Way back in February we presented our keys to the upcoming season. They were: pitch well, defend better, and get a few hits in between (brilliant, eh?). But the regular season went about as well as could be imagined. This team pitches as well as championship-caliber teams in 2002, 2004 and 2005 and much better than the previous 3 years.
1) Will the pitching be amazing, good, or the same as '08?
Much, much, much improved. Not just improved, but deep too. Chance Ruffin has gotten hit hard at times but has been incredibly consistent as the Friday starter. Taylor Jungmann and Austin Dicharry have been better than advertised, Cole Green and Brandon Workman give the Horns incredible starting pitching depth, and Austin Wood has been Street/Cox-esque. Few teams have the Horns depth in the bullpen or starting pitching. This, in theory, should win the Horns a lot of games, particularly at the spacious UFCUDFF.
2) Where will the offense come from?
This team is actually within .005 of the 2004 and 2005 squads in terms of BA. The offense's BA has improved 20 points in the last six weeks and has been pretty good with a few exceptions, which is a part of baseball. Kevin Keyes has been alternately extremely hot and cold, Brandon Belt has been consistently solid, Michael Torres has been swinging a hot bat, and freshman Kevin Lusson has shown flashes of brilliance of late. The offense has struggled at times though and getting hits/runs remains the biggest question mark heading into the postseason.
3) Will the infield defense be better?
82 errors. That's how many errors the Horns had in 2008. This season? 38. Ironically Michael Torres playing a relatively decent 3B has made room for freshman Brandon Loy to move to SS, a position we don't imagine he'll vacate so long as he's on the 40 Acres. Loy is about as smooth a defender as we've ever seen at the college ranks. Connor Rowe has been phenomenal-fielding CF, a big concern entering the year. Kevin Keyes makes RF a tad more exciting than it needs to be at times but he has made very few mistakes.
4) Where will Russell Moldenhauer and Preston Clark contribute?
This question might have just dropped the "where" for much of the season. Moldy had a huge single to put the Horns ahead for good on Friday against A&M and Preston has provided some much-needed relief for Cameron Rupp. While neither player has been an everyday player, they provide important depth if anything should happen in the post season.
Some keys to consider for the postseason:
1) Texas will probably face elimination at least once in the first two rounds.
Texas cruised in 2004 but has faced elimination during the regional each year since. The Horns responded in 2005 but haven't since. Hopefully this year changes things.
Workman or Green will probably go tomorrow, with Ruffin and Jungmann following. Who will go first in a regional against a 4-seed though? Our guess is Ruffin will go second against the 2 or 3 seed. Ruffin would seemingly be first in a superregional if it comes to that, and we wouldn't mind keeping Jungmann on Sunday because that gives the Horns a nice advantage due to their starting depth. We shall see though.
4) Who's it gonna be in left field?
This seemed unthinkable up until a few weeks ago, but Tant Shephard has fallen off the map. Hernandez adds a nice bat but an uncertain glove while Tim Maitland adds a nice glove but an uncertain bat. We may see some shifting around over the next two weekends in this position.
5) Who's on third?
Kevin Lusson is hitting .370, Michael Torres has a hot bat. We don't know a ton about Lusson at 3B defensively but know Torres brings an alright glove. Our guess is Torres stays at 3B with Lusson DHing, but he gives great depth.