TCU's side of the bracket is filled with three teams that took two of three from the Frogs, and we start out with a rematch of our most painful loss, Baylor. In a way, I think that this is a good position for TCU. In baseball it's hard to win three out of four against another team. TCU has seen these Bears before and knows what to expect, and they also have a chip on their shoulder from losing the regular season series. Last year TCU swept Baylor in Fort Worth and lost their opening game of the tournament to the Bears, so we have a chance to return the favor for last season as well.
Baylor is a hot team lately. They took two of three from TCU in Waco and from Texas in Austin to finish the Big 12 regular season on a high note. TCU can say the same though. Since dropping the first two games of the Baylor series TCU is 5-0, a winning streak that started with a 7-3 win over the Bears in Waco. Both teams are pitching well right now, and as a TCU fan you should feel really good about the way our bullpen has pitched over that winning streak. At one point the bullpen went 16 consecutive innings without letting up a run over that stretch.
|Dalton Horton - LHP
|Daniel Castano - LHP
During the roughest stretch of TCU's season, Horton was their rock. He succumbed to a bit of inconsistency against Texas Tech and Penn State, but the coaches attributed that to his arm just being tired. That seems to have been proved correct, as Horton came back last Tuesday after a bit of rest to put together one of his more usual performances. In last Tuesday's start against SFA, who happens to be a really good offensive team, Horton went 5 2/3 innings allowing just two runs (one earned) on three hits while striking out two and walking three.
Horton earned second-team All-Big 12 honors as a pitcher this week, which is quite an honor for the freshman, but if TCU is going to make a real run this postseason it will be on the back of their bullpen. After Horton left the game against SFA on Tuesday, Preston Guillory came on to throw two innings of no-hit baseball before Ryan Burnett and Brian Trieglaff shut things down. In the Frogs' first game against K-State last weekend, Sean Wymer provided four perfect innings of relief, including six strikeouts. In the following game, Preston Guillory threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief himself. Closer Durbin Feltman earned two saves in those first two games against the Wildcats.
Junior Daniel Castano will take the mound for Baylor on Wednesday after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors for himself this week. He leads this Baylor pitching staff in innings pitched, strikeouts and starts, but all of that compares to how impressive he was in his last start against TCU on May 14th in Waco. He went seven innings, allowing two runs (both earned) on seven hits while striking out two and walking two. It's more impressive than it sounds though, as he absolutely shut down TCU's hard-hitting lineup through the first six innings of that game. It wasn't until he came on to start the eighth that TCU finally got to him for those two runs, and by that time they were already behind by seven runs.
Any preview of Baylor's pitching isn't complete however without mention of first-team All-Big 12 closer Troy Montemayor. He has an ERA of 0.78 with 14 saves in 23 innings pitched. He shut TCU down in the ninth inning of game one against Baylor in Waco last month. If the Frogs want to win this one, they had better be leading after eight.
The Frogs have cooled off lately, even winning a few games with their pitching and small-ball over the last couple of weeks, but they still lead the Big 12 in batting average and they're the only team hitting over .300 on the season. TCU's top hitters, Elliott Barzilli (.372 BA) and Luken Baker (.340 BA) earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and Luken became the second Horned Frog in as many years to be named Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Evan Skoug (.301 BA), Cam Warner (.298 BA) and Dane Steinhagen (.312 BA) all earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. Skoug and Steinhagen are first and second on the team respectively in extra-base hits and both have seven homers. Cam Warner broke an 0 for 24 slump this weekend against K-State. But the offensive heart of this team over the last two weeks has been the leadership of senior Dane Steinhagen. If TCU is going to go far this week, expect him to lead the way.
Baylor's team batting average of .273 puts them in sixth place offensively among Big 12 teams. Still, three Bears earned offensive All-Big 12 honors this week. Kameron Esthay and Steve McLean both were named second-team All-Big 12. Esthay, a sophomore, leads the team with 14 doubles and is second on the team in hits (58) and RBIs (30). McLean, another sophomore, is first on the team in hits and has also demonstrated significant power with nine doubles and three triples on the year. He's also the team's best threat to steal; he's 6-7 in stolen base attempts this year. Junior leader Matt Menard earned an All-Big 12 honorable mention honor for himself this week as well. He leads the team with a .317 batting average and is second on the team with six home runs. The Bears have four guys in their regular lineup that hit over .300 and with a .392 slugging percentage and 31 home runs they can hit for power.
With both teams pitching well, this game will likely come down to who can take advantage of the mistakes given and who can come up with the game-breaking timely hit. That's the way it's supposed to be in the postseason, so let's get to it.