#3 TCU Horned Frogs (0-0) vs Grand Canyon University (0-0) | Location: Brazell Field - Phoenix, AZ | Series: 0-0
Friday, Feb. 16 | 7 p.m. | ESPN3 | 88.7 KTCU | Jared Janczak (0-0) vs. Jake Wong (0-0)
Saturday, Feb. 17 | 3 p.m. | 88.7 KTCU | Nick Lodolo (0-0) vs. Mike Lundin (0-0)
Sunday, Feb. 18 | 2 p.m. | 88.7 KTCU | Sean Wymer (0-0) vs. Jack Schneider (0-0)
TCU will face off against the Antelopes of Grand Canyon University for their first ever meeting Friday evening, opening their season on the road for the first time in half a decade. It’s been a long time coming for Frog fans, who are anxiously awaiting the start of a season full of hope - and plenty of questions marks.
The Frogs welcomed 15 new players this off-season, including nine freshmen. Only three players that opened the 2017 season will be on the field to start 2018 - pitcher Jared Janczak, first baseman Luken Baker, and left fielder Josh Watson - though Connor Wanhanen, who has plenty of starts under his belt, will be in right field come the bottom of the first.
TCU, of course, made their fourth consecutive trip to Omaha and the College World Series last June, falling in the final game of bracket play to eventual champion Florida. The Frogs tied for the Big 12 regular season crown with Texas Tech, going 16-8 in conference play as part of their 50 win season. The Lopes won the WAC a season ago, and are expected to do the same in 2108, with the help of six returning starters in the field and four members of their pitching rotation. GCU is led by preseason pitcher of the year Jake Wong, who will face the Frogs’ ace on Friday night. But the thing you REALLY need to know about GCU is... well...
Do you see it?
They basically modeled themselves after TCU. Same font, same colors, similar social media graphics (though TCU’s are better).
TCU, as you may remember, is a former member of the WAC, finishing as high as second three times in their five year run. Those teams were coached by Lance Brown, who preceded Jim Schlossnagle in Fort Worth. GCU just returned to Division I athletics play in 2015, and have won the WAC in two of the three seasons since. They were NAIA National Champions four times as well. Oh, and most importantly, they are selling GIANT PURPLE CHURROS at all their home games - FOR JUST $2!!!
All that to say, there are quite a few parallels between these two programs, and it doesn’t end with their word mark.
The Lopes are a solid hitting team, returning six starters from a lineup that hit just a shade under .300 a season ago and averaged nearly six runs a game. Not a big power team, GCU put just 27 balls over the fence, while allowing 33. The Frogs, for comparison, hit just .268 as a unit, but mashed 58 long balls and allowed 46. Three Lopes that batted over .300 last season return, led by Austin Bull, who hit .339 and led the team with 74 hits. Garrison Schwartz, who led the team with eight long balls and 49 RBIs is back as well, and is likely the most dangerous hitter in a lineup that should be proficient once again in 2018.
It’s really hard to predict how a defense will look in game one, as all we can really do is look back, which doesn’t account at all for new players. The Lopes had 50 errors in 54 games a season ago, which is a pretty high number. Their fielding percentage of .976 was just a tick ahead of TCU’s (.974), but the Frogs had just 47 errors in 68 games. Of course, TCU is replacing the entire infield from their last game in 2017 to their first in 2018, and will likely start a pair of true freshmen up the middle, so who’s to say how that plays out this season?
This is what it all comes down to, especially in the early goings. And boy, are college baseball fans in for a treat tonight, as a pair of legit aces face off in the season opener.
Jared Janczak (0-0) vs. Jake Wong (0-0)
Janczak went 9-2 a season ago, with a 2.31 ERA and 102 strikeouts compared to just 24 walks issued. JJ is an elite college pitcher, one of those players who any team in the country would put on the mound against any team in the country and feel damn good about their chances. Janczak wasn’t at his best in the College World Series (though he was still really good), and will look to elevate his MLB profile in what could very well be the redshirt juniors last campaign in purple. Janczak doesn’t blow you away with speed, but he has a nasty slider, hits his spots, and keeps the ball on the ground. And he’s a complete gamer who isn’t afraid of the moment.
Wong was really good during his sophomore season at GCU, and his early success translated him into being named preseason WAC pitcher of the year for 2018. Wong went 5-3 in 14 starts a season ago, posting a 4.00 ERA, striking 51 batters out in 72.2 innings while walking just 25. He allowed just three home runs and 21 total extra base hits. In his worst appearance of the season, he allowed seven earned runs to Seattle University, and he surrendered six once and five twice. The Frogs should look to be aggressive early in the count against Wong - he throws strikes and isn’t prone to giving guys free bases. It should be a really fun, well-played game.
Nick Lodolo (0-0) vs. Mike Lundin (0-0)
Lodolo returns for his sophomore campaign having added 15 pounds of muscle to a frame that helped him go 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA as a true freshman. Lodolo looks the part of future star - though he had his share of freshman moments in 2017, it was clear he has Big League stuff and could anchor a collegiate rotation sooner rather than later. A little wild early on, Lodolo allowed 76 hits in 78.2 innings, but walked just 28 batters against 72 strikeouts. It’s not unrealistic to expect a big step forward in year two, as he looks to be a series winner in the middle of a solid rotation for TCU.
Mike Lundin is as experienced as they come, as a redshirt senior, but the righty will be making his first ever start for Lopes Saturday night after transferring from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. It’s hard to find stats on Lundin from FPU, but I can tell you that he pitched 9.1 innings as a freshman and posted a 2.89 ERA in the process, and as a sophomore he was 8-1 with two saves in 84.0 innings of work, averaging 9.96 Ks per nine innings (93 total). Oh, and he once pitched a seven inning no no with 11 Ks. So I would imagine he has some swing and miss stuff, which could mean trouble for the Horned Frogs.
Sean Wymer (0-0) vs. Jack Schneider (0-0)
If there is one thing you’re excited about, outside of baseball being back, it’s probably the debut of Sean Wymer, TCU starting pitcher. Wymer became a fan favorite over the course of the season as he owned the role of steady, reliable reliever, but graduated to out and out folk hero with his incredible performances in the post season, and most notably, the CWS. Wymer finished the season 6-4 with a 2.10 ERA in 55.2 innings, striking out 66 batters while walking just ten. The junior made a name for himself on the national stage in the Super Regionals, going a perfect 10/10 in outs and batters faced. In Omaha, he shut down A&M in game two, retiring all six batters he faced and striking out a pair, and topped that with a 4.1 inning, five strikeout, two hit masterpiece against Louisville to keep TCU’s dream alive. Capitalizing on his performance, Wymer was named to Team USA that summer, and worked on stretching himself out to starter material. Now, we get to see how the experiment looks in real time.
Schneider, a 6’0” sophomore lefty, went 7-0 in 10 starts a season ago, striking out 32 and walking 19 in 50.1 innings of work. Not necessarily a power guy, he is still really effective, and could be projected to take a Lodolo-like jump himself in year two. He did allow six bombs last year, so it will be fun to watch him battle with Baker and Watson, but I would imagine we might be in for a low scoring rubber match.
Lest you think this is a cake-walk opener, GCU is a preseason four seed in the postseason field in their first year of NCAA postseason eligibility. This is a really good team, that has talented throughout the lineup and the pen, and is well-coached to boot. The Lopes will be looking to make a statement against a top ten team as they open their freshly remodeled ballpark, and will give TCU everything they’ve got to open the season.
I think we will see three close games and three late inning battles, but ultimately, a Frogs’ season opening series win.
Finally, let’s PLAY BALL!