Last weekend was a great weekend to be a Wichita State fan. This weekend? Not so much. After getting out sniped by Notre Dame Thursday night, the Shockers were swept down in the Fort by an angry TCU team--a team, who despite losing a series last week to last year’s Big 12’s Champs, made the case once again that they’re the team to beat in the conference.
Like we’ve said so many times before, it doesn’t get any easier from here on out. This week, the Frogs travel to a hitter’s paradise in Lubbock. The last time those teams met, TCU advanced in the College World Series. Pepper that in with Tech’s disdain for the TCU and you have what’s maybe the best series of the Big 12 so far this season. This coming weekend should be an excellent barometer of this team: If this pitching wants to prove itself as the country’s best in a hitter’s ballpark, it’ll get its chance. And for the offense; if it wants to show they’ve done nearly a 180 from last year, Tech’s ballpark is the perfect place to showcase their stronger offense.
Since last Sunday’s embarrassing loss--and I think everyone would agree that it was embarrassing at this point--TCU has simply dazzled. This began with a big win against Oklahoma on Tuesday, and reinforced by an absolutely crushing 14-1 win over Wichita State Friday. Because college baseball isn’t a major sport per say, and more importantly; because the Big 12 doesn’t have a network to show all the baseball games like they theoretically could--maybe if a certain school would help out (cough)--I wasn’t able to watch Friday’s game. But from what I can gather, Mitchell Traver’s performance seemed analogous to how he threw against USC--only this time, he got the win. Wichita State isn’t as good as USC, sure--however, Traver working out of jams, and suffocating the Shockers before they could gain any legitimate ground is what you want from you Friday pitcher despite Traver not statistically performing like he has in previous games.
Preston Morrison flat out, just continues to get it done. Last year’s Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, who allowed 2 earned runs Saturday, is now 6-0 on the year and making the case once again that he’s the most consistent pitcher in the conference. Amongst 80-pitches; P-Mo also finished his 6.1 inning day with 5 hits, 6 strikeouts, and 0 walks. Elsewhere, Trey Teakell again showed why he’s one of the most underrated players on this team. Teakell, who inherits runners on the reg, treated Saturday like just about all of his appearances; and finished just over an inning of work smothering the Wichita State hitters with 2 strikeouts.
Saturday, the TCU offense jumped on the Shockers early thanks to some cheeky hitting from Connor Wanhanen to move Cody Jones over--and who later scored on a Garrett Crain ground ball that was misplayed by the Wichita State defense. Once again, the opponent’s offense took advantage off a TCU error--which thankfully, the Frogs were able to recover from thanks to near-perfect execution at the plate in the 5th inning. That inning was a perfect indication as to why this offense has the potential to be a National Championship-winning team. With Cody Jones and Wanhanen just chess-piecing at the top of the lineup, peppered in with Skoug’s power in the middle, and finished off with Nolan Brown and Keaton Jones’ consistency towards the bottom--this is the optimal lineup right now and yesterday’s 5th inning proved it.
The Horned Frogs finished off the weekend in style and got their third sweep of the year as Alex Young pitcher out-shined the rest of the Fantastic Four’s weekend performances--improving to 5-1 on the season. TCU’s lone lefty in the Fantastic Four finished the game with 9 strikeouts, no walks, and gave up only 2 hits in 7 innings of work.
Let’s just talk about Connor Wanhanen--who went 4-4 on Saturday with a big double, and 2-3 on Sunday with 2 runs and 2 RBIs. We’ve talked all year about the importance of a second hole hitter and I’ve championed Keaton Jones, whose bat is deadly anywhere in the lineup--but this was mainly because Wanhanen hasn’t been an ‘everyday guy'. However, it’s time to start finding a way to make that happen. The Frogs have only lost one of the sixteen games which Wanhanen has started--the 12-inning loss to Oklahoma State last Friday, a game in which, Wanny was already taken out of by the time TCU lost.
His sporadic absence has a lot to do with keeping Skoug in the lineup when he isn’t catching. And when your back-up is as good as Plunkett, it’s almost foolish to not allow Skoug to have a rest behind the plate, and still utilize his bat--as he's TCU’s main source of power. The other problem is that Schloss isn’t terribly keen on Wanhanen facing lefties quite yet--which simply put, means Wanhanen will start approximately every other game with an influx of lefties in the Big 12. We know the lineup, and how many different combinations have been used effectively thus far, that TCU can recover should an experiment like this not work out. All I know is that Wanhanen will more than likely be a full-time starter next year; whether it’s at SS--where he played in high school--or in the outfield, where he's currently listed.
So if he’s going to see left-handers all the time next year, why not let him get the cuts and experience now? The Frogs’ lineup has just been so dense thus far—and it’s a luxury to have these types of conversations. TCU will keep winning, I’d just prefer Wanhanen be in the lineup more often.