It was an end befitting a season that befuddled the fan base - five errors, a come from behind effort, and a come from ahead loss.
For what felt like the hundredth time this year, and at least the third time this week, TCU Baseball took all the momentum in the ballgame, only to surrender it in heart-breaking fashion, falling to the Oklahoma State Cowboys just two outs short of an appearance in the Big 12 Championship game and a chance to ensure a spot in the postseason.
As has been the case all season, the defense and bullpen let the Horned Frogs down; Jake Eissler got the start but lasted only two innings, and while Charles King and Haylen Green did everything in their power to keep TCU in the game, ultimately the late-innings undid them once again. It’s hard to place all of the blame on the relievers, though, when the defense had five errors - including the backbreaker in the sixth inning on what would have been an easy double play ball that would have kept the Frogs out in front of Oklahoma State. Instead, the Pokes pushed one run across to tie things at five, where they would stay in the tenth inning - where Austin Henry would put TCU back on top once again until the Cowboys scored twice in the bottom.
Ultimately, TCU battled, but their own mistakes undid their chance at success. The Frogs have now made improbably tournament runs only to fall short in back to back years, and look likely to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason once again. We have been spoiled by baseball in Fort Worth for nearly a decade - having a shot at Omaha annually feels almost a birthright at this point. But, despite two disappointing seasons, all is not lost - should the Frogs get and stay healthy, the pieces are there to bounce back in 2020.
Two seniors had fitting send-offs to their TCU careers, as Josh Watson was red-hot at Bricktown Ballpark and Jared Janczak turned in a vintage performance in what is likely the final appearance of his time in purple.
Watson was unstoppable in OKC on his way to being named to the all-tournament team; in five games, the senior - who has started every game of his four year TCU career - batted .500 during the Frogs’ run (12-24), with 10 RBI, two home runs, and a double. Watson, who was drafted last summer but elected to return to school for his senior year, finished with a flourish and should get a shot at the next level.
Janczak also came back to school, battling injuries once again to put on a vintage performance in his final start. JJ took the reigns against Oklahoma State in a win or go home game, and despite not factoring in the decision, is the reason the Horned Frogs one. Janczak made just 12 appearances this year, pitching 34.2 innings with a 5.71 ERA. But on Saturday he was nearly perfect, striking out the first eight batters he faced and 12 in total, allowing just two runs on four hits with two walks. He was great, and the moment he and Schloss shared after was the kind that makes you think it’s too dusty in here.
Catcher Zach Humphreys deserves a shoutout as well, as the junior also found himself on the All-Tournament team. Humphreys waited behind Evan Skoug for two seasons, only to lose the starting job to Alex Isola when it looked like it was his turn. Instead of pouting, Humphreys found other ways to contribute - mixing in starts at third base and DH and doing whatever was asked of him in the name of helping his team win. Humphreys was great at Bricktown as well, starting all five games at catcher with Isola dinged up, and racking up seven hits and nine RBI, including a 4-5 effort with five batted in against Oklahoma State in what was then a season-saving win.
Those are the kind of guys that make a winning program.
Nick Lodolo was denied a chance to take the mound one last time with TCU’s loss; the junior lefty is a likely top-ten draft pick next month and is thus highly unlikely to return to Fort Worth in the fall.
Lodolo was warming up in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game - Chuck LaMendola mentioned that the coaches said it was his scheduled day to throw a bullpen, so it’s hard to say if he was putting in work or warming up. But, with the big guy getting loose, it’s easy to assume he could have pitched an inning in relief (or possibly been getting ready to start game two). Either way, it sucks that his last start ended in a loss, and that he didn’t get a chance to go tête-à-têt with Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Manoah one last time with everything on the line.
Lodolo is the top-ranked collegiate pitcher heading into the draft, and could find himself staying close to his new home, as several mock drafts have him landing with the Rangers. It would be great to see Nick with the Rangers, and his ascent through the minors is likely to be fast.
Instead of going with Lodolo, Schlossnagle put Cal Coughlin on the mound in relief of Haylen Green with a runner on third and one out in a one run game. Green had been doing yeoman’s work all weekend - facing one batter against Baylor Saturday morning and throwing 37 pitches in the afternoon tilt - and had just struck a batter out after allowing a lead-off single (that had turned into the runner at third thanks to a bad error). Coughlin, who struggled through 2019 after being nails out of the pen his first two years on campus, also pitched Saturday afternoon, allowing three hits to three batters including a game tying grand slam home run. Hindsight is 20/20, sure, but it’s fair to question that decision in that moment. The options were limited as the arms were certainly taxed, but one can wonder why Green wasn’t left out there to finish the job or why a fresher arm wasn’t brought in in that spot.
In the end, though, the game ended in a loss, and likely ended the Frogs’ season.
Five errors in a win or go home game is completely unacceptable - the fact that most of the errors were on perfectly playable balls makes it that much more unbelievable. The Frogs committed 83 errors on the season, nearly doubling that of their opponents (49). Their .962 fielding percentage finds them ranked 232 in the country, and when you look at how good the offense was (top 50 in home runs, on base percentage, and slugging), it’s easy to see that the defense certainly cost them some games. A team ERA of 4.27 wasn’t great either, and it took the bullpen a long time to find their groove.
Far too often, the Frogs put themselves in position to win a baseball game, only to surrender a late-inning lead via errors or blown saves. When they look back on this season, they’ll know they only have themselves to blame.
The good news (or the bad news, to use a Gary Patterson-ism) is that most of this TCU Baseball team comes back.
The Frogs lose seniors Josh Watson and Johnny Rizer from the outfield, two plus defenders and excellent hitters. Rizer’s heroics in center will be especially missed, as will Watson’s leadership and steadiness. The pitching staff will see Jared Janczak (senior) and Nick Lodolo (likely top ten draft pick) head out as well, and could contend Charles King and Brandon Williamson having to make tough decision on their pro futures (though King is an extremely intelligent young man who has said previously that he intends to stay four years and graduate from TCU). Williamson is currently ranked #83 and, as a transfer who has dealt with injury issues, is unlikely to return to Fort Worth in the fall. He was always expected to be a one year rental, looking to rebuild his resume after being a top prospect in high school.
Other draftable prospects include first baseman Jake Guenther, who was named Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12, but dealt with injuries down the stretch. The juco transfer batter .346 with nine home runs, an OPS of 1.035 and a slugging percentage of .569 - all good enough to get him a mid-round look in June’s draft. I imagine he will return for one more to try and raise his stock in 2020, though.
With freshman utility man (and speedster) Porter Brown expected to be fully healthy from a shoulder injury come fall, and pitchers Caleb Sloan and Russell Smith expected back from Tommy John surgery, the Frogs should bounce back next year. They could be looking at a stacked lineup and pitching staff next season, before factoring in incoming freshmen and transfers:
Weekend Rotation: Charles King, Russell Smith, TBD (Eissler, Green, Kodros, Rudis all likely to be in the mix)
Closer: Caleb Sloan/Marcelo Perez
Bullpen/Spot Starters: Haylen Green, Augie Mihlbauer, Dalton Brown, John Kodros (eligible transfer), Dion Henderson, Cal Coughlin, Jake Eissler, Matt Rudis, Dawson Barr, Spencer Arrighetti, James Notary, Asher Cook
1B: Jake Guenther
2B: Austin Henry
SS: Hunter Wolfe/Adam Oviedo
3B: Conner Shepherd/Bobby Goodloe
C: Alex Isola/Zach Humphreys
OF: Andrew Keefer/Porter Brown/Brad Czerniejewski
TCU Baseball has commitments from nine pitchers, two shortstops, four outfielders, a third baseman, and a catcher. They are going to lose a few of those guys to the draft certainly - pitchers Quinn Priester (ranked 20th overall) and Riley Cornelio (#86) are top 100 prospects and unlikely to make it to campus - but should still be able to put together a top class that fills some needs.
Now, we wait for the selection committee, to see if someone believes in Schloss.
More than likely, though, it’s time to reflect and get ready for fall ball.