For months, every Burnt Orange baseball article ended with something like this: "Texas can only afford (insert number) amount of losses to keep their at large chances alive." Truth be told, we were always grabbing at only wisps of hope. Mapping a road to 30 wins was sort of like Ted Cruz supporters trying to find a path to 1,237 delegates. Sure, that Kansas win strung you along for a while, but there was never much hope of advancing to the big show. Now, the Texas Senator has dropped out and the Texas Longhorns have been swept by Oklahoma State. There are no contested conventions in the NCAA, so the 21-24 Longhorns are virtually eliminated from making the College Baseball Tournament as an at large bid.
Consider the upcoming final seven games as a preseason for the Big 12 tournament, where Texas could qualify for the NCAA’s as an automatic bid if they win the tourney for a second year in a row. And what better way to start the "Big 12 Tournament Preseason" than versus your likely first round opponent? If the Big 12 Tournament started today, Texas (9-9 B12) would play West Virginia (8-9 B12) in the four seed vs. five seed game.
The Mountaineers are probably more similar in skill to the Longhorns than any opponent Texas has played so far. Texas is ranked better by Boyd’s World (88 vs. 98) but worse in RPI (126 vs. 110). Both teams have beaten top 25 teams and both have lost to teams ranked over 200th. At 24-19, West Virginia has a better record than Texas, but the Longhorns have had a much tougher schedule. This weekend's games will be a toss-up -- a battle of mediocre teams with decent hitting and sometimes shaky pitching. However, taking any wins on the road will be difficult, especially because West Virginia has won five of their last six games.
Ultimately, the series will likely come down to pitching. The Mountaineers have an ace in their Friday starter, Chad Donato. The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association named Donato pitcher of the week for his scoreless complete game against Baylor last Friday. Donato is 2-3 with a 2.99 ERA, which isn't too menacing, but he has only surrendered a .229 batting average to opponents. The Mountaineers’ other two weekend starters are much more hittable, as their ERAs are 4.45 and 4.75.
Offensively, West Virginia’s numbers are slightly better than Texas’, but as previously mentioned, West Virginia is outside of the top 100 in strength of schedule, while Texas has hovered around the top 10. Weak schedule aside, there's no denying that Mountaineer outfielder Darius Hill is a phenomenal hitter. The Dallas native leads the team with a .337 batting average and has 21 extra base hits on the year. There isn't a ton of power in the West Virginia lineup, but both Kyle Davis and Jackson Cramer have hit six dingers.
Expect Augie Garrido to possibly shake up lineups as we enter desperation mode. Michael Cantu, who hadn’t played since April 15, hit 2-3 in Texas’ 7-0 win against Prairie View A&M this week. Maybe he could provide a surge for the team's bats, which were anemic against Oklahoma State. Texas will also need to find more bullpen depth if they want to make a run in the Big 12 Tournament. It would be a good sign if Blake Wellman, Beau Ridgeway, and other relief pitchers gained some mojo and rhythm this weekend.
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the season is now more about building Augie’s case to remain coach than it is about building the team’s resume. As commander in chief of the Longhorns, Augie has lived by the mantra "Omaha is mandatory". It’s a campaign promise that will almost certainly be unfulfilled this year. Now, some fans want Texas baseball to adopt a slogan reminiscent of the 2008 election -- "change".
The series begins tonight at 5:30 CST. You can hear it on 104.9 the Horn. Open thread in the comments-- hook 'em!