It has been a while since we've had one of these, but Texas baseball's engagement with Oklahoma State this weekend will be a truly meaningful regular season series for the direction of the program. There are 11 games left on the Texas schedule and 20-21 Texas has its first chance in over a month to hit .500 this weekend.
The idea of being below .500 at this point in the year and realistically thinking postseason would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the year. It would've been unthinkable 3 weeks ago that Texas would have even had the chance to make a postseason run, but here we are.
Texas will need to realistically go 8-3 at worst over the remainder of the schedule to have a chance at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. In their favor: Texas baseball has played a ridiculously tough schedule this season, is 4-3 over current Boyd's World ISR top 10 teams, and an 8-3 finish would put the Horns peaking at just the right time.
Of course Texas has an RPI of 102 right now though that would certainly improve with a strong finish. A bid wouldn't be a guarantee, but they'd have a helluva lot stronger case for an at-large bid than Texas did in 2012, 2013 and 2015 (automatic bid).
Oklahoma State comes to town ranked 30th in ISR at 25-15. The Cowboys are 9-6 in conference making this series a battle for 3rd place in the Big 12. Okie State is a hard team to figure out. On the one hand they were swept 3 weeks ago by Texas Tech at home with the closest loss being by 4 runs. Then last weekend the Cowboys took 2 of 3 from TCU with a pair of dominant wins. The Cowboys are 12-7 at home, 12-7 on the road, 1-1 at neutral sites.
Both Texas and Oklahoma State are scoring 5.4 runs per game in 2016 though the Cowboys are getting it done with way less offensive depth that the Horns. OSU has a team batting average of .251, 20 points below Texas' .271 and good for 242nd nationally. Senior Donnie Walton is the engine that makes the Oklahoma State offense go. Walton is hitting .365 on the year with a 13 game hitting streak entering this series. Over that streak Walton is hitting an insane .436 with only 4 strikeouts.
Okie State has several "3 true outcomes" players which is rare to see in the college game. Dustin Williams has 23 walks, 52 strikeouts and 9 home runs in just 140 at bats with a .214 batting average. Collin Theroux has an even more insane 61 strikeouts in 111 at bats with 20 walks and 4 homers sprinkled in. Theroux's .171 batting average is up nearly .40 points in the last 4 games thanks to 6 hits in his last 12 ABs. Ryan Sluder has only made 97 official at bats but has 28 strikeouts to go along with 9 walks, 3 homers and a .175 batting average..
Pitching depth is the one area where Oklahoma State has a clear advantage over Texas, at least on paper. Friday starter Thomas Hatch has a sparkling 1.72 ERA and is coming off a complete game shutout against TCU last weekend. The sophomore has only given up more than 2 runs once in 10 starts in 2016. The Cowboys don't have another starter of Hatch's ability, but Saturday starter Trey Cobb and Sunday Starter Jensen Elliott have been solid with flashes of greatness this year. Closer Tyler Buffett has 7 saves, a 1.90 ERA and .196 opponent batting average, so getting at the less than stellar Oklahoma State bullpen before the 9th will be the key challenge.
Texas will also have to solve its own starting pitching problem. There's no better feel-good story in college baseball than the return of Morgan Cooper, but the redshirt sophomore has only made it 6 innings in one of his weekend starts. That's fine for a Sunday starter, but Texas needs more from its Friday starter and asking as much from a guy coming off Tommy John surgery is tough.
Due to weather the Horns and Cowboys will play a double header tomorrow starting at 2:30 PM. All three games will be on LHN. Hook 'em.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS per TexasSports.com
SATURDAY 2:30 PM: UT Morgan Cooper (2-2, 4.81) vs. OSU RHP Thomas Hatch (3-1, 1.72)
SATURDAY AFTER GAME 1: UT LHP Ty Culbreth (8-2, 2.97) vs. OSU RHP Trey Cobb (4-6, 3.78)
SUNDAY 1 PM: UT RHP Kyle Johnston (2-1, 2.56) vs. OSU RHP Jensen Elliott (5-2, 3.46)