runs per game this season and are batting a husky .326 this season.
The squad is rounding out to be one of Van Horn's best-hitting and most powerful lineups in his eight seasons with the Hogs.
Injuries have forced Van Horn to juggle his defensive setup all season. The Razorbacks lost outfield Jarrod McKinney last week to torn anterior cruciate ligament. He is scheduled for surgery as soon as the swelling goes down and is out for the season.
Van Horn plugged Travis Sample into left field and moved Collin Kuhn to right field, where McKinney had been a regular.
In the infield, Arkansas' leading hitter, Zack Cox has moved from third to second. Andy Wilkins, who safely legged out what could have been a double-play ball against Mississippi State, has moved from first to third now that his hamstring pull has improved. Back-up catcher and former designated hitter Monk Kreder has taken over at first with Tim Carver continuing to man shortstop.
Despite the musical chairs, the lineup has remained offensively productive.
"They're are times where you give up some defense for offense," Van Horn said. "But this lineup can be intimidating with [center fielder/pitcher Brett] Eibner hot, Kreder hitting now, Zack Cox hitting every day and Wilkins out of his slump."
The Razorbacks' homestand extends into the weekend when the Hogs host Georgia for a three-game SEC series Friday-Sunday. Friday's first pitch has been move up to 6 p.m. to accommodate a broadcast by ESPN2. Saturday's game is set for 2:05 p.m. and Monday's for 1:05 p.m.