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TCU Baseball: Dodger Stadium Classic Preview

The Frogs are making their annual West Coach swing, but this one will have a unique flair.

TCU Baseball vs UC Irvine: March 3, 2018
TCU Baseball vs UC Irvine: March 3, 2018
Melissa Triebwasser

TCU loves to recruit the West Coast, and head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle has found a way to play on the left side almost annually over the last few years. This year, instead of playing a standard three game series, the Frogs will face three different opponents in three different venues over three days, ending with a fun matchup against Vanderbilt at Dodger Stadium. Sean Wymer returns to the rotation on Sunday, meaning that TCU will employ the same three man set that started the year in Arizona.

Friday: TCU Baseball at USC | Dedeaux Field | 8:00pm CT | KTCU 88.7

Jared Janczak (0-1, 2.84 ERA) vs. Chris Clarke (1-2, 5.29 ERA)

Friday night’s game against the Trojans is the ninth meeting between these two teams, with the series tied at four apiece. The Frogs last played at Dedeaux Field in 2015, when they took two of three before falling in extras due to a controversial play at the plate. These are two very different teams though, and Friday’s game will be an intriguing battle between an 8-3 Trojans team coming off of a battle at #5 Arkansas and a TCU team that has looked at times dominant, but has yet to fully integrate a host of new pieces.

USC is very good at home, sitting 6-1, but that’s against teams like Utah Valley and Villanova. Their offense is going to scare many opponents, though it is top-heavy - bolstered by the hot start of Chase Bushor (.433/.485/.633), Kaleb Murphy (.364/.440/.409), and Dillon Paulson (.303/.489/.485), but no other (regular) starter hits above .300 and they have just five home runs as a team. The Trojans play exceptional defense - just one error as a team this season - and have a solid bullpen that allows about one hit per every three outs. Brad Wegman has been especially effective, allowing just three hits across nine innings of work, walking one, and striking out eight.

The Trojans are one of the most successful collegiate programs of all time, and are working to regain their former glory. They haven’t played the toughest schedule, but they are a quality team, and this should be a good game.

Saturday: TCU Baseball at #11 UCLA | Jackie Robinson Stadium | 9:00pm CT | Pac 12 Network | KTCU 88.7

Nick Lodolo (3-0, 2.60 ERA) vs. Jon Olsen (2-0, 2.08 ERA)

This is a super fun matchup between two ace-caliber pitchers in junior Jon Olsen and sophomore Nick Lodolo, the former who has been a Team USA member and All-Pac-12 team selection.

The Bruins are led on offense by Michael Toglia (.400/.525/.800), who already has six doubles, four home runs, and 12 RBI. He is probably the best hitter the Frogs have faced so far, and watching he and Lodolo battle it out in the box should be a blast.

The Bruins are 10-2 early, and look like a legit CWS contender, with four wins against Power Five opponents, including taking 2-3 from Baylor at home. They blast Cal State Fullerton on a Tuesday by a score of 12-2, and other than an odd loss to Illinois, have looked nearly unbeatable. Toglia isn’t the only big bat in the lineup for the Bruins, as Jake Hirabayashi (.325/.460/.525), Jeremy Ydens (/318/.434/.432), and Daniel Amaral (.306/.500/.444) have all been very consistent hitters as well. UCLA has hit 10 home runs through their first 12 games, average 7.3 runs per game, and draw six walks per contest to boot. Additionally, and more frighteningly, their staff ERA is an obscene 1.93, and the bullpen has allowed just 26 hits hits across 32 innings of work. They profile very similarly to TCU’s pen, which outside of last Sunday’s meltdown, has been super solid. The Bruins 97 strikeouts trails the Frogs 107, but both teams have a plethora of arms that can make you swing and miss in a lot of different ways.

This UCLA team might be the best the Frogs face all year, and it will be fun to see how these two contenders stack up against each other. These two teams have faced off six times previously, with five of those meetings coming in postseason play. The Frogs defeated the Bruins in the Dodger Classic in 2015, have one win off of them in the CWS (2010), and lost in the Supers in two games.

Sunday: TCU Baseball vs #15 Vanderbilt | Dodger Stadium | 12:30pm CT | 88.78 KTCU

Sean Wymer (0-0, 7.56 ERA) vs. TBA

A familiar foe of late greets the Frogs in a pro stadium for the final game of this three game swing, as newish rivals Vanderbilt and TCU play at Dodger Stadium. The Frogs and Commodores have player three times, once in this Classic and twice in the College World Series (2015), which TCU fans will remember for this:

... no, I still have not forgiven her for that moment. That was supposed to be our year, man.

Anyway, back to baseball.

The Dores are 10-4 to start the year, with series wins over Duke, Presbyterian, and UMass Lowell. The were shutout by Louisiana and nipped by Long Beach State on Wednesday. Vandy is a powerful offensive ball club that has eaten overmatched pitching alive through the first month of the season, racking up a .320 team average with 16 long balls and a staggering 10.6 runs per game. Led by Austin Martin (.405/.528/.548), Pat DeMarco (.393/.452/.571), JJ Bleday (.378/.452/.649), and Connor Kaiser (.345/.478/.436) - four of eight starters hitting above .300 - the Dores have mashed their way to an impressive start. With four players with multiple home runs, 11 players with an extra base hit, 12 players with at least four RBI (led by Ethan Paul’s 22), there are exceptional hitters up and down the lineup. But, they haven’t seen much in the way of top pitching so far this season, and will be tested over the weekend much more than they have through their first 14 games.

Vanderbilt has not yet announced a starter for Sunday, but expect it to be Jake Eder (1-0, 2.57 ERA), Maddux Conger (1-0, 1.00 ERA), Mason Hickman (3-0, 2.08 ERA), or Chandler Day (0-0, 3.75 ERA). The Dores have a 2.75 team ERA, but have allowed 91 hits in 124.1 innings, including 19 doubles and 11 home runs. The strikeout numbers are impressive at 140 in 124 innings of work, as are the walk numbers - just 41 issued.

In all likelihood, Vandy is a really good team who has been bolstered a bit by a bad schedule, but will likely be a contender, and Super Regional host, come summer.

Keys to the Weekend:

Josh Watson: So Hot Right Now

TCU’s sophomore slugger has been as big a key as anything to the Frogs’ solid start, as he is batting .462 through the first 11 games, best on the team, as are his four long balls. He has provided protection for Luken Baker in the heart of the lineup, making TCU a much mor dangerous offensive squad. If he keeps this pace, he could be in line to compete for the Golden Spikes Award.

Front and Back Ends:

Jared Janczak has not quite rounded into top form this year, looking a little more hittable than we are used to seeing. That being said, he still boasts a 2.84 ERA and is tied for the team lead with 20 Ks, while opponents are hitting just .172 against him. When he is JJ, he’s one of the best pitchers in college baseball. He’s been really good, but he can certainly raise the bar a bit.

On the back end of the rotation, Jim Schlossnagle hasn’t found an answer yet, but seems willing to give Sean Wymer (0-0, 7.56 ERA) more time to make the transition from bullpen stalwart to Sunday starter. If Wymer can start to look like the guy he was as one of the most dominant relievers in the game a season ago, then the Frogs have one of the best trios around.

Defense:

TCU has been pretty rocky defensively early, and need to get things cleaned up before conference play starts. The hot corner has been especially rocky, as third baseman Conner Shepherd has three errors early, Danny Crews two, and Tristan Hanoian one. Shepherd is an interesting case - this is a kid who was a great juco defender and is a much better hitter than he has shown early (.065/.288/.297), but he just hasn’t caught up to the speed of the DI game. Unfortunately/fortunately for him, no one else has jumped up and taken the job, as both Hanoian and Crews haven’t forced their way into the lineup with their bat or their D. If they can shore that spot up, the rest of the infield will improve as well.