The TCU offense has been a frustrating component to a terrific team at times this season; banging balls out of the park in one moment, and whiffing with men on base the next. The Fort Worth Regional was a microcosm of the season for the Frogs in that regard, as they looked absolutely dominant at times, and absolutely lost at others.
We will certainly spend significant time later this week looking at what we can expect from TCU vs the pitching of the Aggies, but before we look ahead, it's important to look back and see which direction the offense is trending.
TCU played five games in the Fort Worth Regional, going 4-1 for the weekend and losing only their third home game all season. The Frogs scored 39 runs over the course of those five contests, blowing the doors off of Sacred Heart in the opener with a ten spot, dropping a pair of eights against Stony Brook and NC State in the Sunday double header, and putting up nine runs in ten innings in Monday's elimination game. The outlier of the group was Saturday's four spot in the first matchup with the Wolfpack, where NCSU's freshman pitcher (Brian Brown) mystified the Frog batters and thus, shut down the TCU O.
The most troubling aspect of the offense leading up to Monday night was the amount of runners left on base (LOB) - the Frogs stranded eight, five, eight, and six in their first four games. TCU would strand 11 Monday night (though two were left on when the winning run scored, so really only nine should count), for a total of 38 (including the last two) over five games. Any way you slice it, leaving an average of 7.5 runners stranded per game is not a recipe for success as a general rule, but strangely enough, that is TCU's season average, and their record on the year belies common thought in that regard. Also of note, Frog opponents have only stranded an average of 6.3 runners per game but had almost 11 LOB during the Regional Tourney. Sometimes timely hitting far outweighs the statistical consensus in baseball.
The offensive MVP for the weekend was arguably Derek Odell; the senior third baseman had seven hits and seven RBIs in five games. Nolan Brown made a case as well, as he got off to a ridiculously hot start and finished with eight hits, including a string of extra basers. Connor Wanhanen was also exceptional, though he seemed to wear down some by Sunday afternoon; and Evan Skoug shined brightest in the biggest moments - most notably with his three run blast that broke the Stony Brook game open and his two hit/one walk night Monday. When you add in that he caught every inning of the series, it's hard not to be impressed with his body of work as a freshman competing in the post season for the first time.
Nolan Brown and Cody Jones were the only Frogs to notch three hit games over the weekend - each did so once. The 28 walks issued to Frog batters was above their season average for BB/9 - after drawing 3.5 per game in the regular season, the 5.5 per Regional matchup is a sign that the batters are trusting the process and that the moment isn't too big for them.
This is a team that is more known for being opportunistic at the plate and on the base paths than being able to hit you into submission: the Frogs came in to the the weekend as one of the top base-stealing clubs in the country with 100, and would add to that total with 11 over the course of the tourney. While this aggressive style can cause fans to tear their hair out when a runner is caught stealing at third, it's who the Frogs are and Schloss has vowed that won't change, even as the stakes get higher. Odell even credited the aggressiveness for the balk that advanced the runners in the ninth - he said he had no plans to steal third, but his jumping around at second and the success they had previously had made the NCSU pitcher second guess himself just enough to cause the flinch. They also took advantage of shaky pitching late against NC State, working several walks that kept them in the game and set up Elliot Barzilli for his heroics - the Frogs scored their eight runs in the final three frames on only five hits, but drew five walks - coupled with the errors and the balks, that was your ballgame.
While the numbers don't necessarily jump off the page, it's important to note that the Frogs averaged 7.8 runs per game over the five game tilt, well above their season average of 5.93. They didn't blast the cover off of the ball, but that's not the team that Schloss has built. And in addition to getting great production from his starters, one of the most interesting notes was brought up on twitter:
Love that a pinch hitter just drove in another pinch hitter to win this game. You don't see this every day— Caroline Collier (@CarolineCollier) June 2, 2015
Having guys on the bench that can come in and make big plays (like Elliott Barzilli and Evan Williams) is a luxury that not a lot of teams have. With the way the draft is set up, and the way the scholarship system is structured, it's hard to build depth like the Frogs have. If the Frogs can continue to be productive at the plate, aggressive on the base paths, and opportunistic when the moments come, they have a chance to continue this long, strange trip for quite a bit longer. We will take a look at who needs to step up to the plate, so to speak, a little bit later this week. But for now, a tip of the cap to Brown, Wanhanen, Jones, Skoug, Odell - and of course Barzilli - for getting it done this past weekend!