The No. 23 Longhorns look to stay hot as they welcome the Cowpokes to UFCUDFF in a weekend series that continues a nine-game home stand for Texas. Aside from a hiccup two weeks ago in losing two of three against Cal in Round Rock, the Longhorns have played roughly a month of inspired ball. As we are officially in the midseason, it is appropriate that we simply call a spade a spade at this point: this Texas team has an identity that is virtually unrecognizable based on past experience. After starting the year as a weak-hitting, decent-pitching, not-great-fielding soon-to-be also-ran (hyphens!), Texas' offense is now what wins ballgames. You no longer see the pitching matchups with laughably low ERAs on the Texas side as we did for so many years. We think those days will see a return in the near future, but with a young set of arms this group has pitched admirably without a chance of being called dominant.
But the bats are delivering lately. The team batting average has risen 69 points in 16 games and now sits at a healthy .281. In those 16 games, the team average is an astoundingly high .329. Leading the charge is a quartet of Longhorns who have brought their own season averages up over .300: Erich Weiss, Jonathan Walsh, Mark Payton, and Alex Silver. Weiss and Walsh in particular have added a steady dose of power to the mix, with .588 and .509 slugging percentages, respectively.
This is an extremely important series for Texas in the Big 12 race, and it could end up being a really tough one as well. The Longhorns are currently tied for second in the conference with a 7-2 record (behind 12-0 Baylor), but Okie State is in fourth place (albeit with a 4-5 record). Assuming Texas wins at least one this weekend they will stay ahead of the Cowboys, but with Texas A&M playing KU and Baylor playing Kansas State one has to expect both of the other front-runners will at least win their series, if not sweep. Therefore, losing the series would in all likelihood cause Texas to lose ground vis a vis at least one of their main rivals for the conference crown.
One aspect of this weekend that will strike Texas fans as odd is that every day, the OSU pitcher will enter the game with a lower ERA than his Texas counterpart. That doesn't necessarily mean they're better pitchers. But it's still a weird sight on the screen.
The other statistical feature of this series that really brings it into the twilight zone is that Texas is pretty clearly the better hitting team right now. Oklahoma State boasts only two players hitting over .300, and they're at .312 and .311. This is not a team that has put up a lot of runs against its best competition; the Pokes managed to plate 11 in game two of their sweep of Kansas last weekend, but in their six non-Jayhawk conference games they have only managed 16 total, for an average of just 2.6 runs. To the extent they hit, though, Okie State is led by those two .300+ hitters: Robbie Rea and Mark Ginther. Each has four homeruns to go along with the solid batting average. Interestingly, much of the team's scoring comes in the form of dingers: two other Cowboy hitters have four homers each as well, and the team has 20 (as compared to Texas' 11). The team can find the gaps as well, with 53 doubles on the season to Texas' 47. It's largely a feast-or-famine offense for the Pokes, and the Texas pitchers will have to keep the ball down and avoid the big inning.
Friday starter Andrew Heaney has solid numbers but was shaky in his start last weekend in Waco, going 5.1 innings and allowing four Bears runs on eight hits. However, coming into that game he had put together a string of three consecutive complete games, quite an accomplishment in this day and age. Heaney is clearly the ace of the staff, so if Texas can snag a win tonight it will set an important tone for the rest of the weekend. Here's hoping for a series victory and surprisingly good performances from the two Kansas schools.
Pitching matchups and game times are below. All three contests will be televised on the Longhorn Network. Hook 'em!
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
April 13, 2012 – 6 p.m.
Texas: RHP Nathan Thornhill (4-2, 3.81 ERA)
OSU: LHP Andrew Heaney (5-1, 2.31 ERA)
April 14, 2012 – 3 p.m.
Texas: RHP Ricky Jacquez (2-1, 6.09 ERA)
OSU: LHP Kyle Ottoson (2-4, 2.95 ERA)
April 15, 2012 – 2:30 p.m.
Texas: RHP Parker French (3-1, 3.92 ERA)
OSU: RHP Vince Wheeland (2-0, 3.62 ERA)