Not unlike last year, TCU opened their first Big 12 series with a sweep. Last year, they swept Baylor and didn't get another sweep until the Texas series later in April. But, this year feels different for many reasons. The pitchers aren't carrying the team on their back and no one or three guys are carrying the offense on their back. TCU's offense rich 2016 is only accentuated by guys like Austen Wade and Michael Landestoy filling in the injured gaps, which prevents players like Mason Hesse, despite having a .321 BA, from Macgyver-ing their way into the starting lineup.
Even though it's currently autumn in Australia, for TCU's Aussie transfer, Cam Warner, it's summer–just flames. After this weekend's West Virginia series, Warner's hitting streak currently sits at eight games. His brilliant weekend also included 5 RBIs. However, it's the unsung heroes from the past couple of weeks–Michael Landestoy and Austen Wade–that have really provided the butane that's kept the TCU offense burning. Landestoy--filling in for an injured Connor Wanhanen--has really used his plate patience to his advantage. He posted two hits and two runs Friday and collected two RBIs throughout the rest of the weekend.
Landestoy and Wade's performances are indicative to this team as a whole, and we talk about this almost every week: they're (the team) just capitalizing off opportunities. It doesn't really matter if Josh Watson or Luken Baker can't go yard every game because someone else will pick up the slack. In the past two seasons, it was always three or four guys doing the work and if they weren't clicking, you just had to go outside for a rain dance and pray that the pitching could outlast whomever in a 15-inning brawl. That doesn't happen in 2016.
Elliot Barzilli continues to show no signs of slowing down and despite having a guy on the team who both pitches and hits very well, Barz has been the season's MVP about a third of the way through the season. His offensive numbers–a slash line of .438/.463/.753–and his dazzling leather have made Barzilli one of the most compelling players in the Big 12, if not the entire country. Equally compelling is Luken Baker, who on Sunday, mashed TCU's first grand slam since 2013 against Jacksonville State. Baker didn't stop there either,he finished the day with three hits, five RBIs, and two runs.
Next week, Texas baseball will get the same opportunity to do to the Frogs what TCU did to them two years ago: a potential sweep to not only save their own season, but catapult them to a serious shot at not only a Big 12 title, but a College World Series appearance, as well. Of course, that series took place about a month later from when it will take place this year, but getting a series win out of Easter Weekend will be a huge momentum swing for either side.
Sure, there've been some growing pains on the bump this year, but once Mitchell Traver returns, I really think this team will find its pitching momentum once again. It's hard to complain about a team that's 16-3 on the year and possibly has its most productive and certainly most exciting offense in its history. If you're worried, you (a) need to relax and then (b), go watch Durbin Feltman pitch. That should tide you over until Traver's return. Once Traver does return, giving TCU an ace-presence on the weekend, a Traver-Howard-Baker/Hill combo will ease those pitching fears. And for what it's worth, Rex Hill looked just fine on Sunday. He's still letting too many leadoff hitters on base, but his offense gave him enough confidence to carry along nicely through his Sunday. When things get a little tougher, it'll be easier to question which Hill will show up?
Last year, TCU couldn't buy a run a lot of the time, but their pitching bailed them out. This year, it's a bit of the opposite. And guess what? That's totally fine this early in the season. At this point last year, TCU baseball had the same number of losses and the end result worked out just fine. It's just the way baseball goes. Be happy we're winning. Howard had a brilliant day, and again, once Traver comes back, there's no reason to think he won't provide a much needed dominant mound presence. Schlossnagle and Saarloos know what they're doing. This team, which is not even close to consistently uninspired on the mound, will return to their known form before too long. And when they do, the hitting will still be there- and then the fun really begins.