There's a lot to like about this year's Longhorn baseball team. They're anchored in the rotation by two frontline starters. The lineup is positively loaded. Randy Boone, who struggled early in the year, has established himself as a go-to reliever. What's more, the Longhorns are playing some pretty darn good baseball this season. They're now 28-10 overall, 9-3 in the Big 12, and 11-6 away from the Disch.
Is Texas set up for a run to Omaha?
Well, yes and no. On the one hand, this team hits the ball like the Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s. On the other hand, outside Alaniz, Russell, and Boone, the Texas pitching staff has been pedestrian. Augie's desperately been seeking a reliable third starter to fill in behind his two horses (Joseph Krebs may be the solution here, but his K-rate is worrisome) as well as a reliable set of relievers to assist Boone (who has now amassed 40 2/3 innings pitched on the year).
There are two other things that worry me about this team, and both have to do with the way Coach Garrido is managing. As has become an annual complaint of mine, the number of sacrifice bunts Garrido calls for is positively criminal. Sacrifice bunting as a tactical play in a late-inning situation when you're playing for one run is fine, but Garrido calls for them almost willy-nilly. Most annoyingly, he's doing it with what is perhaps the best hitting team he's had at the 40 Acres. The team is slugging a ridiculous .532 on the season, with seven regulars all over .480, and he just bunt-bunt-bunts away, as though the team can't plate the damn runs if he doesn't move the runner over. I love Coach Garrido for a lot of reasons, but I hate this about him. Absolutely hate it. And with a team like this, which relies a lot on scoring big, it's potentially devastating.
The other thing I can't figure out is why Garrido continues to bat Preston Clark fifth in the lineup. This weekend, Clark (.279/.348/.478) batted fifth while Prince (.400/465/.480) batted eighth on Thursday, ninth on Friday, and eighth on Saturday. Russel Moldenhauer (.308/.410./.492) batted eighth on Friday and seventh on Saturday.
It's not like Clark is just slumping, either. The sophomore catcher hit .273/.332/.417 last season, so it's pretty clear what kind of hitter he is (at least at this point in his career). Clark's certainly not a bad hitter to have, but there's absolutely no justification for batting him fifth. In the grand scheme of things, lineup construction is a pretty minor point, but it still pays to be sensible, especially when there are some incredibly appealing alternatives.
While both of these points aren't back breakers on their own, they make me worry that Garrido fundamentally misunderstands the strengths of this team. In reality, it's difficult to imagine Garrido doesn't know the strengths of this particular club, but it's bothersome that he still manages the group the exact same way he did the 2005 team (which was heavily dependent on pitching and defense). Play for the big inning already, Augie!
As for the bullpen, well. . . it's hard to know what to say. Garrido doesn't trust anybody other than Randy Boone. I don't necessarily blame him, but one can't help but wonder how much Boone will have left in the tank by time it comes time for postseason play.
This Texas team has the ingredients to be a special, Omaha-bound team, but there are a host of small problems which need to be resolved sooner rather than later to avoid a disappointment.