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Arizona State aiming for return trip to Omaha

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Arizona State got through the Tempe Regional last week with little competition.

The Sun Devils certainly will receive a stiffer test from Arkansas this weekend, but will they deviate from the plan of returning to the College World Series? Likely not.

The Sun Devils are playing a fantastic brand of baseball and enter the weekend with a stellar offense and pitching staff. Arkansas, meanwhile, needs to keep third baseman Zack Cox healthy and have its pitching staff rise to the occasion.

We take an inside look at the Tempe Super Regional.

Tempe Super Regional: Who has the edge?
Pitching

Both the Razorbacks and Sun Devils enter the series with some fantastic arms, but ASU has the more complete pitching staff.

The Devils enter the series with a 3.10 ERA, while the Razorbacks enter the series with a 3.92 ERA.

For the Sun Devils, keep a close eye on starting pitchers Seth Blair, Merrill Kelly and Jake Borup in addition to stud relievers Brady Rodgers, Jordan Swagerty and Mitchell Lambson.

Blair is 12-0 with a 3.06 ERA in 97 innings. He has struck out 98 and walked 22, and opponents are hitting him at a .261 clip. Kelly is 10-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 92 innings. Teams are hitting just .238 against him. Borup, meanwhile, has a 4.08 ERA in 81 2/3 innings. Teams are hitting him at a .262 clip.

In the bullpen, Rodgers has appeared in 20 games and has a 1.96 ERA in 69 innings. Swagerty has appeared in 32 games and has a 2.05 ERA in 30 2/3 innings, and Lambson has appeared in 36 games and has a 2.26 ERA in 63 2/3 innings.

For the Razorbacks, starting pitcher and left-hander Drew Smyly definitely is the most intriguing pitcher to watch. Smyly has made 13 starts and has a 2.56 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. He also has struck out 108 and walked 33, and teams are hitting him at just a .218 clip.

Also keep an eye on veteran Mike Bolsinger, who serves as a starter and reliever at times and has a 4.77 ERA in 83 innings. Bolsinger also has struck out 75 and walked 22, and teams are hitting him at just a .253 clip.

Arkansas' pitching staff must rise to the occasion to win this series.

Hitting

It's almost a tradition that Arizona State has a productive offense.

We can't remember the last time the Sun Devils didn't have a solid offense. ASU enters the super regional series with an impressive .341 batting average. Arkansas, meanwhile, enters the series with a .308 batting average.

For the Sun Devils, keep an eye on Riccio Torrez, Zack MacPhee, Johnny Ruettiger, Drew Maggi and Kole Calhoun.

Torrez is hitting .404 with 27 doubles, nine homers and 51 RBIs. MacPhee is hitting .394 with eight doubles, 14 triples, nine homers and 63 RBIs. Ruettiger is hitting .362 with four homers and 35 RBIs. Maggi is hitting .343 with 10 doubles, three triples, four homers and 37 RBIs, and Calhoun is hitting .325 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs.

For the Razorbacks, keep an eye on Zack Cox, Collin Kuhn, Brett Eibner, Bo Bigham and Andy Wilkins.

Cox is a fantastic hitter who must stay healthy this weekend. He is hitting a team-best .427 with 12 doubles, nine homers and 48 RBIs. Kuhn is hitting .348 with 18 doubles, 16 homers and 52 RBIs. Eibner is hitting .337 with 21 homers and 69 RBIs. Bigham is hitting .306 with three homers and 28 RBIs, and Andy Wilkins is hitting .276 with 15 homers and 69 RBIs.

It will be interesting to see how the two offensive lineups fare this weekend.

Fielding

Arizona State has a huge edge on paper if this series comes down to which team plays better defense this weekend.

For the Sun Devils, first baseman Riccio Torrez has a .991 fielding percentage. Second baseman Zack MacPhee has a .965 fielding percentage. Shortstop Drew Maggi has a .961 fielding percentage. Third baseman Raoul Torrez has a .948 fielding percentage, and catcher Austin Barnes has a .986 fielding percentage.

Overall, the Sun Devils have a solid .975 fielding percentage.

By comparison, Arkansas enters the series with a .965 fielding percentage.

For the Hogs, first baseman Andy Wilkins has a .979 fielding percentage. Second baseman Bo Bigham has a .959 fielding percentage. Shortstop Tim Carver has a .939 fielding percentage. Third baseman Zack Cox has a .912 fielding percentage, and catcher James McCann has a .994 fielding percentage.

The Hogs are a little better defensively than their numbers indicate. However, their defense still is not on the same level as that of Arizona State.

Intangibles

This will be coach Tim Esmay's first hurrah as head coach in a super regional, but he certainly knows what to expect in the postseason.

Esmay and the Sun Devils had no trouble in the Tempe Regional last weekend and enter the Arkansas series with a plethora of confidence.

Arizona State has played an exceptional brand of baseball the entire season and enters super regional action with an amazing 34-3 mark at home.

The Devils have the experience needed to return to the College World Series. They also have a home crowd that likely will help them through any potential tough times this weekend.

ASU leads the intangibles department.