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Midweek Musing: Mitchell Traver is TCU baseball's Jon Snow

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And TCU will be scary-good again once the hero returns...

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The people of Stillwater, the alumni of Oklahoma State are both fine. I mean, one of my favorite people ever, Doug Meacham, went there. Yet, for whatever reason, TCU -- in every sport -- pretty much craps the bed when they play there. If the Sooner insult of calling the place Shitwater holds up, the Frogs are partly to blame for contributing the Triceratops-size dumps they've taken there. I mean, the football team blew their undefeated season there last October, and now, the baseball team -- with a huge opportunity to take control of the conference title race -- allowed themselves to get bullied Friday and Sunday.

Now, I don't think TCU played a particular bad series, but a few things are evident: while the offense has been brilliant, the team as a whole has some growing up to do. I mean that in the least preachy, finger-wagging way possible. Do I mean character-wise? No. They're just going to have to mature, mostly on the the mound. This phase – if you'll let me call it that – is perhaps the best suited in TCU history to win a National Championship. In 2014 and 2015 the Frogs came up short about one run from putting themselves in very good position to compete in, and win, a National Title. But a scarce supply of offensive weapons thwarted both years. Now, there's a sea-change on offense. The pitching will be back -- even though from normal standards it's still pretty damn good.

Big 12 Baseball Standings

Record

Texas Tech

12-3

TCU

10-5

Oklahoma State

9-6

Texas

9-6

And speaking of that, Dalton Horton has emerged as the ace on this team. The lefty has not only surpassed expectations, but he's also holding TCU's season together and leads the Big 12, in conference play, with a 1.42 ERA -- and not to mention a 3-0 record. The Frogs' Friday games have been hit or miss the past month or so, but Dalton's ability to rebound the day after a loss, and allow the TCU offense to get their feet straight, has had a pivotal impact on TCU's trajectory.

Even with a wrench thrown into the Big 12, I still think this is TCU and Texas Tech's race to lose. Only two games separate and the Frogs and Red Raiders from the title, and only a game separate Oklahoma State and Texas from TCU. But it's hard to argue that this still isn't a two-team race -- even after last weekend. The Longhorns have really only played two good series this season – coincidently against the two best teams – and the Cowboys are far too spotty. Even after a big series win over TCU, to get past the Frogs and win a tiebreaker over Texas Tech -- whom they got swept by a few weeks ago -- the Cowboys will pretty much, literally have to play perfect the rest of the year.

We'll get more into this Thursday and Friday, but right now it seems like the Big 12 baseball title will come down to two high-octane offenses and youthful pitching.

The high-octane offense has been highlighted in conference play by Luken Baker and Austen Wade who respectively sit atop the Big 12 in BA. Wade appeared in only 11 games last season, but by averaging a hit-and-a-half per game thus far in Conference play (1.53), he's certainly making the most of each game. On consistency, Cam Warner is quickly becoming one of the most exciting second baseman in TCU's history. Slightly above Wade, the Australian wonder is averaging 1.60 hits in Big 12 games. Think that's good? In the latest segment of Luken Baker Does Amazing Things That Shouldn't Surprise You: the freshman is collecting nearly 2-hits per game (1.8), which is the best in the Big 12.

Despite losing arms like Preston Morrison, Alex Young, Tyler Alexander, and Riley Ferrell, TCU wasn't supposed to rely entirely on a youthful arsenal on the mound. Sure, certain players, like Horton, Janczak, and Howard have stepped up while a few others haven't. It's just criminal to believe that this team wouldn't be a significant step closer to clinching the conference sooner rather than later if they had a healthy Mitchell Traver. Granted, I'd rather Traver come back when he's ready, because for the most part, stressing his return to the point of not having him come back at 100% hasn't been needed. As the clock winds down on the season, the answer is pretty clear that if this team consumed in freshman and sophomores wants to deliver a real punch in the mouth to the college baseball world, and make their third consecutive College World Series, it needs Mitchell Traver.

Traver, the 6'7" 260-pound bruiser from Sugar Land, sort of took a backseat last year despite leading the team in ERA (1.89). It's yet just testament to what Schlossnagle and Saarloos have done these past few years: a guy, who went 8-2, and dominated Tuesday nights like reruns of The Big Bang Theory on TBS, was almost forgotten about in the 2015 canon until the 16-inning victory over Texas A&M. Then, the Frogs had pitching that could last a lifetime, and getting runs was scarce.

Now, in 2016, a healthy Traver and run support increases your chances for a securing at least one weekend win that much more. Plus, with the way Dalton Horton is pitching as of late, your chances for winning a second game are pretty good as well. Then you have Brian Howard for game three and the idea of that, at least on paper, puts TCU up there with Vanderbilt, Florida, Louisville, and Miami as no-brainers for the best teams in college baseball. All that aside, the Frogs have remained a Top-10 baseball team, and that's without an ace emerging until Mid-March. It's pretty incredible once you think about it.

The balance of leadership and skill players like Evan Skoug and Elliott Barzilli are indictments of how scary this team will be once a presence like TCU's Jon Snow, Mitchell Traver -- who are both laying on the slab right now -- comes back. While he was supposed to come back around the Texas series, at least when the first reports came out, it's a good sign that the team hasn't needed to rush his return. Getting through a Regional in Fort Worth is one thing, but now, the season hinges of the timing of Traver's return. If he comes back right before the Big 12 Tournament, or even in the Tournament itself, things will get very interesting when the Frogs, should they miss out on a National Seed and advance in their Regional, have to travel to Florida State, or even set up a rematch of last year's Super Regional in College Station.

2016 has been an amazing ride, and you get the sense that's is far from over. Even if TCU is (a) unable to clinch the Conference or (b) follows the paradigm of Big 12 football, and thus doesn't earn a National seed, it's still a team that's going to likely get a chance to play their opening Regional at home -- where they typically play tighter baseball. With a team this young, getting a to a Super Regional, and even taking one game from a more polished team like Miami, would be a brilliant season; a season from a team, like Schloss said, is proof that the best years of Frog baseball are certainly ahead.