We're just past the halfway point in Texas' baseball season and only now getting into our first Texas Baseball Report. That's unfortunate, but between March Madness and an abnormally busy schedule, there's just not been enough time to write about baseball as much as I'd like to.
Texas opened the 2007 season 3-4, dropping two of three to both San Diego and Long Beach State (with a 9-4 win over UT-Arlington in between). The 'Horns outscored their opponents 44-37 during that stretch, but wound up on the wrong side of three one-run games. It was clear - even at that early stage - that Texas had as good an offensive team as Augie Garrido has had since he arrived on the 40 Acres, but improvement was needed from the pitching staff for this team to become an elite one.
The good news was that Texas didn't need a lot of improvement from the pitchers; they just needed some. The improvement has come, and since the 3-4 start, the Longhorns have outscored their opponents 186-79 while going 20-4.
Let's' start our look at this year's 'Horns by noting how much better they're performing statistically than the '06 team.
You don't need to be a sabermetrician to see why Texas is so much better so far this season. The most important difference on offense is Texas' significant spike in power. While the batting average boost may be difficult to sustain over the course of the season, it's clear that Texas' extra-base potential is immensely improved over last season. The Longhorns are racking up extra-base hits at a ridiculous pace, so even if the average cools a bit, they're going to keep plating runs.
On the pitching side, the strikeout rate has dipped a touch, but the walk rate is significantly down - a terrific sign. Putting runners on base for free is the easiest way to rack up a lot of earned runs quickly, and if the Longhorn pitchers can continue to keep the free passes at a minimum, they'll continue to find success.
The last thing I'll point out in today's report is the All American performance Texas is getting from three of its players - Bradley Suttle, Kyle Russell, and Adrian Alaniz.
Suttle is hitting an ungodly .432 with 8 home runs, 38 RBI and a .746 slugging percentage. Russell, meanwhile, leads the NCAA with 16 home runs and his line of .375/.489/.942 is simply offf the charts. What's an opposing pitcher to do? When a team has one terrifying bat, you can pitch around him, but Texas has two - not to mention a supporting cast of strong hitters around the pair. If it's offense you love, this is your Texas team.
And what of Alaniz? The junior righty is sporting a 1.89 ERA through nearly 48 innings pitched, has allowed just one home run (and seven extra-base hits total) on the year, and has an outstanding 45:12 K:BB ratio. He's plunked five batters on the year, but that's pretty much the only knock on his near-perfect pitching line this season. Alaniz sits at 7-1 on the year and seems to be improving as the season wears on. Assuming his improvement sticks, Texas has its frontline starter for Omaha.
All told, everything is shaping up extraordinarily well for the 2007 Longhorns. Next week, we'll take a look at the bullpen, perhaps this team's only Achilles Heel.
Friday, March 30th, 6:05 p.m. - TEXAS: James Russell (5-2, 2.89) OKLAHOMA: Stephen Porlier (5-1, 3.07)
Saturday, March 31, 2:00 p.m. - TEXAS: Adrian Alaniz (7-1, 1.89) OKLAHOMA: Heath Taylor (5-0, 2.06)
Sunday, April 1, 1:00 p.m. - TEXAS: Joseph Krebs (4-0, 2.48) OKLAHOMA: TBA