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Trojan War: TCU vs USC Baseball Preview

TCU has the chance to notch a series win against one of college baseball's most historic and storied programs this weekend.

Barzilli's hometown Trojans are coming to Fort Worth this weekend
Barzilli's hometown Trojans are coming to Fort Worth this weekend

About this time last year the Frogs traveled out to Angeltown to take on USC, UCLA and Vanderbilt in the Dodgertown Classic. The Frogs beat UCLA and Vanderbilt, both of whom were ranked in the top five in the nation at the time. The only game that kept TCU from leaving LA with a weekend sweep was the Friday night matchup against USC. After falling behind 5-1 in the sixth inning TCU rallied back with four runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 6-6 and force extra innings. We won a lot of games that way last year, but this wasn't one of them. USC scored a single run in the bottom of the 12th and I put my head down and drowned my tears in a whiskey glass.

The wins against UCLA and Vanderbilt, overall, made the weekend road trip a success for the Frogs. The Trojans also went on to beat UCLA and Vanderbilt and burst onto the national scene. Last year, the win against the Frogs was USC's coming out party. This weekend, we have the chance to return the favor. If you want to call the Houston College Classic TCU's coming out party this year that's fine. I'm not going to argue with that. But there's something about winning against the blue blood programs of a sport that gets the talking heads and national writers of a sport chattering. In baseball, USC is one of those programs. They have won 12 national championships. They have 21 CWS appearances. They haven't been elite in a while, but neither has Michigan in football and people still look at them as a "team to beat".

While they're no longer elite like they were in the late 90s and early 00s, they are a good program and a good team. Last year they were ranked in the top 25 for most of the year following the Dodgertown classic and this year they were ranked as recently as last week before losing two of three last weekend in this year's Dodgertown Classic. On the year they're 6-5, even though the only weekend series they have won was against Wake Forest. They lost two out of three to North Dakota State on opening weekend in the only other three-game series they have played. This is also the first true road trip of the year for the Trojans and you can bet that they are looking to use a victory against the Horned Frogs as a springboard the same as they did last year.

Pitching Preview

Friday Game

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Luken Baker - RHP 2-0 17.1 1.04 5.3 7.9 1.6
Kyle Davis - RHP 2-1 21.0 3.43 8.1 9.4 1.7

Somehow I got this far into the preview without mentioning Baker, but here we go. The freshman and former Gatorade National Player of the Year owns the best ERA of the weekend starters and he has hit a home run in two of his three starts on the mound. You know, because he bats for himself in the cleanup spot. Just normal college freshman stuff. In fact, the only time he didn't homer in a game he started we lost, even though we were ahead when he left the mound and he didn't take the L. Baker is the one that will impress you with his velocity, normally running between 93-94 on this fastball, but he can also throw his breaking ball and changeup for strikes.

Baker will be going up against the Trojans' #1 guy who has put together a pretty solid start to the season for himself as well. Unlike Baker, Kyle Davis does have a loss, but that one wasn't his fault either. In USC's opening game against North Dakota State Davis pitched eight full innings. He gave up five hits and only one run while striking out 10 and walking only one batter. USC lost that game 1-0. He won his last two starts, never having less than six innings in a start all year, and he has only given up more than three runs once.

Saturday Game

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Brian Howard - RHP 3-0 20.0 1.35 5.9 8.1 2.7

Brian Howard will resume the role that he took on last weekend as the Saturday starter. I love this role for Howard because he is the closest thing as a pitcher that TCU has to the legendary Preston Morrison. Those are some big shoes to fill and Howard fits like a glove (baseball pun). He has the most innings pitched out of anyone of the staff so far this year and the best record to boot. While his bread and butter is the fact that he is a tall guy who can throw at a downward angle low in the zone, he's not just a groundball pitcher. He has really good movement on his fastball and he can strike guys out as well. USC has not announced who they plan to start in this game and rather than throw out wild guesses I think we should all just look forward to the surprise. Surprises are a good thing.

Sunday Game

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Rex Hill - LHP 1-0 14.1 2.51 10.2 12.1 1.3
Brent Wheatley - RHP 0-1 10.1 5.23 8.0 10.7 2.7

Rex Hill has been probably the most interesting starter on the weekend rotation, just because we had some idea what to expect from Baker and Howard but nobody knew what to expect from Hill. He got knocked around a little bit in his first start, but he showed promise and has improved his ERA in every game since. In his last two starts he has allowed only one run a piece and last Sunday he went six innings, the longest outing he has had this year. He is also the only starting pitcher in the rotation who is a lefty, which will only make his arm more important as the season goes on. Hill's plus pitch is his changeup, which is impressive because it can really fall of the table. This is especially true on the outside against right handed hitters, but he can throw it against lefties too.

Brent Wheatley is USC's second-best weekend starter by his ERA, which is admittedly not great. He started out in the Saturday role for the Trojans, but moved to the Sunday role in week two and has been there ever since. His first start in the Sunday role went really well as he went six innings allowing only three hits and one earned run while striking out six and walking two. In his last start against UCLA he gave up eight hits, but held it down allowing only three runs (two earned). USC's bullpen held that score at 3-3 until UCLA finally won 5-3 in the 14th inning.

Offensive Preview

Offensive Comparison avg r h hr slg% ob% fld%
TCU 0.324 100 132 8 0.496 0.405 0.980
USC 0.291 49 95 7 0.402 0.388 0.960

Slash Line (AVG/SLG/OBP)

It's hard to hang with the Horned Frogs offensively this year as they have put together a top 20 batting average through the first few weeks of the season. The Frogs are also third in the nation right now in terms of triples. They currently lead the nation in ERA and WHIP, but we're used to that. Being one of the top offensive teams as well is really exciting. Elliott Barzilli (.500/.773/.540) still leads the bunch and his batting average is good enough for 6th in the nation right now. He's also tied for the team lead in home runs (two) and is second in RBIs (13). Luken Baker (.400/.625/.520) is right behind Barzilli. He also has two home runs and leads the team in RBIs with 16. Evan Skoug (.368/.553/.490) continues to be solid at the plate and behind it. He's due for his first homer this weekend too.

For USC there really isn't a whole lot special going on offensively from a team standpoint. The only category in which they are in the top 20 offensively is sacrifice bunts, which says a lot in itself. They do have some really good hitters in their lineup though. David Oppenheim (.400/.425/.478) leads the group with 16 hits and is second on the team in runs (seven) and walks (six). Frankie Rios (.355/.355/.444) is a sophomore who has stepped up to become an offensive leader this year, and he is a guy to keep an eye on as well. Lastly, AJ Ramirez (.353/.382/.476) is a guy who just gets on base. He leads the team in walks (seven) and is tied for second on the team in hits with 12.

Just before the season started, this was the series that I had circled on my calendar as the premiere non-conference matchup (outside of the Houston College Classic). That may well turn out to be Gonzaga, who defeated No. 14 Arkansas on Wednesday night after taking one of three from a top 10 TCU team last Friday. They might turn out to be pretty good and they have a series against Pepperdine next weekend to further prove their point. For now though, I'm still going to look at the Trojans as the weekend series that we have to win to convince people that we are a legit top 10 team heading into conference play.