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TCU Baseball vs Kansas State Preview: Ending on the Upswing

After a rough month that has seen the Horned Frogs go 9-8 since April 22nd, a series win this weekend could position TCU to win 40 games with a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament next week.

Brian Howard will open things up for the Frogs on Thursday night against Kansas State
Brian Howard will open things up for the Frogs on Thursday night against Kansas State

Despite all the lofty expectations that have come to surround the TCU Baseball program year-in and year-out, Jim Schlossnagle only ever has one goal at the start of the season: win 40 games or as close to 40 games as possible. That's not to say that Schloss doesn't expect his teams to always compete at the highest level or on the biggest stage; he does. The thought, as I take it, is just that winning 40+ games will always put you in a good position seeding-wise for the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

Currently sitting at 35-14, a win or a sweep this weekend would put TCU in position to reach that 40 win mark with a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament. Win the K-State series and the Big 12 Tournament and they could be looking at hosting a regional when the NCAA selects the seeding for the postseason tournament a week from Monday. Schlossnagle said in his radio show on Wednesday night that he believes this team's best baseball is ahead of them. Hopefully his team will prove him right over the next 4-5 weeks.

Winning five of their last six series, Kansas State has been playing really well over the last month. In that time they have taken series victories from Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia. Back in TCU's first season playing in the Big 12, Kansas State won the conference. Since then, they haven't challenged for the title, but this team is playing their best baseball at the end of the season. They are also fighting for a spot in the Big 12 conference tournament, since only the top eight regular season teams get to compete.

Pitching Preview

Thursday Matchup

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Brian Howard - RHP 6-2 68.0 3.84 7.8 8.1 2.6
Parker Rigler - LHP 4-7 68.2 4.19 8.5 8.8 2.8

After somewhat shaky run during the middle of the season, Brian Howard's last two starts have looked a lot more like what we came to expect from him early in the season. Two weeks ago against Penn State he pitched seven shutout innings, earning a win and allowing just four hits. Last weekend against Baylor he went six innings, giving up three runs (all earned) on six hits while striking out six and walking two batters. It appears that Howard has found himself again at  just the right time.

Parker Rigler is a junior lefthander who come to K-State after spending the last two years at Crowley College. He has been a great addition to the Wildcats' program, stepping right into the role of starter. He is currently tied for the most starts on the team and his 68 2/3 innings are good for second best on the team. A few weeks ago he threw a complete game against Oklahoma, which earned him Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors for the week of May 9th. Last weekend against Kansas he turned in a quality start as well, going five innings and giving up only two runs (both earned) on six hits while striking out six and walking two batters.

Friday Matchup

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Mitchell Traver - RHP 0-1 5.0 1.80 7.2 12.6 3.6
Levi MaVorhis - RHP 6-4 75.2 4.40 10.0 8.1 1.4

Mitchell Traver continued to look good was week in his second start of the season coming back from injury. He ended up taking the loss at Baylor because TCU was down1-0 when he left the mound, but the only thing you wish Traver had done differently was stay on the mound for more than 49 pitches. TCU's coaching staff is being careful with him, allowing him to go just two innings and about 30 pitches in his first start and three innings in his second. The plan this week is to let him throw around 60 pitches, but this should be his last limited start if everything continues to go well. In the game at Baylor last week he one run (earned) on three hits to go along with four strikeouts and one walk.

Levi MaVorhis is a senior leader on this K-State team who brings a lot of experience with him to the mound. On a team that includes a lot of junior college transfers, MaVorhis has been here from the beginning. He's made a total of 37 starts for K-State over his career, earning that role as early as his freshman season. As a sophomore he served as their Friday night starter before having his junior season cut short by injury. This year he has come back to lead the team in both wins and innings pitched. Last weekend against Kansas he went eight full innings, allowing just two runs (both earned) on six hits while striking out five and issuing zero walks.

Saturday Matchup

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Jared Janczak - RHP 5-3 50.1 2.32 7.7 8.9 3.4
Corey Fischer - RHP 2-4 46.1 5.24 10.3 7.4 4.1

Janczak is set to take the mound this weekend for his second career start. Before last weekend he had only been used out of the bullpen, but with 20 appearances this season he has been one of TCU's most effective bullpen guys. In his first start last weekend he went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs (both earned) on two hits with four strikeouts and four walks. While the walks were uncharacteristic it was overall a really good start for Janczak. Having him available out of the pen, or as an alternative to Rex Hill as a starter, will be a big plus for TCU's pitching staff moving forward.

After spending his first two collegiate years at Madison College in Wisconsin, Corey Fischer joined the Wildcats last year as a junior. Last season he made 19 appearances with seven starts on his way to earning an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Last weekend at Kansas he lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up four runs (one earned) on three hits with two strikeouts and two walks.

Offensive Preview

Offensive Comparison avg r h hr slg% ob% fld%
TCU 0.303 359 508 40 0.457 0.401 0.971
Kansas State 0.290 317 515 29 0.412 0.378 0.969

The hero of Tuesday night's game, and one of the best hitters for the Frogs in Big 12 play has been Dane Steinhagen. His two run homer against Stephen F. Austin in the midweek game proved to be the difference that the Frogs needed for the win. After the game, Schlossnagle said that the gave Steinhagen the lineup card for the game as a momento. He had earned it. Six of his seven home runs on the year have come over the last couple of months since Big 12 play started. He's now tied for second on the team in home runs with Elliott Barzilli and Evan Skoug. Luken Baker hit a two run homer of his own, his fourth of the year, on Sunday at Baylor. That also proved to be the difference in that game that allowed the Frogs to avoid the sweep. While the Frogs aren't hitting like they were earlier in the season, they still have six of their regular starters batting over .300, and one of the guys who isn't, Josh Watson, has 10 home runs.

With a team batting average of .290, and five regular starters hitting over .300, Kansas State is a pretty good offensive team in their own right. While 29 home runs might not touch TCU's total of 40, it's still quite a bit more than last year's TCU team had at this time last year. Aside from the home runs, the Wildcats also have five guys with 10+ extra-base hits. Junior first baseman Jake Scudder (.330 BA) leads the team in home runs (6), RBIs (39) and is tied for first with 13 doubles in his first year with the Wildcats after transferring  in from Iowa Western CC. Clayton Dalrymple, a senior from Coppell, TX with four years of experience for the Cats is the other offensive leader. He is first on the team with a batting average of .343 and also leads the team in stolen bases with 14. While he just has one home run, he's second on the team in doubles (12) and is tied for first in triples with three.