The season is only halfway done, but the results for the Big 12 through non-conference and one conference series are startling to say the least.
Texas leads the conference in Boyd's World's ISR, my favorite ranking system, despite its series loss to Kansas. The Horns were pegged as the preseason 4th best team in conference by the coaches, so their strong pre-conference start shouldn't shock anybody. Three other conference teams rank in the top 41 in ISR, the surprisingly strong Texas Tech (18th), West Virginia (31st) and Kansas (41st), three clubs who were predicted to finish 7th, 8th and 9th in the conference respectively.
All of this can (and will) change in conference play, but it's very interesting to see the conference shake up so differently than the coaches foresaw this winter.
Texas beat a solid Texas State club 5-1 on Tuesday, getting five hits from Mark Payton and Ben Johnson. Texas also hit its first home homer of the season and saw Lukas Schiraldi make his second straight excellent midweek start (7+ IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 1 ER, 5 K). The victory makes Augie the winningest head coach at any level in college baseball, so congrats to him!
With that out of the way, let's take a look at Texas Tech. The Horns travel to Lubbock for a three game series that'll see two of the games on national television (Friday on Fox College Sports, Sunday on Fox Sports Southwest). The Red Raiders are 21-7 and will be a tough challenge for a Texas squad that desperately needs a conference series win. A road series loss to a quality opponent wouldn't be the end of the world under normal circumstances, but considering what the Horns have done over their last 12 series makes this series all the more important. A loss would give Texas almost no room for error in the remaining six conference series and just about destroy my psyche.
Tech has been fantastic this season except when they haven't been. When Tech hasn't been fantastic they've been terrible. The great American lyricist Katy Perry must have had Lubbock on her mind when she penned "Cause you're hot then you're cold."
The Red Raiders won a series to open the year versus an ice cold Indiana squad that is supposed to be pretty good. They then got walloped by Sam Houston State and Houston by a combined score of 19-6 over two games in the Houston College Classic (the Houston game was close until the 8th though). That was immediately followed by quality wins over Rice and New Mexico. Tech played two games against Stephen F Austin (ISR 151) ten days ago, winning 20-4 on Tuesday before losing Wednesday's game 6-3.
This past weekend Texas Tech traveled to play TCU. The Red Raiders lost game the Friday night game 9-0 before winning Saturday and Sunday by a combined 22-2.
Perhaps what is so impressive about Tech's series win last weekend is the way they did it. Tech fell behind early in all three games and got 11.2 innings pitched from starters Dominic Moreno, Cameron Smith and Chris Sadberry. The bullpen responded in a big way, however, giving up just a pair of runs over 13.2 innings of relief over the weekend.
In that respect, last weekend's series against TCU was a pretty good summation of the Tech squad and particularly the depth of their pitching staff. Tech's starters are averaging just over 5 innings a start, giving way to an excellent bullpen early and often. In other words, if Texas can get to the Tech starters early they'll be at a major advantage.
Tech regularly plays four guys hitting between .300 and .330. They walk at a good clip (11% of total ABs) and don't strike out a ton (14% of total ABs). From a pure statistical standpoint, Tech's offense looks a lot like we'd hope Texas would look like if they didn't play at UFCUDFF. Their .289 team average is a bit better but they don't hit a ton of home runs (9 on the year) though they've got some good power (38th nationally in slugging). Smart at bats, score a few runs and let your pitching staff carry you to victories.
This one won't be an easy win for Texas, but it's one the Horns would win if they truly are a different team than the one that's graced the 40 Acres the last two years.
Friday night's game is at 6:30 and the other two will start at 2 PM. Texas will throw Peters, French and Thornhill this weekend.
This'll be your Friday night open thread. Hook 'em.