Postseason baseball featuring your Texas Longhorns is upon us for the first time since Taylor Jungmann walked on the 40 Acres. Today at 3 PM it'll be the Longhorns versus the Texas A&M Aggies in the first matchup since a 2-1 Texas victory toward the end of the 2012 season. To honor the matchup we exchanged questions with jzimmerman11 at Good Bull Hunting. Our answers to his questions are here and you should absolutely read THE TAILGATE over there.
Back to hating the Aggies.
The 2011 squad featured Mark Payton, Nathan Thornhill, Jacob Felts and Alex Silver but that's all the postseason experience the Horns bring to the table. Texas went a respectable 38-18 on the year and were in line at one point for a high national seed. All that came crashing down after consecutive series losses to white hot Oklahoma State and TCU squads.
On paper you've got to like the matchup for Texas. They get a Texas A&M team that barely made the NCAA tournament followed by a possible matchup with a Rice team they beat two of three times this year.
Of course the injury to dillon Peters that will keep him out for the rest of the season changes just about everything for Texas. The best case is a pair of victories behind the talented Thornhill and Parker French followed by an elimination game win in the third game with Lukas Schiraldi on the mound. It's not too hard to imagine Schiraldi winning a game at Reckling Park as we've already seen it once before this year. The injury to Peters takes strategy off the table, forcing Texas to focus on the game at hand.
Texas A&M is 33-24 on the year with a losing record in the ultra competitive SEC. The Aggies were very tough to beat at home (24-12) but not quite as tough on the road (9-12). The Ags have solid series victories over Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State with the latter two coming on the road. The Aggies have respectable series losses at Arkansas and at home against Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky. There are also a pair of head scratching series losses to Auburn, Fresno State and Georgia on the road.
Texas can't match A&M's four series victories over NCAA tournament teams, but the Horns also haven't lost a series to anybody outside of the top 50 in ISR while the Aggies have lost three such series. The Ags aren't world beaters but they're a very capable team that earned their way into the tournament. Perhaps the biggest advantage Texas has today is the Aggies' propensity for digging themselves into series holes. A&M lost the first game in 9 of 10 conference series this season, suggesting they'll be most susceptible today.
In reality, either team could win today and take the regional. Either team could also go oh-for-two and head home early.
Texas A&M features nine regulars hitting .260 or better (compared to seven for Texas) and it's this balance that jumps up off the page when previewing the Ags. Nick Banks and Cole Lankford (.348 and .333) lead the way offensively but Blake Allemand has drawn a team-leading 31 walks, Krey Bratsen is 18-19 in stolen bases, and Logan Nottebrok leads the team with eight home runs in only 118 at bats. Texas pitchers will have to be sharp to keep A&M off the scoreboard. A&M has also been solid defensively, committing only seven more errors than Texas on the year.
Things look good if Texas can keep A&M under five runs. The Aggies are 10-23 when scoring five or fewer while they're 23-1 when scoring six or more.
A&M features two solid if unspectacular starting pitchers and a host of good bullpen arms. Daniel Mengden has been the workhorse for A&M the last few weeks though his record (4-8) hides a stronger body of work. Mengden has 94 Ks in 101 innings pitched with only 27 walks (and 14 HBP) for a 3.55 ERA. Grayson Long has a 6-2 record with 3.07 ERA with 52 strikeouts and only 25 walks in 85 innings. Mengden was 2-5 in SEC play as SEC hitters hit .276 while Long went 5-2 with a 4.27 ERA and .321 opponent batting average in conference.
A&M has a number of capable relievers but no clear go-to arm. AJ Minter has been A&M's most reliable guy (1.31 ERA in 24 innings).
The mandate for Texas is pretty clear: take advantage of the lack of an elite Aggie starter while pitching well and playing good defense. Texas plays its best baseball when it's competent in all three areas of the game. If one of them falters then the Horns have an impossible time beating elite competition and a tough time beating competition like Texas A&M. Texas needs to jump onto an early lead and not be satisfied with a one or two run cushion.
It'll be Texas vs Texas A&M today at 3 PM in Houston. Nathan Thornhill is on the mound for Texas against Daniel Mengden. Thornhill pitched quite a bit in the 2011 postseason, making several relief appearances and going 5.2 IP with 9 H and 4 ER.
Game is on ESPNU and LHN, full regional schedule is below and this'll be your open thread.
Friday, May 30
Game 1 - #2 Texas (38-18) vs. #3 Texas A&M (33-24), 3 p.m. CT, ESPNU
Game 2 - #1 Rice (41-18) vs. #4 George Mason (34-20), 7 p.m. CT, ESPN3
Saturday, May 31
Game 3 - Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 3 p.m.
Game 4 - Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 1
Game 5 - Loser Game 4 vs. Winner Game 3, 3 p.m.
Game 6 - Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m.
Monday, June 2 - If necessary
Game 7 - Rematch of Game 6, 6 p.m.