After a series victory over Kansas last weekend TCU is one game behind Texas Tech, in second place in the Big 12 standings. Among teams who have played a Big 12 series, TCU is first in team pitching with a 2.00 ERA. For Oklahoma State, this will be the beginning of their Big 12 schedule. Of the Big 12 teams that have already played a conference series, only TCU, Baylor and Texas are playing a Big 12 series this weekend. What that means is this: TCU is in position to take over first place in the Big 12 standings with a series win this weekend.
To accomplish that, the Frogs will have to go through one of the few teams that has consistently gotten the better of them since they joined the Big 12. Oklahoma State holds a 7-6 advantage over the Frogs in Big 12 play, and has won the last three regular season series (2014, 2015 & 2016). Even during a run of three straight College World Series appearances for the Horned Frogs, this is one hurdle they haven’t been able to clear.
This Cowboys team started the year ranked in the preseason top 25, but dropped out after posting a 4-4 record in their first eight games. Then they turned some heads by going 2-1 in the Frisco College Classic, with wins over Nebraska and Arkansas together with a one-run loss against Arizona. They will enter Fort Worth this weekend with a 15-6 record, riding an eight-game winning streak. A series win this weekend would go a long way towards this TCU team looking like the team we expected them to be in the preseason again.
Friday: Jared Janczak vs. Tyler Buffett
Saturday: Nick Lodolo vs. Jonathan Heasley
Sunday: Brian Howard vs. Blake Battenfield
Janczak will switch with Nick Lodolo after pitching the Saturday game in the Kansas series last weekend. Both pitched well last weekend, but Janczak put on the best display of pitching of any Horned Frog this year. He had a perfect game going into the eighth and a no-hitter going into the ninth. While he just missed out on the big headline, he allowed just two hits and one run in his eight innings of work while striking out 14 Jayhawks. He now owns an ERA of 2.36 in 34 1⁄3 innings pitched.
Tyler Buffet is a senior right-hander for OSU, and one of the guys that led the Cowboys to their first College World Series appearance since 1999 last year. This year he’s 3-2 with a 4.13 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28 1⁄3 innings pitched. In his last outing, against Northwestern State, he went 5 2⁄3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
Last week I said that even though Nick Lodolo has been pretty good for a freshman this year, so far he’d been without a performance that lived up to the hype of his first-round draft status. He responded with his best game of the year to open conference play against the Jayhawks. He threw 5 2⁄3 innings and allowed just one run on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts to bring his ERA down to 5.06. He’s 2-1 in his five starts this year.
Jonathan Heasley has thrown mostly out of the bullpen for the Cowboys, but he will get his third start of the season, and second in a row, against TCU on Saturday. The freshman right-hander owns a 2.29 ERA in 19 2⁄3 innings pitched. He’s 2-2 in 10 appearances and two starts on the year. Last weekend against Northwestern State was his best outing of the season, as he went 7 1/3 innings giving up just one run on one hit with a walk and six strikeouts.
TCU senior Brian Howard remains in the Sunday slot this weekend after an encouraging start last week against Kansas. He had struggled mightily in March to that point, giving up multiple first-inning runs on back-to-back occasions to start the month. Last week, though, he didn’t give up a run through the first five innings, and went 5 2⁄3 innings giving up two runs on three hits with three walks and four strikeouts to lower his ERA to 7.04. He’s 2-2 in his six starts this year.
Junior right-hander Blake Battenfield will get the Sunday start for OSU after earning the win in his mid-week start against Oklahoma on Tuesday. In that game he threw three innings of shutout baseball, allowing just one hit and striking out two. On the year he has a 2.89 ERA and a 2-0 record in eight appearances and three starts. While he had some struggles earlier in the year, he has been really good lately. Battenfield hasn’t allowed a run in his last 13 innings pitched.
The Cowboy offense is ranked fourth in the Big 12 with a team batting average of .292. They’re led by junior third baseman Garrett Benge, who’s hitting .342 and leading the team with 27 RBIs and five home runs. Last weekend he was named Big 12 player of the week, hitting .471 in five games. Leading the team in runs scored with 25 is junior outfielder Garrett McCain. He’s hitting .346 with four doubles, three triples and two home runs, and he’s 6-6 in stolen base attempts, which also leads the team.
Among teams who have played a Big 12 series TCU is fourth in hitting with a .252 average on the year. Nolan Brown and Josh Watson seem like the only Frogs immune to these offensive struggles. Brown is hitting .343 and leads the team in stolen bases with 10 bags on 11 attempts. Watson had a 13-game hit streak broken in Sunday’s loss to Kansas, but has raised his average almost 100 points over the last month to .290. Luken Baker still leads the team with four home runs and 23 runs scored, but his average has fallen to .288 over the last month from close to .400.
This weekend’s games are scheduled for 6:30pm, 7:00pm and 1:00pm CT on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. The Saturday and Sunday games will be televised on ESPN2.