The Golden Gophers are making quite a trip out of their Texas baseball swing, playing five games in the Lone Star over the course of a week that finishes with a three game set at TCU. But who could blame them - it is awfully cold in Minnesota these days.
The Golden Gophers and Horned Frogs have never met??????? on the baseball diamond, but the two fanbases share a mutual affection after a home and home football series in 2014 and 2015 that was full of Southern Charm and Minnesota Nice.
But this is baseball, and the Frogs are looking to get back on track on their home field after back to back losses to Vanderbilt (Dodger Stadium) and Rice (Reckling Field). TCU has won every series they have played this season on their way to a 9-5 start, but have yet to earn a sweep. In this, their last non-conference series before Big 12 play begins, they’ll be looking for just that.
TCU Baseball (9-5) vs Minnesota (12-6) | Lupton Stadium | Fort Worth, TX | Series:
Friday (6:30pm CT | 88.7 KTCU) : RHP Jared Janczak (1-1, 2.08 ERA) vs RHP Reggie Meyer (1-2, 3.57 ERA)
Saturday (5:00pm CT | 88.7 KTCU): LHP Nick Lodolo (3-1, 4.74 ERA) vs LHP Nick Lackney (1-0, 3.86 ERA)
Sunday (12:30pm CT | 88.7 KTCU | FSSW): RHP Sean Wymer (0-0, 6.74 ERA) vs RHP Patrick Fredrickson (1-0, 2.84 ERA)
TCU has some questions to answer as conference play creeps into view. The Frogs replaced a ton of production this season, and we knew there would be growing pains because of that. The offense has been bolstered by the hot starts of Josh Watson, Luken Baker, Zach Humphreys, and Michael Landestoy, but as those heavy hitters begin to come back to earth a bit, the Frogs are looking for offensive consistency from elsewhere in the lineup. AJ Balta seems to be reverting to the form that made him a freshman All-American, but freshmen Adam Oviedo and Coby Boulware have been inconsistent as they adjust to collegiate pitching, Conner Shepherd continues to hit under .100 on the year, and Connor Wanhanen has been good, but not an ideal option at the leadoff spot. It’s early, so there’s no reason to panic, but TCU has struck out a lot, committed too many errors, and just hasn’t found the chemistry that we have been so spoiled with over the past several seasons. TCU is still averaging over 6.5 runs per game, so there’s certainly no need to panic, but with conference play looming, it feels wise to temper expectations. For now.
TCU’s pitching has also been a question mark early in the season, as a rotation that was expected to be one of the country’s best has not quite lived up to expectations through the first month of the season. Jared Janczak has been as good as advertised, getting back on track with a lockdown performance against USC Friday night in LA. Nick Lodolo has been on the right side of the win column, but has been prone to giving up big innings, allowing 10 earned runs in 19 innings, thanks to 22 hits - including three doubles and two home runs. Against Vanderbilt Sunday, he had a real rough go of things, allowing five runs on six hits and hitting three batters. Lodolo will be fine - the sophomore is absolutely talented and has incredible stuff. Sean Wymer gave Jim Schlossnagle something to think about in relieving Lodolo, the junior was lights out in relief, going 3.2 innings, allowing two runs on two hits and striking out four. Is Wymer that much more comfortable out of the pen? Or is he still rounding into shape but ready to be that third starter? It appears he will hold on to that role for the time being, and there’s no reason to think he can’t be the same dominant arm on Sundays as he has been in relief.
The bullpen has looked solid for the Frogs, as Cal Coughlin, Haylen Green, Durbin Feltman, Augie Mihlbauer, James Notart, and Trey Morris have yet to allow a run in 44 combined innings of work. It’s great to see Feltman mowing down opponents once again; the junior righty has struck out 11 in 7.0 innings of work, allowed just four hits, and best of all, walking just one. Opponents are batting just .154 against him.
On the other side of the diamond this weekend will sit the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a rare Big Ten matchup for the Frogs, who have now played opponents from the conference in back to back seasons after rarely matching up with them in Jim Schlossnagle’s tenure. The Golden Gophers are on a week long trip through Texas as they look to escape the frigid conditions up north and enjoy some beautiful baseball weather. Not all has gone well on their southern swing, as they have gone 1-1 in their first two games of the road trip, blasting George Washington in Dallas and being on the wrong end of a blowout at UTA.
Led by junior infielder Terrin Vavra, a .414 hitter with home run power, Minnesota averages over seven runs per game. With a lineup that averages a .309 batting average as a team, this is a potent offense, with only one regular starting batting under .283 on the season. The Golden Gophers have 12 home runs in 18 games, slug .449% as a program, and have drawn 87 walks (compared to 99 Ks). They can really hit, and while they haven’t played a murderer’s row schedule thus far, they have wins over Boston College (14-1) and Arizona (3-1, 12 innings). They would have had a common opponent in UCLA, whom they lost to 6-1, were in not for the Frogs’ matchup with the Bruins being cancelled due to weather.
From a pitching perspective, the Gophers’ staff ERA of 3.46 is very solid, and they have struck out 150 batters while walking just 58. Max Meyer has been excellent at closing the door on the backend - he has four saves in seven appearances, striking out 14 in 10 innings, but allowing 10 hits as well. Jackson Rose, Brett Schulze, and Jeff Fasching lead the team with eight, six, and six appearances respectively, out of the pen, and have combined to allow just six runs.
The starters have been solid; expected Saturday starter Lackney leads the team with 18 Ks in 21 innings while walking just four. Lackney and Lodolo will be a fun lefty on lefty matchup in the middle of the series, as Minnesota’s junior has yet to lose a game this season. Sumday starter Patrick Fredrickson has 18 strikeouts as well this season, and has only allowed six earned runs in his 19.0 innings of work.
TCU desperately needs a series win at home this weekend, and a sweep would be even better. Minnesota is off to a solid start, but it’s hard to say how much of that is their skill level verses the competition that they have played. This should be a chance for TCU to solidify the lineup and work on the chemistry on defense that has been lacking so far this year.