Remember what we've been saying the past month, or least since the Tech series, about good will? Given what TCU's been able to do this decade, and even in the late oughts, there really was no question that if this team won their conference tournament, they'd earn a Regional bid.
Now, the match-ups are set. The Frogs will get (2) Arizona State, whom the Frogs won an early series last year in Tempe; (3) Gonzaga, whom the Frogs took two of three from at home earlier this year; and (4) Oral Roberts.
Arizona State (34-21, 16-14)
Despite the Pac-12 having a sort of down year–at least in the sense that no Regional will be played west of Lubbock–Arizona State is still a very good No. 2 team. The Sun Devils, who bring a Top-50 RPI (43) into Fort Worth, are just of sort of average at most things. They finished in the bottom half in three major offensive categories in the Pac 12 including; BA (7, .265), Slugging (6, .392), and OBP (9, .340). ASU's stats in runs, hits, and RBIs are a little more forgiving in the sense they were all Top-5 finishes, but never above 4.
Gun to my head I'd probably be more scared to play Arizona, but I think the Sun Devils will test the Frogs. And if one team not named TCU is going to come out of the Fort Worth Regional alive, it'll be them.
Who to Watch:
David Greer, INF (.344/.436/.585): Greer is easily Arizona State's most versatile player. Listed as "INF", Greer has played first base, second base, third base, left field, and has even pitched in 2016. He's also the only Sun Devil to have an OBP over .400 as well the only player with a slugging percentage over .500. In addition to BA, OBP, and Slugging, Greer also leads the team in hits (73), runs scored (47), doubles (23), home runs (8), total bases (124), and walks (33). So yeah, to say Greer is Arizona's State's most valuable player is probably an understatement.
While Greer is fantastic, and other offensive names like shortstop Colby Woodmansee (.278/.368/.458) and outfielder Andrew Shaps (.327/.368/.454) will be unforgiving to some of the less experienced and less equipped parts of TCU's pitching, the series will rest on pitching for the Sun Devils; namely starting pitcher Seth Martinez (9-3, 2.08 ERA) and killer closer Eder Erives (6-1, 2.73 ERA, 10 Saves). If the starting rotation isn't enough, Erives brings noteworthy stats, and enough energy to get out of Fort Worth.
Cal State Fullerton (road 2 game sweep); Stanford (road sweep); UCLA (road series win); Arizona (road series win).
Other Key Stats:
Run Differential: (+2)
Doubles: (105), lead Pac-12
Ability to Get Creative:
Lastly, if Greer is able to pitch well and Arizona State is able to use their arms wisely, where I can see the Sun Devils really having a chance--especially if this Regional ends up anything like the last two--is their ability to bend and not break. Many of their players, including some names we mentioned above like Shaps and Erives, can play just about anything; whether it's coming in for a late AB like Erives did a few weeks ago or Shaps being a guy who could throw from the mound should any of these games go extras--which the record shows one probably will--the Sun Devils can get creative. In a tournament atmosphere, especially when they're a road team with a little less to lose than TCU, this makes them very dangerous.
Gonzaga (35-19, 18-9)
If you didn't know, Gonzaga is in Washington. Like, Washington the state, on the west coast. They're a member of the West Coast Conference, which is also home to Pepperdine, BYU and Loyola Marymount, to name a few. The Bulldogs put together a 35-19 record overall and were 18-9 in conference. What's impressive is they played a lot of their best baseball on the road. They ended up finishing the regular season in a three way tie for the West Coast Conference with BYU and St. Mary's and lost the conference tournament championship to St. Mary's.
Who to Watch:
Brandon Bailey - RHP (9-3, 93.1 IP, 2.51 ERA, 120 Ks, 30 BBs)
Gonzaga's no slouch offensively; they're hitting .290 as a team. But the really impressive stats on this team come from the mound. Brandon Bailey is 3rd in the conference in wins and ERA, and first in strikeouts. All of his numbers are impressive, but that strikeout total really pops. Bailey is no stranger to Lupton either, he beat the Frogs in his Friday night start when Gonzaga visited Fort Worth back on March 4th. In that game he threw 111 pitches over seven innings, allowing three runs (all earned) on six hits with nine strikeouts and two walks.
Back to talking about the offense, Gonzaga's .290 batting average is good enough for 2nd in the conference, behind just BYU. They hit for good power too, as they're in the top 40 nationally in triples and top 20 in doubles. That doubles number is mostly due to Taylor Jones (.332 BA) with 24 and Jeffrey Bohling (.297 BA) with 23. These guys aren't alone though, as there are four other guys in the lineup with nine or more doubles and most of them have a few triples as well.
TCU (only took one of three on the road...but...relevant); Pepperdine (won two of three at home); Oregon (swept mid-week series); BYU (lost two of three in regular-season series, but won first round of conference tournament).
Other Key Stats:
Run Differential: (+1.6)
Road Record: (23-13)
Oral Roberts (38-19, 22-8)
Half a decade ago, Oral Roberts stuck the final dagger in TCU's underwhelming 2011 season. Underwhelming, partly because they were the preseason No. 1 team in the country, and the other part being that they let Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist beat them in their own Regional. While we've seen Dallas Baptist plenty of times since 2011--in a tournament that laid the seeds for a cross-town rivalry--we haven't seen Oral Roberts in five years. Now, like Benjen Stark, who we also haven't seen since 2011, they're back.
If you're reading this it's too late: Full disclosure, I (Marsh), completely underestimated this team before I submitted my shoot-around for the series. ORU is definitely a sleeper and has a series win against Oklahoma State and another big win in Starkville over National Seed Mississippi State to prove it. However, it's one thing to get midweek wins; winning a long Regional is another. I still wouldn't count them out. The bad news for the George Mason crowd is that ORU is not a good road as 74% of their losses have come away from home.
Who to Watch:
Sophomore right fielder Noah Cummings (.363/.428/.528), a former 7-hole hitter, is an interesting player. He was barely a starter during ORU's series against Dallas Baptist in February, and now he's emerged as their cleanup hitter. There's a little bit of a drop-off after the 5-hole hitter Brent Williams, but the top half of their lineup including senior centerfielder and leadoff hitter Nick Rotola (.322/.405/.423), 2-hole hitter and second baseman Nick Roark (.286/.365/.401), and Matt Whatley (.358/.468/.565) is a lethal combination and one that has 29 home runs between them.
As a team, ORU is also hitting .306, and despite what you could argue is a top-heaviness in the 1-5 hitters, the Golden Eagles have great 8-hole hitter in Trevin Sonnier (.320/.390/.414). This is what makes them so dangerous and a really tough No. 4 regional seed. This isn't automatic qualifying Sienna (no shots) from a couple years ago, this is a team that has solid hitters peppered throughout their order, and even if the six, seven, and nine hitters don't have the sexy stats like the other guys, they're still completely capable of opening a game up if their opponent's pitching goes off a cliff.
This is especially the case as they'll take on Mitchell Traver Friday. And even though Traver's ceiling is still really high--not to mention he was absolutely fire in last year's Super Regional--he's still recovering from injury. So Schlossnagle and Saarloos are more than likely to get creative on Friday, and this creativity doesn't quite lend itself to the same comfortableness that the bullpen would've given Traver last year had his circumstances been the same.
ORU's three starters, RHP Bryce Howe, RHP Nick Wood, and LHP Taylor Varnell are good enough to sustain leads, should their potent offensive give them some runs. Perhaps more importantly they have solid arms in their bullpen including big sophomore righty Cale Tims--who's sort of the Jared Janczak of the team and usually comes in relief for Howe on Fridays and collected 6 wins in the process--and closer Brady Womacks, who, in addition to 14 saves, has a punishing 1.25 ERA.
Dallas Baptist (series win), Oklahoma State (two game home-and-home series win), Mississippi State (3-1 win in Starkville)
Other Key Stats:
Run Differential: (+89)
Opponent BA: (.269)