This year marks Jim Schlossnagle's 13th season in Fort Worth. It didn't take long for the Maryland native to become the winningest coach in TCU's history. Schlossnagle has coached in three conferences including the Big 12, and just about each year brings something unique.
Now sure, the season's long from over, but 2016 was supposed to be the rebuilding year–and now Omaha is already in the conversation. Even if you avoid the Omaha thoughts (which, even though I just brought it up, you definitely should), there's already been an insane high around this year's team. Maybe it's because they're defying expectations or, more appropriately, just sped up the process. Or maybe it's because this is a new team; A program soaked in the Schlossnagle criterion–especially with four years in the Big 12 under their belt–is now able to be in that reload, not rebuild mode. Plus, sometimes change just feels good. Sure, Dane Steinhagen, Brian Howard, Evan Skoug, and Connor Wanhanen among others are back, but the team as a whole is certainly much different than it was when they last took the field against Vanderbilt in 2015.
Again, it all goes back to Schlossnagle. It's his standard now. Bringing in the Gatorade National Player of the Year certainly propels some momentum, but guys like Josh Watson, Cam Warner, Mason Hesse, and Elliot Barzilli are laying the groundwork for making this the most exciting Schlossnagle team ever.
Gonzaga barely avoided the three-game sweep, and credit them for battling Friday evening to end TCU's winning streak. The Frogs, however, didn't let Friday's loss get to them and absolutely destroyed the Bulldogs Saturday and Sunday by a total score of 26-3. By the completion of Sunday's finale- a 16-1 thumping- Elliott Barzili, Josh Watson, and Luken Baker had all notched their fifth multiple-RBI game of the year.
Not enough can be said about Brian Howard. Sure, every TCU fan including myself has been fascinated with Luken Baker, but Howard, now 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA, is quietly having the best year on the bump. Once Traver comes back, we'll probably see Baker move back to original script and get the start in the midweek games. Rex Hill, being the sole lefty in the weekend arsenal, will likely stay put on Sunday. And once Traver does comeback, you'll probably see him move to that Friday night role and thus Howard will inherit that Preston Morrison Saturday spot. Side Note: (1): Don't get me wrong, Luken Baker is so on another planet he's cracking jokes and learning botany with Mark Watney. Baker has a 1.04 ERA, and is second on the team in slugging (.611)–behind only a guy who's hitting over .500. (2): Rex Hill was also very impressive this weekend, once again collecting more strikeouts than innings pitched (6 IP, 7K). Hill also issued just a single walk as well.
Elsewhere, I'm really thrilled with Connor Wanhanen as the (possibly?) interim leadoff hitter until Nolan Brown comes back completely healthy. Brown has the edge speed wise, but Wanhanen is making the most with his time on the bases, leading the team in runs with 16. As predicted, he's back over .300 and just might go to the second spot once Brown returns. Given how the rest of the lineup is doing, having a guy like Brown on the basepaths will pour gasoline into the offensive fire with which TCU's operated with thus far.
The Frogs scored 10+ runs 8 times in the regular season last year. In 2016, they've done it 6 times in only three weeks. And it all goes back to the change. It's the same reason why I highly recommend changing your room up about twice a year; there's just something refreshing that comes with change. As much as I'll miss miss Derek Odell, Keaton Jones, Garret Crain, etc., new faces means a new energy–a new energy that's become deadly anywhere in the lineup. Last year's lineup seemed more poetic; really good at the top, whereas towards the bottom you sort of had to just look up at the sky at times and hope that this would be the moment (redacted) broke through and hit a rope into the gap to finally give his pitcher a lead to work with. When that happened, TCU almost always won. 2016's lineup is dangerous everywhere. Hell, the best hitter is batting 6th and will likely stay there all year.
Most of all, this team plays with an edge that I don't think has been seen in Ft. Worth since 2010. Yes, these last two seasons have been magical and wonderful and are underlying reasons as to why Schlossnagle, once Augie Garrido retires, will be the best contemporary coach in college baseball. The same edge that turned a close Friday loss into a Saturday and Sunday shellacking for Gonzaga. For the foreseeable future, the days of holding your breath and praying for runs while you watch Preston Morrison or Alex Young pitch a gem are over. Getting to 5 runs no longer seems like a burden, it seems like the standard. Some of it will be, and should be, graded on a curve because of the BBCOR change and the more recent amendment to the ball itself, but the same baseballs (those with the lowered seams that became more hitter friendly baseballs) were here last year– and like we said above, the Frogs went through the end of May scoring 10 or more runs 8 times– a feat they could surpass by the end of next weekend, the second weekend in March.