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TCU Baseball: Big 12 Tournament Talk, Part 1

After finishing 2015 with a regular season Championship, Schlossnagle continues to build his legacy as well as his dynasty. So what's at stake for TCU in the Big 12 Tournament and how should they approach it? Also, are we willing to admit that this team is better than last year's, and how does the changing landscape of college baseball affect TCU going forward?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it’s because the Big 12 is in a down year, or maybe because this is just the standard of what we’ve come to expect from a Jim Schlossnagle team; but it’s strange that TCU’s best regular season has gone relatively overlooked. The Horned Frogs losing their final two games last summer in Omaha in the manner they did left a sour taste and desire for revenge for both the team and the fans. Had TCU pushed one more run against Virginia, who knows; maybe they’re playing Vanderbilt for a National Title, and maybe they’re defending it in 2015. But that’s not the case. We’ve talked about this numerous times--and actually, just about every time. Despite it just being one year later, the genetic makeup of this team is starkly different than it was in 2014.

"It's good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over" - Tony Soprano

Ok ok, the best is far from over in TCU’s baseball history.  Last year was a surprise though, and because of that, I think that’s what made it special to people. When you’re coming off a season like you did in 2013--disappointing, and frustrating--to turn it around and go to the College World Series and put yourself in a strong position to win it--we tend to romanticize these things, even when they’re happening. The best times, however, are often not realized until later.

Now, in 2015, this team is built to win it. Rather than riding off the fumes of  late-inning heroics and strong pitching, the 2015 team makes you wish it was already the Super Regional. What I’m getting at is this: we may not have this kind of a team for a while; dominant upperclassmen pitching mixed in with the fountain of youth on offense. Blame the old baseball, praise the new baseballs, do whatever makes you sleep better at night, but the fact remains; this team is hitting better, scoring more runs, playing better defense, and has pitching comparable, and arguably better than last year once you consider that the rest of the field is also using the new, hitter friendly baseballs as well.

Different Strokes and The Big 12 Tournament

The Horned Frogs have had an absolutely magical season the diamond. And if you’re skeptical--which I know not many people reading this are--just know this: The Frogs finished at the top of the Big 12 both offensively and defensively. No matter the sport, that’s an incredible accomplishment. Pitching wise, we know what this team can do. Their 2.22 team ERA and 1.04 team WHIP rank second in the country behind only pitching powerhouse UCLA. On defense their fielding percentage is 0.978, good enough for 8th in the country.

As a team, the Frogs are hitting .289, first in the Big 12. Last year, the Frogs finished 6th in the conference with a .276 team BA.

But here’s what should really make you optimistic: Last year TCU’s RPG (runs per game) was a measly 5.05. This year? 5.87. Last year 7 out of TCU’s last 9 games were decided by one run or less (the last being a 6-4 loss), so averaging nearly 1 more run per game should prove to be significantly helpful over the next month. The ERA is the same (2.22) as it finished last year, but--the baseballs have a little more life to them this year, so one could make the argument that this staff is better than last year’s. I know, losing Brandon Finnegan was a big blow. On the other hand, Finny’s power lefty approach, best characterized by his high K/9, has been replaced by Alex Young--TCU’s meditative, and strategic anchor. Given how he’s done in conference play, and against top teams like UCLA, it’s hard to make the case against Alex Young for Big 12 Pitcher of the Year. Preston Morrison deserves a lifetime achievement award, but I think even the reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Year would be content in passing on the award to a fellow Frog.

The game has certainly changed in a year, and TCU represents a sort of microcosm of that change. Most of this change is that small ball is becoming less of a trend. The Frogs had 63 sacrifices last year whereas this year, they have just 18. For a better representation, take Texas, pretty much the face of smallball: a team that ranks second in the Big 12 in sacrifices with 56, slightly more than half of the number they had last year (106). Texas is still 18th in the Nation in sac bunts, and the Big 12’s leader, Oklahoma State, is 4th with 68.

So TCU is bunting less, hitting more, and scoring more runs, and their pitching is as good, if not better than last year. So what comes next? Last season the team had the heroics and plenty of brass to ride into Omaha, but is that something they are missing in 2015? Or, have they just not had to show it? I think it’s more the latter, and should the Frogs get a National Seed, they’ll get a chance to show why they only have two losses at home this season. They’ll also get to show in the postseason as to why they haven’t lost consecutive baseball games dating back to last year’s College World Series. [Prior to the 2014 CWS, TCU hadn’t lost back-to-back games since a series loss to Oklahoma State on March 29/30 of that year]

Speaking of resilience, TCU’s two series losses this year--to Oklahoma State and Kansas State--were followed up with an 8-2 run, and an  8-game winning streak respectively.

It’s difficult to say how much the Big 12 Tournament will affect TCU’s chance at a National Seed. Right now they have one on lock, but would a poor showing in the tournament take that away from them? What makes Schloss such a great coach is that not only will he keep his team motivated through the Big 12 Tournament, but he’ll also find a way to stay competitive, and likely win the Big 12 Tournament whilst saving his best arms.

Preston Morrison, Tyler Alexander, and Alex Young will all likely get work in the Tournament, because there is a difference between being frugal with your arms in a Tournament you don’t necessarily have to win versus possibly keeping your arms a little too cold. Schloss has done this before, and we could very well see it in the Tournament, and that’s starting either Morrison, Alexander, or Young in a game and having them only throwing 1 or 2 innings, then using a Chili’s sampler platter of bullpen arms throughout the rest of the game. My ideal rotation for the Big 12 Tournament:

Morrison/Alexander/Young-2 innings

Trey Teakell-2 innings

Preston Guillory-2 innings

Ryan Burnett-1 inning

Brian Howard/Brian Trieglaff-1 inning

Riley Ferrell-1 inning

It’s not that I’m not excited for the Big 12 Tournament. Winning, which would likely mean having to beat the Oklahoma State team that took 2 of 3 from the Frogs, would be a nice revenge and solidify that the Frogs were indeed the best team in the Conference this year; they just need to do it carefully. TCU fans might be in the same boat, because I think everyone’s just waiting for the real postseason. That’s when the Horned Frog shines brightest, and Lupton, like Frampton, really comes alive.

And so it begins, yet again: The Toad to Omaha.