Jim Schlossnagle and Kirk Saarloos have an enticing dilemma in front of them heading into this weekend’s best of three Super Regional series with Missouri State: the Frogs have four very good starting pitchers, but only three possible slots to fill.
In their first post-season action, TCU chose to open with Nick Lodolo, send Jared Janczak out for the must win game two, Brian Howard out for game three, and Mitchell Traver for game four. In the Regional series, they went Traver-Janczak-Howard - and were heavily rewarded for that decision with three quality starts and three qucik victories. So with a potent Bears offense looming, do you stick with what’s working, or change things up in the name of getting your star freshman some work in case Omaha comes calling? Melissa and Travis have opinions, and debate them here, in this week’s He Said, She said.
Who should star Saturday?
Melissa: This is the toughest choice of the weekend, I think we can both agree. In one corner, you have the suddenly on fire Mitchell Traver, who has allowed a grand total of one run in 23 innings of postseason ball at Lupton. In the other corner, you have freshman wunderkind Nick Lodolo, who’s off-speed stuff literally buckles hitters knees. Winning game one in a three game series that has stakes as high as this one is so crucial - Nick has pitched incredibly well down the stretch, and frankly needs the work after being on the bench since late May - but how do you go away from one of your veteran leaders, especially when all he has done in his last two starts is throw 14.0 innings of five hit, two run ball with 17 strikeouts and just three walks? Traver came back for this, and now that he’s finally healthy, we are seeing why he was considered one of the top prospects in the country before injuries derailed his career.
This is a huge series for TCU… of course it is. And there is not a being on this planet more superstitious than a baseball player/coach. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Go with the guys who got you here, but have a really short hook and be prepared to go with Nick Lodolo at a moment’s notice. Missouri State has a few really good left handed hitters - but their two biggest bats are righties. You have a couple of good lefties in the pen for situational stuff, but nothing wrong with starting three straight righties in the series. Well, hopefully just two. I do think the Frogs missed an opportunity to get Lodolo some work in Monday night - he had thrown a bullpen and was unavailable - but it would have been really nice if he could have come in for a few innings behind that huge lead. Should TCU go to Omaha, they will need a fourth starter, and it’s asking a lot of a freshman to make his first appearance in weeks on the biggest bump in college baseball.
Travis: Mitchell Traver has been dominant this postseason. There’s no arguing that. But he did just get back to full health about a month ago and he has seen the two longest outings of his career in the last two starts, with last week’s against Central Connecticut being his longest. Given his history of injury, it makes sense to give him the week off and go with Lodolo. Plus, that frees you up to have a fresh Traver starting game one in Omaha. Letting Traver rest up wouldn’t be the only benefit either. Lodolo’s last start was on May 24th against Kansas, and that was over two weeks ago at this point. Not only would it be good to knock the rust off, but also to give Lodolo the experience of pitching in a high-stakes, playoff atmosphere. You need all the quality pitching you can get in Omaha, and if TCU makes it that far it would benefit them greatly to have given Lodolo some game action this weekend.
Who should start Sunday:
Travis: Who are the five greatest pitchers on TCU’s staff? Janczak, Janczak, Janczak, Janczak and Janczak. Yeah, I know that this is supposed to be a point-counterpoint, but there’s not a person in Fort Worth that would argue against Janczak getting the start in Game 2. Last year he was thrown into the starting role as a freshman and still managed 7-4 record with a 2.61 ERA. This year he has refined himself into a true ace, coming into the Super Regional at 9-0 with a 1.89 ERA. Whether he is giving you the chance to close out the series in two, which would be really nice for a change, or it’s a must-win game to get to Monday night, there is nobody I trust more than Janczak.
Melissa: I think we are both in agreement here that Jared Janczak is the man. Whether it’s a must win game to stay alive or a chance to close it out in two, there is no one I want in the mound more than the Frogs ace. What he did last weekend, against a super talented Virginia team, would be unbelievable if it weren’t so common place. JJ has shown time and time again that the moment is never too big for him, and he has been incredible on the biggest stage both at home and on the road. There’s no reason to expect he won’t give the same type of dominant performance against an MSU lineup - that actually looks a lot like UVA’s Sunday, hopefully to send the Frogs to Omaha.
Who should start Monday?
Melissa: Brian Howard is the best choice in slot three, if needed, for TCU, for several reasons. One, if you are in a situation that is win and go to Omaha or lose and go home, who better than your back to back ten game winner, your steadiest of rocks, your emotional leader, your super senior? Two, Howard has been outstanding throughout his career as a playoff pitcher; in a win or go home game against Kansas in this year’s Big 12 tournament, he struck out a career high 12 batters in a complete game gem. With a chance to send TCU to the Supers last weekend, he went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits - both runs on a first inning home run before he settled in and shut down one one of the most potent offenses in the country - as TCU pounded DBU in a runaway affair. Last year, in the same Regional closeout situation, he was dominant once again, 8.0 innings, one run on four hits with nine strikeouts. In the Supers? How about one run on two hits with eight Ks in 7.0 innings to beat A&M in College Station and send the Frogs to Omaha. Once there, he was the only TCU pitcher to beat Coastal Carolina, scattering six hits across 5.2 innings as he held the Chants to one run and struck out seven. Brian Howard is a big game pitcher. He can either send TCU to the promised land, or be ready to pitch game one once they arrive. I would prefer the latter ;).
Travis: I’m also a fan of Brian Howard going in the Monday, “if necessary” game. He has the most experience out of anybody on TCU’s staff pitching in these high-pressure playoff games, and he has more success in those games than anybody else to boot. Melissa has already covered his performance in some of his bigger games, so I won’t rehash it. But for all of his struggles in the regular season this year, he has shown over the last two weeks that last year’s postseason Howard was no fluke. I said above that I love Traver being rested to start game one in Omaha, but if the Super Regional is over in two games I too am a fan of throwing Howard in game one and saving Traver for later in the tournament.
Well, there you have it. Most everyone probably agrees on who should start game two, but it will be interesting to see the choice Jim Schlossnagle makes in game one and three. Either way, if whoever takes the bump has the same success as last weekend, the Frogs are in good shape to make a run back to Omaha.