Saturday afternoon was the worst I have ever felt at Lupton Stadium. Losing at home always sucks in a special kind of way, but getting absolutely shellacked like that - BY BAYLOR - was humiliating in a new kind of way. I have followed the TCU Baseball program pretty closely over the last eight years or so, and never have I felt worse slinking back to my car than I did that day. Good teams lose games. Good teams get beat. Good teams have off days. But what happened Saturday doesn’t often happen to good teams.
The Frogs bounced back Sunday to get a win - looking the part of elite team up until the ninth inning. Brian Howard started and was solid, the at bats were patient and effective, the hitters took advantage of a rare day when the wind was blowing out to mash three home runs, and the defense was good to really good. But in the ninth, it all unraveled for the second straight week for closer Durbin Feltman, who must have channelled Bill Murray as he once again followed an inning opening strikeout with three straight walks, going 3-1, 3-1, and 4-0 to back to back to back Baylor batters.
This is, without question, the most talented team of the Jim Schlossnagle era. They have starting pitching, they have bullpen depth, they have a dominant closer. The defense is above average - especially when Michael Landestoy is at first and Luken Baker is in the lineup at DH - they run the bases aggressively and generally effectively, and the lineup is dotted with guys who hit for power and average, see a ton of pitches in every at bat, and can wear an opposing pitching staff down. And yet...
On twitter the other day, I saw someone (and I apologize for not remembering who it was) say something along the lines of “I can’t make excuses for this team anymore, saying they’ll get it figured out. Eventually, they have to actually figure it out”. It’s a tough sentiment, but it’s true - after the disastrous California trip, we wrote off the results as being due to coming off the emotional weekend in Houston. A series loss at WVU was a tough environment with the targets on their back. The Baylor abomination? Even good teams have bad days. But, at some point, this team needs to go out and dominate the opposition in a way that shows they are capable of winning a Big 12 Championship, host and win a Regional, host and win a Super Regional, and not just get back to Omaha, but win the whole damn thing. There isn’t a better time than the present to do just that.
The Frogs will take on SFA tonight, and follow that with a Big 12 gauntlet of at Texas Tech, Texas at home, and at Oklahoma to finish the season. To secure a top eight seed, and thus be a national seed and a host through the Regionals and Super Regionals, the Frogs likely need to win each of their three remaining conference series and at least a couple wins in the Big 12 tourney, while dispatching their mid-week opponents along the way. A win tonight is a good way to kick it off.
As of print time, the Frogs have yet to announce their starting pitcher for tonight, but the job has been Dalton Horton’s when Traver hasn’t been available. Horton has two midweek starts and four appearances, sporting an 0-1 record with a 8.71 ERA in 10.1 innings. With Mitchell Traver moving back to the weekend rotation, at least last weekend, with Jared Janczak’s injury, the competition is clearly open, and with Schlossnagle declining to name a starter as of Tuesday afternoon, it’s really anyone’s guess. Charles King, Jake Eissler, Dalton Brown, and Austin Boyles all pitched over the weekend, but any or all could get work against the Jacks Tuesday night. According the SFA website, the TCU starter will be either King or Eissler, so we shall see.
The Lumberjacks will go with lefty Erik Nouis, who is 1-2 with a 6.55 ERA in eight starts and ten total appearances. With 33.0 innings under his belt, Nouis has 35 strikeouts against 22 walks, and has allowed just one home run. At 6’3”, the senior is big, experienced, and not easily shook. He will make the Frogs work for their hits, but opportunities will be there for them to get on base.
The Jacks have an impressive offense, batting .282 as a team and scoring 6.5 runs per game. They’ve struck out 214 times and walked 170, while stealing 30 bases in 47 attempts. Josh Evans is the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, batting over .400 with seven home runs, six doubles, and 25 RBI. Zac Michener leads the team with eight dingers and 39 runs batted in, and Nick Ramos has knocked 11 two-baggers.
The Frogs have raised their team average to .277, and four players (Austen Wade, Nolan Brown, Luken Baker, and Cam Warner) are hitting over .300. Wade and Skoug have been especially hot lately, as Skoug moved into second place with 35 RBI and took the team lead with his ninth home run Sunday. TCU was very good at the plate Friday and Sunday, being patient on pitches and making the Bears go to the pen early and often. A mature approach at the plate should tax an SFA squad that doesn’t have the bullpen depth of the Frogs, and put them in good position to get a win.
Here are the game notes, as provided by www.gofrogs.com:
• TCU increased its lead in the Big 12 standings to two games with a series win over Baylor.
• TCU climbed back into the top 5 of rankings, checking in as high as No. 4 in the Baseball America poll.
• The Horned Frogs rank fifth in the Big 12 in offense (.277) and third in ERA (3.79).
• Defensively the Frogs have climbed to fourth in the Big 12 with a .976 fielding percentage thanks to just two errors in its last six games.
• TCU added a pair of stolen bases to bring its season total to 69, a mark that ranks 15th nationally.
• TCU ranks 23rd nationally with its 7.4 runs per game average.
• TCU is tied for the Big 12 lead with 37 home runs this season. The Horned Frogs have homered in 22 games this year.
• Austin Wade reached base safely in all three games to stretch his reached base streak to 26.
• Evan Skoug matched his career-high with his ninth home run on Sunday.
• Nolan Brown continues to lead the league with his 21 stolen bases, a mark that ranks eighth nationally.
• Dalton Brown recorded his first career save Sunday.
• Tuesday’s meeting will be the 16th of the series.
• The Horned Frogs hold an 11-4 series lead.
• TCU is 4-2 against the Lumberjacks under coach Schlossnagle.
• SFA is making its second trek to TCU since the 2013 season. SFA won that contest 6-3 on April 10, 2013.
• TCU and SFA have split the last four meetings after TCU topped the ‘Jacks 3-2 win on May 17, 2016.
• Prior to a 4-3 loss in 2011, the Frogs had won seven straight dating back to the 1990 season.
• The Lumberjacks’ head coach Johnny Cardenas is a former Horned Frog (1992-93).