In business there's a saying that everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. You take the experience first and the cash comes later. This team is gaining experience, and they're having fun doing it. The Frogs went down to Houston on Tuesday night to face an angry Owls team and came back with their first true road win. The early season record of 13-3 has been a pleasant surprise in this "rebuilding" year of ours. Its a new team, so we are seeing them experience a lot of firsts together. Last Saturday night they got their first real taste of the TCU voodoo their ballpark cooks up when they came from behind to win a game that they largely controlled all night, only to blow a huge lead and then win anyway in extra innings. That's what we call Lupton Magic, and I'd wager we'll see more of it this year.
What happened down in Houston though, that was something different. Aside from briefly knotting the score at 1-1 for a couple of innings, TCU fell behind early and stayed behind most of the night. By the start of the 8th inning they were down 4-1 and, unfortunately, this is what it has looked like this year in most of the games we lost. Then this team had another first together. They rallied together, on the road, and they scored five runs in the final two innings to win the game. Little by little, these firsts are adding up to a team with experience. Now they get to start another first together. Their first series in conference play.
West Virginia Preview
The Mountaineers have put together a pretty good season so far. They are 10-4 on the year and two of those losses came in Hawaii when they had to travel to Hawaii. I don't know how good Hawaii is, but I know that when a team has to travel pretty much an entire day just to play you, that's a pretty good home-field advantage. Their first loss of the year came on opening night, just like TCU. Except the Mountaineers were on the road. Actually, they started out their season with a 10 game road trip which they came out of with an 8-3 record. Lupton is a tough place to play, but this team is no stranger to winning on the road.
What West Virginia does best is what they do in the pitching game. Their ERA and WHIP are both in the top 20, as is their K/9 ratio. Their team batting average is pretty good, but it's still below .300. They are top 20 in doubles per game and rank 34th overall in slugging percentage. So, not only do they pitch well, but they're a team that can hit well too. Both aspects of their game were on display during the series they played last weekend against Old Dominion. The Mountaineers won the Friday game by a score of 4-3. They fell behind in the second inning 2-0, but found life in their bats in the later innings. They scored two in the sixth and the eighth for a two run lead going into the ninth. While Blake Smith did give up one run in the ninth, he did his job and earned the save. The Saturday matchup was a double header, and both games went to extras.
The first game saw Old Dominion up 4-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth before WVU scored three runs to force the game into extra innings. Old Dominion scored the only run of the 10th and took game one of the DH. In the second game of the DH, WVU was up 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth before WVU again scored with their backs against the walls to force extras. In the top of the twelfth inning of that game Old Dominion scored one run again. It would have been easy after a long day of hard fought baseball to let that game end in a one-run loss as well, but WVU scored in the bottom of the 12th and took that game and the series. This is a team that knows how to win tough games, and has the resources to do so.
Projected Friday Matchup
|Luken Baker - RHP||2-0||21.1||0.84||6.3||8.4||2.1|
|Chad Donato - RHP||0-2||25.2||3.51||9.5||9.8||2.1|
I think it is safe to say at this point that Luken Baker is the best (healthy) starter in TCU's weekend rotation. He has been good, and good consistently. Even when he has been not-so-good, last Friday against USC for instance, he still only gave up one run. He only lasted four innings in that game, but that turned out to be tied for the longest start that any Horned Frog had all weekend. When Mitchell Traver comes back, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I think Baker has earned a slot in the weekend rotation. Not too bad for a freshman who also bats cleanup.
The Mountaineers have been pretty consistent with their rotation this year, as has TCU as of late. While neither team has announced their starters for the weekend yet, this is as safe a guess as I've made all year (until it isn't). Anyway, Donato, not to be confused with the ninja turtle who shares a similar name, has been starting the Friday games for WVU this season. He's a junior who pitched out of the bullpen most of the year, but did make one start (against Clemson), which he won. He easily has the worst ERA of WVU's weekend rotation, but he has pitched the second most innings and has by far the most strike-outs.
Projected Saturday Matchup
|Brian Howard - RHP||3-0||23.1||2.70||8.1||8.1||3.1|
|Vance Ross - LHP||3-0||22.2||1.99||7.1||7.9||1.6|
Brian Howard also has a pretty good argument for the best starting pitcher on the team. He has pitched the most innings on the team and also has the most experience. He is 6'9", which gives him a nice advantage when it come to keeping his pitches down in the zone. His ERA was below 1.50 up until last weekend, when he gave up four runs and allowed eight hits in only 3 1/3 innings. That was by far his worst start, but nobody pitched all that well over the weekend. Personally, I'm going to chalk it up to bad juju. If anyone in the starting rotation is going to rebound with a big performance this weekend, my money is on Howard.
Vance Ross, a guy with a two first names, is expected to take the mound for the Mountaineers. He's a redshirt senior with a lot of experience on the mound. Last weekend against Old Dominion, he turned in a quality start going seven innings and allowing only three earned runs despite giving up seven hits. The kicker is that he didn't walk anybody. TCU has been pretty good at being efficient with their offense, but that's a lot easier when the pitcher help you on base by issuing walk. Ross is very good at not doing that, so expect this one to be a close game at least as long as he stays on the mound.
Projected Sunday Matchup
|Rex Hill - LHP||1-1||18.1||4.91||12.8||10.3||1.0|
|BJ Myers - RHP||2-1||27.1||1.98||5.6||6.3||2.6|
Rex Hill is the most confusing of the three weekend starters for the Horned Frogs. His first start he was a little shaky. He left the mound after 4 1/3 and walked away with an ERA upwards of 5.00. Schlossnagle said he would get better, and he did. His next two starts combined he only allowed one earned run, and that ERA crept down to around 2.00. In his third start, against Gonzaga, he went six innings giving up just one, unearned, run. Last weekend against USC though he regressed, giving up eight runs (six earned) to USC and lasting only four innings. He strikes a lot of guys out and has a great changeup, but he also has problems with elevating the ball and giving up a lot of hits. Nobody looked great last weekend, but Hill is the one I'm most worried about when it comes to rebounding with a strong start this weekend.
The Mountaineers' Sunday guy is BJ Myers. BJ is a sophomore from Flower Mound, TX. He went a long way to play baseball for a kid that grew up in Texas. He's the youngest of the three weekend starters, but he has thrown the most innings and allowed the least hits out of all of them. According to Perfectgame.org his fastball was topping out at 89 out of high school. Having not seen him pitch, he seems like the kind of guy who doesn't do anything really flashy, but gets the job done. Last year, as a freshman, he pitched five shutout innings with five strikeouts against Clemson in a big non-conference series.
Bullpen Bonus Musings
Before I move on to the offensive side, I have to take a second to talk about the TCU bullpen. They were incredible all season until this weekend. Preston Guillory was the guy that we were all looking towards to be the next Trey Teakell, the guy who could come in out of the bullpen and shut down opponents. After he almost had a perfect ERA last year he seemed like the logical choice. For the first couple of weekends he was that, and when he gave up two runs and the lead two weeks ago against Gonzaga I think we were all stunned. When he came into the game last Friday against USC he had trouble locating his pitches and was pulled after walking a batter and pitching for only 1/3 of an inning. Then, Guillory came into the Saturday game against USC. He looked like himself again as he pitched really well for an inning or so, but then he gave up three singles and a walk to start the eighth inning and had to be pulled again.
This isn't about me condemning Guillory. His 7.36 ERA is not who he is. That will come down and I believe he will find his stuff again. This is more about how impressive Brian Treiglaff has been lately. He came into that Saturday game to relieve Guillory in the eighth inning and, while he did give up a lot of runs, he was dealing with a based-loaded, no-outs situation he had inherited from Guillory. After the initial damage was done though he calmed down and threw 51 pitches over three innings, allowing only one additional run in the 10th and keeping TCU in position to come back and win that game. Against Rice on Tuesday, Treiglaff came in to start the seventh inning with TCU already down 4-1. He once again pitched for three full innings, allowing only one hit and keeping TCU in position to complete another come-back win. For now, I think the question of who will be this year's Trey Teakell has been answered, and I think it's Treiglaff.
Slash Line: (BA/SLG/OBP)
West Virginia isn't the most impressive team offensively just based on their team batting average, but just under .300 is good enough to get 'er done. Especially when you have a pitching staff as talented as theirs. They do have some guys to look out for, starting with Kyle Davis (.316/.544/.412). Davis is on base more than anyone else on WVU's team. He has the most home runs (3) and is second on the team in hits (18) and runs (10). He doesn't strike out very often and he also leads the team in walks. Next up they have Darius Hill (.317/.550/.348), who leads the team in RBIs (11), hits (19) and runs (13). There are a few other guys on the team with averages upwards of .300, but I'm going to go with KC Huth (.333/.490/.358) as the third guy to keep an eye on for the Mountaineers. Huth is tied for second on the team in RBIs (9) and is tied for second in hits (17) and runs (9).
TCU's batting average his been trending down in the last week or so, but they still have a couple of guys who are way up there. Elliott Barzilli (.435/.694/.471) has an incredible 27 hits on the season to go along with 18 RBIs. He is still the guy you want at the plate when the game is on the line, something he demonstrated on Tuesday when he started the late inning scoring that ignited TCU's come back win against Rice. Evan Skoug (.364/.618/.471) has been on an absolute tear over the last week and a half. At one point on Sunday he'd had his last 11 hits go for extra bases with one home run and 10 doubles. The big three for TCU has not shifted over the last couple of weeks and we still close it out with Luken Baker (.321/.491/.478). If Baker's average has gone down a little bit lately it might just be because everybody walks him. He lead the team with 15 walks this year and he's also second on the team in RBIs (17) third in home runs (2). Oh, and did I mention he's a pretty good pitcher too?
The conference grind will be another interesting test for this group. Every game we learn more about who they are and so do they. The Mountaineers look like they'll be a tough draw to open up conference play, but it's just one more valuable experience that this team can learn from. On the other side of the Big 12 slate of games, when they're finished, we'll be able to call them experienced. That's when we cash in.