The Texas Longhorns have turned it on just in time for the conference season, and after taking two of three from Kansas State over the weekend they are 5-1 in the Big 12 and back in the national polls where they belong. We were pretty critical of the Longhorns' offensive performance a couple of weeks ago when the team batting average hovered below the Menodza Line and it seemed this team was destined to win only those games in which they could hold their opponents under three runs. So now that the team--or at least enough members of it--has picked up the pace and started hitting the baseball a little bit, it is incumbent on us to sing their praises.
The most dulcet tones are reserved for a specific pair: Jonathan Walsh and Erich Weiss. Walsh has exploded here lately, bringing his season batting average up to an excellent .360 with six doubles. The only issue he continues to display is too many strikeouts and not enough walks, but that's nitpicking considering his performance lately. In Sunday's rubber game, Walsh went 4-for-5 and drove in three of Texas's eight runs in the Longhorns' 8-5 victory. He smoked a pair of doubles and two singles in the effort, leading the Texas offensive attack and pacing the team to 16 hits on the day.
Meanwhile, Weiss has also come on strong. He currently sports the third-best batting average on the team at .317(keep in mind that a couple of weeks ago the third best batting average on the team was barely .200), but the best thing Weiss has brought to the table has been a level of power this team was lacking and sorely needed. His slugging percentage on the young season has ballooned up to .561, and with an excellent OBP of .436--higher even that Walsh's despite Walsh having over 40 batting average points on him--it is probably Weiss who is the most valuable Longhorn hitter at the moment. He leads the team in home runs with three, is tied with Jordan Etier for the lead in triples (also three), and comes in just behind Walsh with five doubles. Weiss's ability to find the gaps (and occasionally put it over the wall) is huge for this Texas team and he showed his value in the series finale with a 3-for-4 performance. Oh, and of those three hits one was a triple and another was a dinger. So yeah, that's a pretty solid day of work.
The vast offensive improvement doesn't stop with the W Brothers, though. The aforementioned Jordan Etier is on the hottest hitting streak of his career. Normally a liability at the plate, Etier has brought his season numbers up to very solid footing--with a .291 batting average and solid-if-unspectacular .388 OBP to go with those three triples. Perhaps more importantly, Etier seems to have figured out how to hit in the clutch. He has racked up 11 RBI despite often hitting in the two spot in the order, where RBI opportunities tend to be somewhat rare.
Indeed, the whole lineup is contributing to the sudden burst of offense. Whereas two weeks ago several regular players were hitting under .200, now only one is (Kevin Lusson, who has actually made only 15 appearances in22 games). As a team, Texas is not hitting a very respectable .263--and, more importantly, getting on base at a .363 clip. That means Texas averages roughly a baserunner for every two outs, which is a great formula for scoring runs. In winning eight of their last nine games, the Longhorns have scored the following run totals: 3, 6, 7, 9, 9, 9, 2, 6, 8. That's seven of the last nine in which they have scored over five runs, and they even managed to win the one where they scored only three. In short, this appears to be a team hitting its stride from the batter's box--and the pitching has not slacked off during the offensive resurgence. If this trend can continue, Texas' slow start will be long forgotten by the time the Road to Omaha comes around.
The Longhorns look to continue this great run Wednesday night against UT-Pan Am, followed by the Cal Golden Bears visiting Austin for a four-game series this weekend (with a Saturday double header). Hook 'em!