OK, so TCU is not technically the "Big 12's top team." They are, in point of fact, in fourth place and only one slot ahead of the Longhorns. A series win in Fort Worth would actually propel Texas ahead of the Frogs in the conference standings. But according to the RPI, TCU is the highest-ranked team in the conference at #8 nationally and they are a consensus top-10 squad in the human polls as well.
Part of the reason their Big 12 status doesn't match the national reputation is a shocking road series loss at Kansas State two weeks ago, in their last conference series. After being utterly dominant on the mound for most of the year, the Horned Frogs gave up 14 earned runs on 18 hits in the opener in Manhattan and then dropped the Sunday rubber game 6-2 as well.
TCU has recovered nicely, winning five straight since the Kansas State series (three against Santa Clara and one each against Incarnate Word and UT Arlington). And the thing about baseball is, any team can beat any other team in a three-game series. The fact is, a look at the season stats shows why TCU is held in such high regard and why Texas has its work very much cut out for it this weekend.
First, the Horned Frogs are consistently good at the plate. Only one starter hits below .250, and team leader Connor Wanhanen--who, it should be noted, is a freshman--is sniffing Ted Williams territory at .397. Wanhanen is remarkable for an eighteen-year-old, in that he not only hits .397 but has struck out a team-low 17 times, while drawing 11 walks for a .466 OBP. He's on base nearly half the times he steps to the plate.
But the story all year for TCU has been the pitching staff. Lefty Tyler Alexander takes the hill tonight against Texas' Parker French, and he's the only starter Texas will face this weekend with an ERA over 2. To be exact, the ERA is 2.92. And while that number isn't especially intimidating, this one is: over 49.1 innings, Alexander has struck out 43 hitters and walked only three. THREE WALKS I can't even.
Saturday brings righty Preston Morrison (1.81 ERA, 64.2 IP, 52 K, 11 BB) and Sunday the Horns will see lefty Alex Young (1.67 ERA, 54 IP, 56 K, 12 BB). So, all Young is doing is averaging more than a strikeout per inning.
If Texas is going to right the ship and make a case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, this is the weekend to start. The Longhorns have won three of their last four and the bats have shown signs of life in the last two contests; if they can take two of three in Fort Worth, there is reason for hope. If they manage to snag only one win, we can at least delay giving up the dream for another few days. A sweep at the Horned Frogs' webbed hands, though? That's the end of the road for all intents and purposes.
Tonight's game is at 6:30 on Fox Sports Southwest Plus; tomorrow is at 4 PM on Fox Sports Southwest; and Sunday's capstone is at 1 PM back on the Plus. This is your open thread. Hook 'em!