The Big 12 Baseball Tournament is of varying importance to each team in the bracket; whether you’re TCU or Texas Tech, trying to raise your national seed, or Texas or WVU hoping to host a regional, or Kansas hoping to make enough noise to sneak into the round of 64, there is plenty to play for in OKC this week.
Let’s take a look at each team and what they need out of the tournament.
*all stats from conference play only
#1: Texas Tech
The Red Raiders have all but sewn up a National Seed, and seem poised to have the chance to play at home throughout the Road to Omaha. Projected anywhere from 3-5, Tech could raise their profile and possibly raise to the two seed overall with a tournament championship. Led by pitchers Steven Gingery and Ryan Shetter and sluggers Hunter Hargrove, Orlando Garcia, and Michael Davis, Tech is formidable across the board and on both sides of the diamond. The Red Raiders have the highest batting average in the conference (.309), have hit the most home runs (28), lead the league in slugging percentage (.484), and runs (165). They have the second best ERA (3.61), trailing only Texas, and dominated TCU in Lubbock across one and a half games. To say they are formidable would be an understatement, and they seem primed for a deep post-season run.
In the micro sense, TCU’s 2017 campaign has been a disappointment. But, if you look at the big picture, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Frogs won 39 games, including a sterling 23-4 record at home, hit .277 as a team, mashed 22 home runs, stole 38 bases, walked 121 times, and were named co-champions after matching Tech’s 16-8 Big 12 mark.
But... the Frogs lost road series at WVU, at Tech, and at Oklahoma. The bullpen has been inconsistent to say the least, and the defense at times sloppy. When you start the season as the #1 team in the country, the bar is set so high that anything less than near perfection seems a let down. After losing their final conference series, TCU went out west and looked shaky at times in winning their first two games at Cal, mixing extra base hits aplenty with untimely errors and an offense that struggled with runners in scoring position. The Frogs need a solid run this week in OKC to regain their confidence at the plate and from the mound heading into Regional play, and ensure they get to play in the friendly confines of Lupton Stadium - no team in the conference was better at home than the Frogs, after all.
After smacking the Frogs with back to back walk-off wins in Norman, the Sooners laid an egg against Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series, getting swept in a two game set that allowed the Pokes to sneak into the postseason. The Sooners have been neither explosive offensively or consistent from the mound, be seem to have a knack for timely hitting and quite possibly the best shutdown guy in the conference in senior JB Olson - who has four wins and three saves on the season.
The Sooners finish just above .500 in conference play, led by the balanced offense of Steele Walker, Renae Martinez, Austin O’Brien - the former who seemed to single handedly defeat the Frogs. OU will face off against Texas, who took two out of three off of them in Austin.
#4 West Virginia
What in the heck happened to the Mountaineers? After looking poised to contend for a title early in the conference season, WVU lost their final four series of Big 12 play, including a real head-scratcher to Kansas State in Manhattan. The Eers are in the top four for batting average and ERA in the conference, have two of the best arms in the Big 12 in Michael Grove and BJ Myers, and good speed in Kyle Gray and Braden Zarbnisky. But, they have certainly been fading down the stretch. West Virginia will face a Baylor team that is more than capable of knocking them off - WVU beat them two out of three in Waco, but both teams are playing at a different level than mid-March.
About those Baylor Bears...
This wasn’t supposed to be the year newly minted Big 12 Coach of the Year Steve Rodriguez had the Bears primed for a post season run, but here they are in line for a #2 seed in the field of 64 and looking to mash their way to the Supers. The Bears hit .289 as a team during Big 12 play, scorched 26 dingers, and slugged .437. They are in the top two or three of nearly every meaningful offensive category in the conference but trail only Kansas in stolen bases. In contrast they are near the bottom of the league in pretty much every pitching category, with a 5.40 ERA, allowing opponents to bat nearly .300, surrendered 22 home runs, and struck out only 170 players during the Big 12 campaign.
The 2016 Big 12 Championship was an offensive-heavy affair; don’t be surprised if the Bears hit their way to Sunday.
The Longhorns are a scary team; their pitching is as good or better than anyone in the conference - Big 12 best 3.55 team ERA, 85 runs allowed, 88 walks issued, and three shutouts. But the bats are inconsistent at best, as they are the very bottom of the league with a .232 average. It’s hard to find a Horn in the top ten of many meaningful offensive categories, but the veteran-heavy unit of Kacy and Kody Clemens and Travis Jones are capable of giving star pitchers Nolan Kingham and Morgan Cooper enough run support to allow Beau Ridgeway to close things out. Pitching depth is key in these extended conference tournaments; if UT can get past Oklahoma in round one to stay in the winner’s bracket, they could give TCU a serious run for the division championship.
The Jayhawks were once an irrelevant Big 12 baseball team, but their semi-resurgence in 2017 has helped the overall strength of the conference in a significant way. Kansas has neither pitched or hit to the level of the top half of the conference, but did enough to win series over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State to get themselves into the dance. KU isn’t a likely candidate to make the field of 64 at 29-26, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility should they make a serious run in Oklahoma City.
#8 Oklahoma State
No team in the conference had a harder fall from grace than the Oklahoma State Cowboys; a year after going 43-22 on their way to an appearance in Omaha, the Pokes went 26-25 and needed to sweep their cross-state rivals to pass Kansas State for the eighth and final seed in the tournament.
The Cowboys had an unbelievable injury streak, losing the bulk of their starting pitching and several key offensive players early in the season. Finally getting healthier, the Pokes are led by one of the best coaches in the country in Josh Holliday and have two of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big 12 in a pair of Garretts: McCain and Benge. Though it looks like 2017 isn’t their year, the Cowboys are always dangerous, and could make things difficult for the Red Raiders in their first round matchup.
The games kick off at 9:00am as West Virginia and Baylor square off. The full schedule is below:
Wednesday, May 24
Game 1: No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 5 Baylor - 9:00 a.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Texas Tech vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State - 12:30 p.m.
Game 3: No. 2 TCU vs. No. 7 Kansas - 4:00 p.m.
Game 4: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Texas - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 25
Game 5: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser - 9:00 a.m.
Game 6: Game 3 Loser vs. Game 4 Loser - 12:30 p.m.
Game 7: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner - 4:00 p.m.
Game 8: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner - 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 26
Game 9: Game 7 Loser vs. Game 5 Winner - 3:15 p.m.
Game 10: Game 8 Loser vs. Game 6 Winner - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 27
Game 11: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner - 9:00 a.m.
Game 12: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner - 12:30 p.m.
*Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11, If Necessary - 4:00 p.m.
**Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs. Loser Game 12, If Necessary*** - 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 28
Game 15: Championship Game - 1:00 p.m.
Times listed in Central.
*Game 13 will be necessary if the winner of Game 9 also wins Game 11.
**Game 14 will be necessary if the winner of Game 10 also wins Game 12.
***If Game 13 is unnecessary, Game 14 will be played at 4:30 p.m. rather than 7:30 p.m.