On the surface, Ole Miss' 8-6 loss to Arkansas State on Tuesday night appears to be a crippling late-season stumble for a team desperate to improve its postseason resume. The Rebs are in a dog fight with South Carolina to earn the last of the top eight national seeds (a designation that would allow them to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tourney), and a hiccup during the last midweek game of the year against a sub-.500 A-State team with an RPI ranked 145 has the #FireBianco crowd riled up on Twitter.
It's less than ideal timing, sure. But within the scope of an entire season, it's not that big of a deal.
The key is that this game was in Jonesboro, not Oxford. Since 2013, the baseball RPI formula has weighted home losses more than road losses (home Ls count 1.3 points against the RPI, compared to 0.7 for road Ls). According to Warren Nolan's Live RPI, Tuesday night's game dropped Ole Miss just one spot to sixth. South Carolina, which won its midweek game at home against a Citadel team with an RPI over 250, stayed put at No. 7.
It should also be noted that the Rebs' non-con RPI (No. 5) is still 13 spots above Carolina's.
What matters is this weekend's regular season finale series on the road against Texas A&M, the No. 4 team in the RPI and unanimous No. 2 in the major top 25 polls. I said coming into the week that I thought the Rebs' only chance for a national seed was to take two of three in College Station, and the loss to A-State doesn't change that. Win a series against the Aggies and no one gives a damn about some midweek loss in Jonesboro. Lose the series and it doesn't matter anyway: South Carolina is currently a half game better than Ole Miss in the SEC and swept the Rebs in Oxford earlier this season.
The Gamecocks close the regular season in Tuscaloosa. If they drop a couple and the Rebs win in Aggieland, Ole Miss is probably in regardless of Tuesday's loss.
The only thing from the A-State game worth worrying about is the starting pitching. Mike Bianco tried to dust off Sean Johnson (who's barely thrown since being yanked from the weekend rotation a month ago) and he gave up three runs in just 1.0 inning pitched. Ole Miss doesn't know who its third starter is, much less its fourth. After the James McArthur experiment fizzled out against Kentucky, Chad Smith will be back in the Game 3 role against A&M. If he bombs out, Bianco heads into the SEC Tournament without a single reliable starter behind Brady Bramlett and David Parkinson.