Let me be clear: I have not given up on TCU Baseball.
This is, after all, a team that started 7-0 in Big 12 play, including a road sweep of Oklahoma, and that outscored opponents 66-23 over that period. They were absolutely dominating opponents in all facets of the game.
Winning in Lubbock is never easy; the Red Raiders haven’t lost a home series since 2018. And, when TCU arrived in West Texas for a weekend series with the country’s #8 team, they were facing a Tech program that was coming off of a loss in the Little Apple and didn’t have the benefit of a Tuesday game to work out the bad juju.
And after just one inning Friday, it appeared that the Horned Frogs had all the momentum.
It didn’t last.
Russell Smith was absolutely dominant Friday, striking out 12 and holding a potent Tech offense to just two earned runs. For their part, the TCU offense did the vast majority of their damage in the opening frame — giving Smith far more run support than he needed with a six spot and adding one for good measure in the fifth. River Ridings and Haylen Green pitched two scoreless, hitless innings out of the pen, in would be two of the last good innings from the pen on the weekend.
We have talked about the potential concerns in the bullpen: outside of Green and (mostly) Chuck King, how many guys do you trust in relief? It hadn’t been much of an issue to this point this season: the starting pitching has been mostly elite and when they have been average, the games have been mostly settled by offensive explosions.
That trend stopped Saturday, when austin Krob — two time Big 12 weekly award winning Austin Krob — had the poorest performance of his young career, making it through just 3.2 innings as he allowed four earned runs on just four hits while walking three and hitting a batter. He didn’t not have his best stuff out of the gate, and all things considered, showed a lot of moxie in key situations. But after TCU took a 4-1 lead in the top of the fourth on a Hunter Wolfe grand slam, Krob hit the first batter he faced and allowed a single to the second. A double play erased the runners, but things fell apart with two outs.
Back to back walks chased Krob, and King came in in a tough situation. The normally reliable fifth year senior struggled right out of the bat, hitting a batter with the first pitch he threw to load the bases, and back to back singles gave Tech a 5-4 lead.
The Frogs tied things up in the sixth and King pitched a scoreless bottom and set down the side In order for the first time in the seventh, and kept Tech off the board through regulation. But a solo shot in the bottom of the tenth ended the game and tied the series at one a piece.
That’s when it all went to hell.
I don’t even know what to do with what happened Sunday: it was one of those games that can either be a harbinger of things to come or simply something to write off as “that’s the way baseball go” affairs.
But it did, at the very least, expose the heck out of a TCU bullpen that hasn’t had to prove it very often in 2021.
Jim Schlossnagle has been quoted as saying “I am sick of guys begging to pitch and then not throwing strikes” on multiple occasions, and he will have plenty of ammo after what went down in the rubber match of this top ten series.
Johnny Ray, who has been a much different pitcher on the road than at home, made it just 2.1 innings Sunday, and the Red Raiders absolutely mauled the Frogs’ pen from there, scoring in every single inning but the fifth in a run-ruled shortened seven inning slaying. Ray gave up 6 runs, all earned, on just three hits. He walked four, plunked one, and faced just 15 batters. Poor Augie Mihlbauer, who has struggled all season, allowed a hit, a walk, and a run to the four hitters he saw, and Drew Hill walked a pair and gave up three hits in just 1.1 frames of work. Garrett Wright, who looked to be turning things around last weekend, was part of a nine run inning by the Red Raider offense, turning what had become a three run game into a laughingstock of an affair.
In all, TCU pitchers allowed 17 earned runs on 13 hits, walked 10 and hit one. The pen was responsible for 11 of the runs, ten of the hits, and six of the walks.
It was a problematic day, to say the least.
Again, it’s not fair to write off the season after one bad weekend at a really tough place to play, but when you’ve really only played one series against one really good team, getting run out of the building is not ideal. All they can do now is egroup and try to make things right this weekend, when another good program — Oklahoma State — comes to town.
The Frogs have to protect their home field.
Jace Jung is Good, Turf Fields are Not:
Man, will I be glad when there isn’t a Jung in the lineup in West Texas. After years of the elder Jung terrorized TCU and other opponents, Jace had seven hits, nine RBI, and four home runs on the weekend. He hit the ball hard every time he came to the plate and, it seemed, that every time he had the opportunity to make a big play, he delivered.
On the other hand, turf is ugly and stupid and the ball bounces weird and I hate it. #TeamRealGrassForLife
Luke Boyers started two of the three games and looked solid in his return to legit playing time. Elijah Nunez struggled at the plate all weekend, and was moved down from leadoff to the nine hole Sunday. He delivered the first home run of his career, a solo shot to right in the third. Austin Henry and Gray Rodgers had their first home runs of the season in that game as well.
Russell Smith is TCU’s best pitcher and it isn’t even close.
Hunter Wolfe’s grand slam was a great moment and had a chance to change the entire complexion of the series.
Sunday, after the Frogs had cut the Tech lead to three, Zach Humphreys came up to bat with two on and two out. Humphreys has been one of TCU’s best hitters — but he never got the chance to make a play.
Bill Mosiello called for a double steal with Tommy Sacco and Elijah Nunez on base, and Sacco apparently missed the sign. Nunez was back picked to end the inning, and the Red Raiders went on to roll from there.
TCU is really aggressive on the base paths, and it often puts them in position to score runs. But calling for that play in that moment with that guy up to bat? I hated it.
Worse yet, Sacco was benched for missing the call, and it seemed a little unfair. I don’t know the dynamics of everything of course, but it wasn’t the best look of the weekend.
Last question: who out of the pen, not named Haylen Green, do you trust right now? And why wasn’t Green used Sunday? He pitched just one frame over the weekend, despite the final two games being winnable at times for TCU.
The Frogs return home, starting an eight game home stand against Tarleton State Tuesday night. They’ll welcome in Oklahoma State for a three game set this weekend.