TCU vs Texas A&M | Saturday March 5th | 7:05pm | FS2
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but TCU and Texas A&M will be playing in a high stakes baseball game this season, though this one comes in March, not June. The Frogs and Aggies have carved out quite a rivalry on the diamond over the past few years, meeting in a pair of Super Regionals, each hosting one, and a handful of games during the pre-season.
Neither the Frogs or Aggies are strangers to the Shriners (nee Houston) College Classic; TCU has participated on six occasions, most recently in 2016 when they went 3-0, while A&M has made eight appearances, most recently in 2015. The two baseball powers will meet for the first time in the round robin tournament this year.
A&M absolutely unloaded on Texas Tech in their opening game, as Bringham Hill held the Red Raider lineup to just three hits across seven shutout innings while freshman Logan Foster exploded with a 4-5 day that included a pair of doubles and a home run. Joel Davis, who missed the deciding game three of the Supers last year due to injury, was also dynamic at the plate, going 3-5 and scoring a pair of runs. The 9-0 dominating victory saw the Ags hit two long balls and five doubles, displaying the power throughout their lineup and the strength of several true freshmen who have made an instant impact.
TCU opened with a win of their own, matching A&M’s nine runs while surrendering six. Brian Howard was masterful after an opening frame where he allowed four runs - mostly on bloopers and bad bounces - and TCU put on a power show of their own with home runs by lead off hitter Austen Wade and mash man Luken Baker.
Both teams should have a full complement of pitchers to utilize, with each club only needing one reliever to get through their ball games.
TCU will avoid Aggie ace Bringham Hill, who will get the opening day start against Texas Tech. Instead, they will face sophomore Stephen Kolek, a righty who has started strong with a 1-0 record and 1.64 ERA in 11 innings of work. Kolek has struck out five and walked two in the early goings of the season, surrendering a home run and a pair of doubles. He did not pitch against the Frogs in last season’s Super Regional matchup.
The Frogs will send freshman lefty Nick Lodolo to the mound for the third start of his young career. Lodolo has pitched well in his first two games, going 2-0 with a team best 2.70 ERA. He leads TCU with 13 strikeouts - in only ten innings of work - but also holds the title for most walks, with six. He has improved in each start to this point, both times recovering from early struggles to dominate the middle innings. While he continues to adjust to the pressure of the collegiate game and the quality of his opponents, it’s clear he has a chance to be special. Pitching well on the biggest stage thus far would go a long way towards establishing himself as one of the top young pitchers in the game.
The Frogs have been knocking the ball out of the park with regularity through their first eight games, blasting 13 home runs already. If they were to continue their current pace, that would mean well over 70 home runs on the season, a significantly larger number than last year’s 55. While the mashing has been fun to watch, the team batting average of .267 is far below expectations from this veteran team, as only Nolan Brown (.393), Luken Baker (.355), and Austen Wade (.306) are hitting above .300. Junior catcher Evan Skoug had an especially tough go of things prior to last night, striking out 17 times in his 29 at-bats. But a 4-5 game, which matched his hit total prior to last night’s game, will hopefully bust him out of his slump. Third baseman Elliot Barzilli - who was hitting around .700 this time last year - has also done quite a bit of swinging and missing, to the tune of 13 strikeouts so far. Those two combined nearly match the total of the rest of the regular starters, who have 36 total strikeouts through the first nine games.
Generally known for their patience at the plate, TCU has drawn 57 walks so far, led by sophomore outfielder Josh Watson’s eight. That’s the sixth highest rate in the country so far.
On the other side of the diamond, the Aggies are absolutely raking so far in 2017, to the tune of a .344 team batting average (heading into Friday’s game). They have 40 extra base hits through nine games, including nine home runs. The strikeout to walk ratios are similar to TCU’s; 69 Ks against 55 walks. The TCU pitchers will benefit from hitting their spots and painting the black, and if they want to have success, the defense will have to be far stouter behind the pitchers that it has to this point this year.
Among the regulars, freshman Braden Shewmake leads the Ags with a .450 average, one of six regulars hitting over .300. Utility player Jorge Gutierrez, another freshman, has been quite the story as well: he has a .462 average across 13 at bats and half of his six hits have gone out of the ballpark. Slugging 1.308% with six walks and five strikeouts, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on over the weekend. Shewmake and senior Joel Davis lead the club with 15 and 13 RBI respectively, and Davis has knocked a pair out of the park as well as mashing two triples. Much like the TCU lineup, there aren’t many opportunities for a young pitcher to catch their breath.
Ultimately, this is a fun matchup between two really good programs who could likely meet in the post-season for a third consecutive year. The winner of tonight’s game doesn’t get much more than bragging rights, but it’s an important test for TCU’s young pitcher and the Aggie’s young lineup.