We've now reached the halfway point in the college baseball season. Following early struggles against New Mexico, Texas has rebounded to win each of the next six weekend series. This weekend's sweep over Oklahoma was the most impressive effort of the year for the Longhorns, thoroughly dominating a ranked conference opponent on the road. Moreover, the series highlighs Texas' dominance over its alleged rivals. Bill Clinton was President the last time Oklahoma took a series over Texas, and George Bush was President the last time Oklahoma took a game. Advantage: Texas.
Four points relating to the season as a whole became pretty clear this weekend:
- Augie is working hard to define bullpen roles. Chance Ruffin is the closer, the 9th inning is his. Sure, Augie could've given Ruffin a rest on Friday, and Stayton Thomas or Hoby Milner could've finished off Oklahoma in the 9th on Saturday. Thomas is the stopper, he will get his chances. Milner appears destined for long relief. Andrew McKirahan will be the lefty specialist. Each player has his job in the bullpen, and Ruffin's job is to end games. Unless the game is 18-0 it'll probably be Ruffin going in the 9th inning. His pitch count this weekend was 53 pitches spread out over three days, and he has thrown only 30 innings through half the season (after throwing 125 last season). These weekends are good practice for a potential Super Regional or CWS schedule where he may be called on to pitch several times on short rest.
- Much like Preston Clark last year, the hot hand will get the third outfield spot. Connor Rowe rejoined the Texas starting lineup this weekend and responded with five hits in seven at-bats. Rowe brings excellent defense to the Texas lineup, so he will probably play as long as he is hitting. Jonathan Walsh looked like he was poised to take the starting spot before a 1-13 slump put him back on the bench. Should Rowe start slumping again then Walsh and former starter Kyle Lusson will get another chance back in the lineup. Hopefully one of those three will be hitting well in late May, and whichever guy is playing better will be roaming the outfield in the postseason.
- The Big XII is pretty mediocre after all. Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Kansas State all played very well in nonconference games. The Aggies are 2-5-1 since starting conference play 2-0, you may be familiar with Oklahoma's recent struggles, and Kansas State (playing the 140th toughest schedule) is coming off a series loss to Texas Tech. Kansas has gone 7-6-1 since taking a series at LSU, OSU hasn't exactly torn it up against the 200th ranked schedule in the country, and none of the other teams in the conference stick out. Texas A&M and KSU are conceivably still in the hunt to host a regional, but neither will have a prayer of doing so if the first three Big XII weekends are an indicator of things to come.
- Brandon Workman is the best Sunday starter in the conference, and maybe the country. The stark disparity between throwing Brandon Workman and some schlub was once again on display on Saturday. Few college teams (really just Texas and UCLA) bring three pitchers to the table that legitimately could start any night of the week. When Sunday comes around, most teams have thrown their best arms and the guy they are putting on the mound is pitching on Sunday for a reason. The Texas hitters have proven capable of teeing on this type of pitching, and Saturday's 9 run outburst was no exception. Since dropping the New Mexico Sunday game, Texas hitters have scored: 8, 8, 18, 13, 17 and 9 runs on Sunday (or Saturday in this case). This is no fluke. Of course Workman's improvement as a starter has been critical as well. Brandon started as the Sunday starter last season and pitched 16 scoreless innings in his first two starts against pretty poor competition (including a no-no against Penn State). Three of Workman's first four starts last season went more than seven innings with no earned runs, but then the wheels came off. Workman didn't go more than five innings after his fourth start of 2009 and wasn't a weekend starter by the end of the year. Through seven starts against significantly tougher competition this season Workman hasn't gone less than five innings, has gone eight innings three times, and most importantly, has retired hitters with consistency all year. The result: six straight Sunday blowouts.