Last Monday I wrote a piece that had been brewing for a while about how Texas baseball probably needed a head coaching change. Of course the Horns went on to stomp a not-terrible UTSA team last Tuesday before taking two of three from a really good TCU squad.
Texas still has lots of issues of course which were partially on display in a 4-2 loss to Lamar on Tuesday. The defense makes spectacular plays but also fails to make the routine plays far too often. The pitching can be brilliant but walks too many hitters and lacks reliable bullpen depth. The hitting has been slightly better than recent years but still strikes out way too much.
And yet, last week feels like a whole new season for the Horns. Texas has played a top 60 team per Boyd's World in five and six weekends this season. All five midweek opponents have been in the top 125. That's a brutal schedule so far.
Texas heads to Norman this week to take on an 11-13 Oklahoma squad ranked 126 by Boyd's World. After that it's No. 206 TAMU-CC in a midweek affair followed by No. 146 Kansas State on the road.
All told Texas played 19 of 25 games against a top-60 opponent. The Horns will play just seven of their last 27 games against a current top-60 opponent and none against a current top-20 team. The Big 12 is weak this year and there's no reason Texas can't at least compete for the conference crown having already bested TCU.
The margin for error is razor thin though. Let's say Texas wins but doesn't sweep every Big 12 series. That'd be a 16-8 conference record, the best Texas has done in conference since 2011. It's a tall task, but would it is not out of the realm of possibility. If Texas does that then the Horns will finish only five games over .500 thanks to the abysmal non-conference slate. Texas also needs to do well in midweek games which are split between the theoretically easy opponents (Prairie View A&M, TAMUCC, UT Rio Grande Valley) and the non-pushovers (Texas State twice and Houston).
The Road to Omaha's next stop is in Norman, Oklahoma. Texas has lost two of the last three series against the Sooners after beating them every year since the Clinton presidency.
At 12-13-1 the Sooners have not been very good in 2016 and are coming off a sweep at the hands of Texas Tech. Sheldon Neuse has a .389 batting average with 22 walks, eight doubles, three triples and four homers. Oh, and he is 7-7 in stolen bases and carries a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings of relief work. If we were to compare any OU baseball player to Buddy Hield it would be Neuse.
Beyond that though the Sooner offense has struggled. The rest of the offense is hitting an anemic .234 and no other Sooner has 50+ at bats and a batting average over .300. OU gets on base via the walk quite a bit (4.8 BB per 9 IP) which isn't great news for a Texas pitching staff that likes to walk hitters.
Six players have started a game for Oklahoma and not one has an ERA under three. Only two of the six starters this year have ERAs under five. So if Texas is going to win this weekend it'll have to be on the mound. The Sooners walk a lot of hitters, though Saturday starter Chris Andritsos has impressively avoided that trend.
The Sooners may not have great starting pitching but their bullpen has been nails so far in 2016. Five Sooner pitchers have thrown 10+ innings this year with an ERA under 1.75.
If Texas pitches well and is patient at the plate then they can take this very winnable series. And if they can't then the joy of beating TCU will quickly subside. All three games will be on television and this'll be your open thread.
Here's the weekend rotation:
Friday - 7 PM - FS1
Saturday - 3 PM - FCSC
Sunday - 1 PM - FCSC