Fresh off a nice 2-1 series win over Baylor and a solid mid-week victory over a good Dallas Baptist team, we think it's fair to say this Longhorn baseball team is starting to click. They're hitting the baseball extraordinarily well and putting up some big innings while still executing the small ball plays that have made Augie Garrido's career. They also have four top-flight starting pitchers and a bullpen that continues to improve. Speaking of those four great starters, Sam Stafford's excellent work in mid-week games is finally paying off this weekend. He has bumped Hoby Milner from the weekend rotation (at least for one series), as Cole Green start on Saturday and Stafford takes the hill for the series finale Sunday.
The Longhorns enter the weekend tied with A&M for the conference lead. If this keeps up, the season finale in Austin/College Station will be a doozy. There's a lot of baseball to be played between now and then, though, and there's no reason to expect this year won't include yet another epic Aggie collapse down the stretch. Those are fun.
Meanwhile, Tech enters the weekend squarely in the middle of the conference pack. They're 5-7 in the Big XII and 22-13 overall, and their two presumptive weekend starters have ERAs that are...let's call them robust. How have they won five conference games with weak pitching? A pair of sophomores, Barrett Barnes and JaModrick McGruder, lead reasonably potent defensive and offensive attacks (respectively) for the Raiders. Barnes patrols center field like a hawk, greatly diminishing the size of the gaps. He also hits at a respectable .280 clip. McGruder hits .344 to lead Texas Tech, which at .297 is third in the conference in team batting average. More after the jump.
For power, the Raiders rely on McGruder, Barrett, and junior Stephen Hagen. Barrett has the most striking power numbers: despite his .280 average, his slugging percentage is way up at .531. That's because he leads the team with eight homeruns and is second with 10 doubles. Add in his one triple, and that gives you 19 of his 40 total hits for extra bases. Texas pitchers will have to be careful with Barrett--he's a classic power hitter who's as likely to strike out (he has 39 of those) as he is to get a hit, but if he gets a hold of it you're in trouble. Hagen is more in the modern mold--a guy who hits for solid average and decent power rather than the all-or-nothing style of Barrett and days of yore. Hagen hits .305 with four homeruns and 11 doubles.
All in all, much like last week's tilt against Baylor we would expect Texas to take two of three and would not be surprised with a sweep. To their credit, Tech does seem to be playing its best ball lately. They gave A&M all the Aggies wanted last weekend in Lubbock, taking game one 4-3 in extra innings and enduring a tough loss on Saturday 5-4. Their lack of a clear third starter bit them on Sunday, as the Ags touched them up in a 14-8 rubber game win. The Raiders traveled to Albuquerque this week for a midweek two-game set against UNM, which Tech swept. Still, Sunday should be a relative foregone conclusion considering Tech's pitching situation and we like Texas' chances of at least splitting any two games in which Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green are on the mound.
Video is available online for tonight's game and the rest of the weekend.
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS (via Texas Sports)
Friday, April 15, 2011 - 6 p.m. Central
Texas: RHP Taylor Jungmann (7-0, 1.10 ERA)
Texas Tech: RHP David Paiz (3-1, 5.53 ERA)
Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 2 p.m. Central
Texas: RHP Cole Green (2-2, 3.23 ERA)
Texas Tech: RHP Trey Masek (1-2, 5.05 ERA)
Sunday, April 17, 2011 - 1 p.m. Central
Texas: LHP Sam Stafford (5-0, 1.34 ERA)
Texas Tech: TBA