The No. 9 seed Texas Longhorns dominated their regional group and launched an impressive comeback in their 2-1 series against the No. 8 seed East Carolina Pirates in the Greenville Super Regional last weekend.
After dropping the first game 13-7, they eked out the second game 9-8 on a walk-off single by pinch hitter Dylan Campbell that allowed first baseman Ivan Melendez to score. Their third game in the series was an impressive 11-1 bout featuring homers from Melendez, shortstop Trey Faltine, and catcher Silas Ardoin, as well as a dominant performance from Tristan Stevens on the mound with a WHIP of 1.33 on the game.
Texas continues to move forward to Omaha — this is familiar territory as the Longhorns make their 38th appearance in the 75th College World Series, the most by any other team by a large margin (Miami comes in second with 25 appearances). Their bracket includes Notre Dame, who pulled off an amazing upset against No. 1 Tennessee, and our age-old rivals, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma. Before Texas kicks off with their first game against Notre Dame at 6pm on Friday, let’s take a deep dive into how the postseason momentum has affected these four teams.
Texas batting never seemed to really struggle through their series against East Carolina. Even in the opening game loss, they still managed to hit three doubles and four home runs for a combined OPS of 1.142. Texas then hit for an OPS of 1.044 and 1.018 in their subsequent wins.
Center fielder Douglas Hodo III (BA = .400), right fielder/second baseman Murphy Stehly (.500), and left fielder Eric Kennedy (.417) all played phenomenally well and went a combined 18-37 through the three games. Even the bottom-performing trio of the rotation, Campbell, Faltine, and Melendez, who all had a BA of .250, were still able to contribute effectively with a combined four home runs and a double.
These next few graphs display each team’s dissected OPS (OBP and SLG plotted separately) for each game this year. The standout points are each of their postseason games with the opponents they played labeled next to them. The aim of this visualization is to see which way each team is trending from their regular season to postseason performances.
Let’s start with the bad news. The Texas games through the Big 12 Tournament were some of their worst batting performances, and the Big 12 championship included an OBP of just .212 and an SLG of .267. Their regular-season games against Oklahoma and Texas A&M were below-average performances for Texas as well. On the upside, Texas has seemed to take advantage of their most recent opponents in the regional and super regional games. These games lean towards some of their best performances and could be a symptom of a hot streak that the Horns can carry forward. Notre Dame doesn’t possess the same pitching depth as some of the Big 12 rivals, and Texas could hope to retain their solid batting numbers through the next game.
Notre Dame’s regular season OPS of .840 is already a subpar metric among the teams remaining, and their combined OPS through their postseason games has dropped to .753 before their games against Tennessee. The two wins against the Volunteers can be most likely attributed to unexpectedly phenomenal slugging compared to their games against other ranked teams this season. Maybe the Fighting Irish have a knack for playing up to the giants they face in the tournament, but if their batting on Friday looks like most of their other postseason games, the Longhorns stand a good chance to keep them scoreless early on.
Besides their first game against Texas this season, a 7-1 loss on April 1st, Oklahoma has been able to deliver time and time again. They seem to be riding their high of their Big 12 Tournament title with frighteningly brilliant batting numbers in their regional and super regional games. In those games, they have an average OBP of .389 an SLG of .540, making for an OPS of .929. The only exception to this run is their 7-2 loss to Florida. Through their three-game series against Virginia Tech, they went a combined 35-for-108, boasting a team BA of .324. The Sooners are slugging as if they have a chip on their shoulder for not receiving a national seed. Their best hitters include shortstop Peyton Graham, first baseman Blake Robertson, catcher Jimmy Crooks, and outfielder Tanner Tredaway, who have, incredibly, combined for 11 doubles, a triple, and 12 home runs through the postseason.
The Aggies have boosted their OPS through this postseason from .850 to a whopping 1.021. Granted, their games against Louisville boasted extremely low OBP relative to what they typically produce. In both of those wins they only went a combined 16-for-68, but their leads came in the late innings which could spell trouble for a weak Texas relief pitcher rotation in a potential matchup. Their best sluggers consist of outfielder Dylan Rock, first baseman Jack Moss, designated hitter Austin Bost, and second baseman Ryan Targac, who have combined for five doubles and six home runs in the postseason.
I wanted to dive into how the impact pitchers for each team have trended individually throughout this season. Bullpen depth plays a big role in determining whether teams can shut down their opponents early as well as provide relief help against teams like A&M or Arkansas who tend to conjure up late-game comebacks. We know some of these guys have boasted tremendous numbers on the season, but how have they fared in these most recent games with seasons and even college careers on the line.
The table shows each pitcher’s regular-season WHIP, postseason WHIP, their percent change in improvement or deterioration, and how many innings they have on their belt through the postseason. Granted, players who play phenomenally well get a little more slack on their numbers sliding compared to pitchers who float closer to the middle of the pack.
Left-handed starters Pete Hansen and Lucas Gordon have continued to pitch exceptionally well, with their numbers only falling slightly, while right-hander Tristan Stevens has actually stepped up, showing up in a couple of great saves in recent games. Though there is a small sample size, right-hander Travis Sthele has blossomed slightly into the pitcher I believed he could be and is possibly showcasing a new ceiling for the postseason and even next year. Left-hander Luke Harrison and right-hander Aaron Nixon’s numbers have dipped drastically with Nixon not even recording a single out during his time on the mound. Right-hander Andre Duplantier has been utilized surprisingly as we haven’t seen him get much playing time since the start of the season.
Notre Dame has two phenomenal starters in left-hander John Bertrand and right-hander Austin Temple and their two solid relief pitchers lie in left-hander Jack Findlay, and right-hander Liam Simon. Findlay closed strong against Georgia Southern, Texas Tech, and two games against Tennessee, allowing only one run. However, their bullpen does not run deep as only these six players have 25+ innings pitched on the season and will most likely be the core rotation going forward. If Texas can muster through the first halves of games, they could catch breaks against right-hander Alex Rao and left-hander Aidan Tyrell, who will inevitably have to be put on the mound for load management purposes.
Oklahoma left-hander Jake Bennett, right-hander David Sandlin, and right-hander Trevin Michael provide a similar starting trio in stature to that of Texas. Michael has been on a roll as of late and could end up lifting the Sooners on near shutout games with his phenomenal WHIP of .842 in 19 innings. Relief right-handers Cade Horton and Carson Atwood, plus left-hander Chazz Martinez, have all improved drastically through the postseason, and the upgraded level of play could be legitimate based on their sample size in number of innings.
And lastly, Texas A&M right-hander Nathan Detmer and left-hander Ryan Prager have slipped following not-so-hot performances against Louisiana, TCU, and Louisville, while right-hander Micah Dallas has picked up the slack. Holistically, the Aggies seem to be struggling with pitching against tougher opponents as the tournament has progressed. Combined with their weak batting through their super regional games, Texas A&M may be the first to reach their two losses this next week.
Though the Fighting Irish are coming off an extraordinary series against the Volunteers, the numbers say it’s a bit of a fluke. Texas can pounce on their lack of depth in pitching and the Horns should be able to handle the average slugging numbers that Notre Dame tends to put up. Moving forward, the biggest worry for the Horns are the Sooners. Ideally, they won’t be crushed in the same manner is the WCWS championship series, but Oklahoma is evidently the hottest team in this group both from a slugging and pitching standpoint. Although Texas A&M boasts better numbers offensively, I think Oklahoma is more consistent since the start of the postseason, regardless of their opponent. The Horns display unbelievable levels of talent and skill occasionally, and they will need to be able to be at full throttle twice, possibly even three times (if they lose to Notre Dame) against Oklahoma.