As any true, purple-blooded Horned Frog would, we should all be excited at the opportunity to beat Baylor anytime the opportunity presents itself. The great thing about baseball is that we get to play them three times this weekend, so that's three possible chances to put Baylor fans to bed with a sad-face-emoji.
Projected Pitching Matchups
|Brian Howard - RHP||6-2
|Drew Tolson - RHP||4-3||65.1||5.65||11.2||5.8||3.7|
Early on this season, Howard established himself as the senior leader of this pitching staff. He cruised through his first few starts, culminating in an incredible complete game performance against Texas in Austin. Unfortunately that complete game in Austin, one in which he allowed only two runs on five hits, was his first loss. After that, he ran into a bit of tough going. His next few starts, aside from a really good one against Oklahoma, lasted only a few innings. He was also out with an injury for a short time during that stretch. However, his start last weekend against Penn State saw him return to his final boss form as he went seven innings of no-run ball, allowing just four hits while striking out four with no walks. This weekend Frogs fans will be looking forward to seeing more of the Brian Howard we know and love.
Drew Tolson and Daniel Castano are the two upperclassmen in this starting rotation. Tolson, a junior from Houston, TX, has made 26 total starts in his career at Baylor. In his 15 starts last year he threw three complete games and led the team in innings pitched, strikeouts and games started, putting together an overall ERA of 3.56. This year his ERA has climbed upwards of 5.00 and it appears that he has taken a step back. In his last start against West Virgina he lasted only 4 2/3 innings, giving up nine runs on nine hits and walking four batters. He got outshined by West Virginia's starter Chad Donato, who threw a two-hit, complete game shutout.
|Mitchell Traver - RHP||0-0||2.0||0.00||4.5||18.0||4.5|
|Daniel Castano - LHP||3-4||71.1||4.54||9.2||7.1||3.7|
Here he comes to save the daaaaayyy!!
Mitchell Traver is back and looking as good as he ever was. Seriously. Even though he only pitched two innings in his return to the mound, just take a look at what he did in those two innings. Sure, he did have the one walk, but nobody's perfect. After allowing a hit to the first batter he faced, he settled in to a brilliant two innings of work, striking out three batters and retiring all comers with ease. Schlossnagle even noted that his pitches looked as good as at the end of last season, if not a little bit sharper. With a few weeks left before the preseason there is plenty of time to work him back info proper form, and there's no reason to expect he won't get even better as he gets closer and closer to full strength.
After taking somewhat of a backseat to Tolson in his sophomore year, junior Daniel Castano has been the more impressive of the two this season. Both this year and last they were essentially 1a and 1b, but Castano was much better last weekend when the Bears traveled to Morgantown to face West Virginia. With the bears losing 10-0 in the Friday night game started by Tolson, Castano came to the rescue and pitched seven innings, letting up just five hits and four runs. While he did give up six walks, he struck out five batters to earn his third win of the season and out-duel the WVU pitcher Michael Grove, who gave the Mountaineers six good innings himself. TCU has had their troubles with lefties well documented, but if Castano gives up six walks to this lineup, he's likely not leaving with another W.
|Dalton Horton - RHP||7-0
|Andrew Mclnvale - RHP||2-3||31.1||5.17||10.1||7.2||6.3|
After emerging out of nowhere to become the rock of TCU's young pitching staff, the freshman Horton has had a rough last couple of weeks. This last weekend against Penn State he pitched one inning, allowing two runs on two hits while walking two batters with no strikeouts. Schlossnagle mentioned that his arm motion looked slow, indicating that it might just be his arm was tired. They pulled him after just the one inning just to be on the safe side. There was no use in letting him pitch tired and risking injury. They also mentioned that they might rest him a week if given the opportunity, which is why I'm penciling him in as the Sunday starter this week. His start against Texas Tech the week prior was good, it's just that he only lasted four innings. That is not the norm for Horton. Against Oklahoma State in the previous series he lasted six full innings, allowing two runs on five hits and earning the win. That is what we had been accustom to seeing from him, and hopefully we'll see that Horton again this weekend.
Baylor has tried a few different pitchers in the Sunday role so far this year, and lately none of them have performed well enough to secure a permanent spot for themselves. Last weekend Andrew Mclnvale made the start against West Virginia, going just 2 2/3 innings in the loss. He only gave up two runs on two hits, but he, like Castano the day before, issued six walks which allowed West Virginia to jump out to the early lead. Mclnvale only has three starts on the year, and It's possible that the Bears decide to go back to Kyle Hill, who pitched the two weekends prior to Mclnvale's start. But Hill wasn't impressive in either of those starts, so I have to guess that Baylor will stick with Mclnvale again this week.
While Luken Baker (41) and Evan Skoug (40) still lead the team in RBIs, it was Josh Watson that was the catalyst for the Frogs offense this last weekend against Penn State. In each of the last two games of the series, Watson had early two-run homers to get things going; he has 10 total on the season. That makes Watson the first freshman Horned Frog to reach double-digit home runs since Andrew Walker did it back in 2005. All but three players in the Frogs lineup are hitting over .300 as TCU still leads the Big 12 with a team batting average of .309. One of the three guys hitting below .300 is Josh Watson (.280), but that doesn't make him any less dangerous. When you're hitting .386 its hard to call anything a slump, but Elliott Barzilli had definitely cooled off lately from earlier in the season when he was hitting over .400. He came back in a big way over the weekend though, going 4-5 with two RBIs to secure the sweep on Sunday.
Baylor has struggled offensively this season, ranking sixth in the Big 12 in batting average this season. But TCU did lose to the two teams with the worst batting averages in the league, Texas and Oklahoma State, so take that with a grain of salt. Darryn Sheppard (.315 BA) leads the bunch in hits (57), runs (33), RBIs (38) and home runs (7). A junior from Sugar Land, TX, Sheppard has steadily improved every season at Baylor up until this, his breakout year. Other guys to keep an eye on include Kameron Esthay and Steve McLean. Esthay, a sophomore, leads the team with 13 double and is second on the team in hits (53) and RBIs (25). McLean, another sophomore, is tied for second on the team in hits with Esthay and has also demonstrated significant power with eight double and three triples on the year. He's also the team's best threat to steal; he's 6-6 in stolen base attempts this year.
Traver In; Baker Out
Before noon today, it was announced freshman-phenom (yes, we're still allowed to call him that) Luken Baker would not pitch the rest of the season. The Frogs will still have the gargantuan freshman's bat as we close out the regular season these next two weeks.
While Baker leaves the season leading the team in ERA, it's really been Dalton Horton carrying the water for this ball club since Rex Hill's relegation. Even tho Horton has produced limited innings in his last two outings, the freshman lefty is still the beating drum of the weekend rotation. That's not to say Baker won't be missed; he went 3-1 in 10 starts boasted a 1.70 ERA.
And yet, the timing of Traver's return couldn't be any better. His first outing since 2015 last weekend was sufficient enough to instill confidence in the Frog Faithful that he can leave Fort Worth with a brilliant coda. The Howard-Traver-Horton rotation may not be the one we thought we were going to have in January, but it's the one we got. Baker hasn't gotten a win weeks, and not trying to push his limits any further on the mound will make 2017's rotation all the more promising. He has the confidence. Now, comes the rest.
So what does this series in Waco, Kansas State at home, and the Big 12 tourney mean for TCU's regional chances? For starters, I think they're still good. College baseball is a tight enough network and with Schlossnagle and TCU's goodwill they've built up the last 10 years, finishing with two sweeps and a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament--or simply just getting a Tournament Title, in my opinion would be enough. But it's easier said then done. While Texas is looking ahead to life without Augie Garrido and every other team but Oklahoma State (minus the one I'm about to mention) cooling off like a meteor entering Earth's atmosphere; Texas Tech is still going to be a big hurdle for this young Frog team.
Right now, according to our friends at D1baseball.com, TCU and Oklahoma State are both No. 2 seeds in their respective projected Regionals. For TCU, escaping Ann Arbor, at least in my opinion, won't be a problem. The problem would be going to Gainesville and playing the team that's probably going to win the College World Series. If somehow that pans out, and TCU plays a series against what I think is the best college baseball team in come time, getting at least one game from them would be a huge boost for next season. Get out of there alive, and I may print a TCU 2017 National Champions shirt.