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Big 12 Baseball Tournament: Round Table

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We talked to some of the writers that have covered Big 12 Baseball all season to see what they expected to happen in OKC this week.

TCU vs WVU in the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game
TCU vs WVU in the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game
Melissa Triebwasser

The Big 12 Baseball Tournament is in full swing, and with a nine team league looking to place six squads in the postseason field, there was plenty of intrigue to be had. We reached out to our fellow Big 12 writers to get the skinny on their expectations for OKC, and our friends at Viva the Matador (Texas Tech), Crimson & Cream Machine (OU), and Cowboys Ride for Free (OSU) were kind enough to chime in. Check out their thoughts!

How do you feel your team’s season went based on preseason expectations?

Melissa Triebwasser (FOW): It was clearly a disappointing season in Fort Worth, as the preseason expectations were sky high for a program that had made four straight College World Series appearances, despite replacing half of their pitching rotation and nearly every position player. But a slow start hampered by the inexperience littering the lineup but them behind the eight ball, and just as the young guys started to figure things out, the Frogs lost their three best players (all-world slugger Luken Baker, staff ace Jared Janczak, and the best closer in the country, Durbin Feltman) to season-ending, or potentially season-ending in Feltman’s case, injuries. There have been bright spots - Josh Watson’s recovery from a devastating sophomore slump, the pitching of Jake Eissler and Haylen Green down the stretch, and Michael Landestoy’s success as an everyday player, to name a few, but it looks like TCU could make an early exit in OKC, thus ending a long, and challenging season.

Zach Mason (Viva the Matadors): Over the past few seasons, expectations for the Texas Tech baseball program have increased exponentially as fans have become accustomed to the taste of success. This year started out better than anyone could have imagined, even despite the tremendous expectations set before the team. The Red Raiders opened the season with 14 consecutive wins, before finally losing their first game to the Kentucky Wildcats in the second week of March. It’s worth noting, not many of those 14 wins were against blueblood baseball programs, but still, it’s really tough to win that many games in a row in this sport.

In any case, the team hit a few bumps in the road in conference play and you could argue they underperformed. The issue of pitching depth really surfaced around that time of year with the loss of their ace pitcher, Steven Gingery, who tore his UCL just days into the beginning of the season. Gingery was a candidate for every pitching award you could dream up, so it was dually surprising to see Tech win so many games in his absence. Either way, Tech finished out the year with a timely three-game sweep against Oklahoma State and are heading into the conference tournament just how fans and Lubbock had hoped—with surplus momentum.

Tyler Wiederhoeft (Cowboys Ride For Free): As frustrating as our season ended, which resulted in a 2-8 record in May and choking away our first Big 12 regular season title since 2014, it’s hard not to be impressed with this team. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Cowboys. After losing key pieces including Garrett Benge, Garrett McCain, Ryan Sluder, Dustin Williams, Trey Cobb and Tyler Buffett, a sixth-place finish was not all that awful of a prediction. However, the Cowboys came out and impressed a lot of people, losing the conference by a single game. They did it without Jensen Elliot, who was supposed to be the team ace this season before having Tommy John surgery back in April 2017 and was sidelined until this final weekend series.

A lot of fans are upset with the way the season ended (and I am too, to be honest), but looking back, the Cowboys definitely overachieved this season. Injuries hampered our bullpen, and our offense, as stellar as it was, just couldn’t keep up.

Jack Shields (Crimson & Cream Machine): This team went from a pleasant surprise to a bit of a dissapointment seemingly overnight. The team has essentially been doomed by its once-reliable bullpen over the past month or so, having suffered several late-game collapses during that span. Some of the heat for that has fallen on Skip Johnson, who seems to be over-managing his pitching staff. Two of the team’s best hitters -- Brady Lindsly and Cade Harris -- have each taken a nosedive at the plate, which has transformed a once-dangerous batting order into something that is fairly pedestrian. These team was on the fringe of preseason polls prior to the season but currently sits at 38th in RPI. If they don’t have a good showing in OKC, the season will probably be labeled a dissapointment.

What are your expectations for your team in the Big 12 Baseball tournament? Which team, other than the one you cover, do you think has the best chance to win it?

(FOW): I’m hopeful that TCU can make it to the weekend; Lodolo was a little rocky in his last start, but is as talented as any pitcher in OKC, and can certainly get the Frogs off to a good start. And Eissler has been so good over the last month, that you would think the Frogs could go and win a couple behind their pitching. But, the draw is tough, and while the tourney might not mean much to Tech, they certainly would like a measure of revenge against the team that took two out of three from them a few weeks ago, torpedoing a shot at a regular season crown. This team has been so unpredictable over the last month though, it all depends who shows up. Obviously, Texas is one of the hottest teams in the country, and is the easy pick, but it seems rare that a team from the Big 12 sweeps both titles, so I’m going to call my shot with Baylor (and now I feel dirty).

(VTM): As previously mentioned, the team is riding a nice wave of momentum heading into the tournament and I think the Red Raiders have as good a chance as anyone in the conference of winning the whole thing. That said, winning the conference tournament isn’t an overly important thing to this team, they’re more concerned with making it back to the College World Series for the third time in the last five years. During the Tim Tadlock era, Tech hasn’t won a Big 12 Conference tournament and it’s had no adverse effect on the team’s NCAA Tournament success.

If I had to pick a team to win the tournament besides the Red Raiders, I’d probably go with Texas, just because they’re on a tear right now. Kody Clemens has been tremendous and the pitching staff is in a groove, having given up three or fewer runs in each of the last four games.

(CRFF): I think the Cowboys could beat West Virginia, however, the potential second-round matchup with Tech will likely not end in our favor, especially since Tech is trying to prove to the committee they deserve to host a regional. The Red Raiders are currently ranked 15th in the nation, and a third-place finish in conference means they likely need a pretty good showing to cement their place.

As far as my pick for another team, I think I have to go with the popular pick and take the Longhorns. They are on fire heading into the tournament and can seemingly do no wrong. Kody Clemens is a one-man wrecking ball, and the Texas pitching staff seems to be able to limit the opponents enough to let the offense get the job done.

(CCM): When considering how this team has performed over the past month as well as how this program has performed in the postseason in recent years, I’m not terribly confident. Having said that, the talent is absolutely there. If one or two more bats can get hot, they can make a run. If the bullpen steadies, they can possibly even make it to Sunday. Having said that, I think I’ll go with Texas to win this thing. They currently look like the most complete team in the league and are clicking at the right time.

What does your team need to do to in OKC to make the postseason/secure their position?

(FOW): Win the whole thing. That’s their only shot.

(VTM): Absolutely nothing. Tech finished third in one of baseball’s better conferences and is ranked No. 15 in the nation. That’s why winning in this tournament isn’t really a priority for the Red Raiders. It’s all about gearing up for the NCAA tournament.

(CRFF): The Cowboys are all but in the postseason, even if they suffer a first-round upset. Josh Holiday’s squad is a projected 2-seed in the Stanford regional and I don’t see a loss at the hands of the Mountaineers dropping us from some regional action. However, if they want to remain a second seed, a first-round win should do it. We aren’t going to host a regional, so staying in the top half of a regional is about the best we can hope for.

(CCM): As I mentioned earlier, OU’s RPI position pretty much puts this team on the bubble. Baylor is hovering around the same spot (high 30s/low 40s), so the early game is kind of a big deal. An appearance in the semifinal might be enough to do it for this group. If they can pick up a win over Texas at any point. That’ll also help immensely. They key is probably just to not do worse than Baylor on this side of the bracket.

Who are a couple players to watch for Big 12 fans from your team?

(FOW): This is it for Michael Landestoy, Connor Wanhanen, and AJ Balta at TCU, as well as the likely end of an era for Jared Janczak, Luken Baker, and Durbin Feltman, who will all certainly be drafted this summer. Landestoy is the guy that everyone that loves college baseball should root for - a fifth year senior, Mike bided his time as a defensive replacement for three years before making his way into the everyday lineup in 2018. Though he is the son of a pro, he’s worked his way into being a really good hitter, and had far and away his best season at the plate to show for it. Landestoy has a front office internship lined up with the Pirates for this summer, and is a future front office guy. He has a wonderful personality, is an unselfish player, and just a really good kid. That’s who I will be rooting hardest for this weekend.

(VTM): I made the argument in an article a couple weeks ago that Texas Tech third baseman Josh Jung and left fielder Grant Little are the best duo in all of college baseball and I’m sticking to it. Jung lead the team in hitting with a .389/.488/.671 slash line while Little was close behind, batting .374/.473/.682. Both players are just sophomore and are just bursting with MLB potential.

(CRFF): Andrew Rosa, Jon Littell, Cole Hearrean and Reza Aleaziz will all be making their final trips to Oklahoma City as seniors on the Oklahoma State squad, so the Oklahoma State diehards will likely watch them as they wind down their college careers.

Personally, I’d watch out for Ryan Cash. During the Cowboys’ magical run as the 8-seed last season, the dude was on a tear in the leadoff position. Colin Simpson can mash. If Carson Teel has his stuff working, the Stillwater native could mess around and have the game of the season. There’s internal debate as to if we will see Jensen Elliot again this season or if the Cowboys will save him and apply for a medical redshirt (or just use his regular redshirt). The offense should show up. It’s the pitching staff I’m worried about.

(CCM): For OU, it’s definitely the duo of Steele Walker and Kyler Murray. Walker is projected as a first-round talent in a number of the bigger mock drafts and will definitely make the jump tp pro ball this summer. Murray would also likely go in the first or second round this summer, but it’s sounding like teams are under the impression that he’s going to play football in the fall. He’s still a bit raw as a player, but he’s an incredibly fun player to watch because of those wheels of his.

Can your team make a run to Omaha? What will it take to do so?

(FOW): If the Frogs can somehow win the Big 12 tournament and get into the field, they certainly have the pitching to carry them deep into June. But the bats have been conspicuously quiet since the pitching got hot, and it’s hard to imagine both aspects of the game will come together at the same time. I don’t think this is TCU’s year, clearly, but baseball is weird, and if everything broke right, maybe?

(VTM): I get hounded by Tech fans for being too objective and realistic when talking about Red Raider sports, but I can say without fear of contradiction I think this baseball team has the best shot of any Big 12 team to not only advance to the College World Series, but win the whole damn thing. Tim Tadlock—arguably the best coach in the conference—knows how to get his guys ready for the postseason. They usually step it up a level when it matters most. With these Red Raider bats, which are among the best in the country, and a strong performance from their starting pitching staff and extremely talented bullpen, I think Tech is uniquely positioned to do some major damage in Omaha.

(CRFF): Sheesh. I just don’t know. Unfortunately, I’m inclined to lean more toward the “no” side, but like Melissa said, baseball is weird. It would take some magic again, and the pitching staff, especially the depleted bullpen, would have to suddenly become some of the best relievers in the game.

I’m not going to say there’s no chance at all, but it doesn’t seem likely. But then again, it wasn’t likely we would win the Big 12 Tournament as an 8-seed and it was also unlikely we would make it to Omaha back in 2016 going through the loaded Fayetteville Regional and Columbia Super Regional.

TL;DR version:

(CCM): Probably not. I do think the talent is there to legitimately make some noise, but nothing I’ve seen lately indicates that it’ll happen. This team typically chokes in at least one game per weekend series, with the exceptions being Bedlam (Sooners were swept and dominated throughout) and Kansas State (they’re really bad). I’m not confident in the mental toughness of the team or its coach. I like Skip Johnson as a coach, but his lack of big-time experience as a manager often shows. Maybe they’ll all have a breakthrough, but I’m not confident.