A couple of weeks ago, as Horned Frog batters were getting mowed down in Lafayette by their former teammate Spence Arrighetti, TCU Baseball fans were bemoaning the offensive struggles of their team.
But since that Friday night loss, all the Frogs have done is win, putting together a nine game win streak, six of which have come on the road, five that featured double-digit scoring outputs, and two series sweeps of Big 12 opponents.
I don’t think we are as worried about the offense these days.
Since our last Monday Morning Manager, all the Horned Frogs have done is win four games away from the friendly confines, grinding out a victory at UTA and putting on a power show in Norman to run their conference record to 6-0 and send them to first place in the standings through three weekends of Big 12 play. Against the Sooners, the Frogs got two great starts from Russell Smith (7.0 innings of four hit baseball, allowing three runs and striking out eight) and Austin Krob (one run on three hits with 10 Ks in 7.0 innings) while Chuck King came out of the pen in a tie game Sunday and earned a way in relief of Johnny Ray with four frames of one hit ball Sunday.
Every arm that toed the rubber was blessed with plenty of run support: TCU scored 35 runs in the series, blasted eight home runs, and seemed to be having a great time shredding whatever poor pitcher the Sooners rolled out against them.
Brayden Taylor, who continues to improve defensively at third base as an injury replacement for Conner Shepherd, shined at the plate, hitting a home run in each of his first three games at L.Dale Mitchell Park, going 5-14 with five RBI over the weekend. Gene Wood, who was leading TCU in home runs when the season was shut down last spring launched two in the Frogs 17-6 win Saturday, and was 6-12 with seven batted in overall. In all, the Frogs had 15 extra base hits as they blasted the ball to every field with impunity.
The Porter Problem:
We talked about Porter Wally-Pipping Luke Boyers last week, and he continues to make it hard to keep him out of the lineup. Schlossnagle brought in Boyers Friday night as a pinch hitter for the first time since his injury, and the true freshman acquitted himself nicely, going 1-2. That earned him a start Saturday, and he looked just as good as when he exited the lineup, ripping two doubles amongst his three hits and driving in three runs. But Brown was 4-7 with five batted in Friday and Sunday — including a home run and a stolen base, and while he doesn’t have the arm of Boyers, he’s hitting .378 on the year and causing all kinds of problems for opposing defenses with his speed and ability to leg out infield hits.
Schloss is going to have a tough decision to make when Shepherd and Wolfe are fully healthy: who goes to the bench in the outfield if Wolfe returns to center defensively? Phillip Sikes has been an absolute terror at the plate all season long, and while his defense in right can be a bit of an adventure, he’s improved dramatically over the last month. Elijah Nunez has struggled at the plate — he had three hits Saturday but was a combined 2-11 Friday and Sunday — but he’s elite at drawing walks and is definitely the best defender in the outfield, and are you really going to bench Brown when he’s playing this well?
You certainly want Wolfe, Shepherd, and Taylor in the lineup — but someone is going to have to sit. It will be interesting to see if who ends up at DH and if Taylor shifts back to second — or possible shortstop? — when/if Shepherd returns to the hot corner.
Swing and a Miss:
TCU pitchers struck out 44 opponents over the last four games, absolutely gassing hitters at an impressive clip. Krob’s ten Ks Saturday led the team, but there are a bevy of guys that can step up to the bump and send batters back to the dugout befuddled.
TCU hitters struck out 23 times over the weekend though — a big number — with 14 of them coming Saturday. But I am not going to worry too much about 14 Ks in a game they scored 17 runs.
The Bullpen is ...?
Smith-Krob-Ray is an elite trio.
Haylen Green may well be the best reliever in baseball.
Chuck King has regained his form as an electric middle reliever.
TCU turned to seven different relievers this weekend, and outside of Green, King, and newly minted bullpen specialist Dalton Brown, they struggled.
If ever the Frogs get in a situation where they don’t get quality starts or Green/King can’t go, this team could be in trouble. We are still waiting for big armed Harrison Beethe and Garrett Wright to figure it out; the two freshmen are both capable of hitting 100 mph on the gun, but are prone to the kind of wildness you would expect from young players. Drew Hill and Braxton Pearson both came in in low pressure situations and allowed a couple runs a piece — but both have the stuff to produce shutdown efforts out of the pen, and frankly need to.
And Tuesday, the Frogs used six different pitchers, with King earning the win and Green earning the save, while starter Riley Cornelio (three walks in one inning of work) and Marcelo Perez scuffled but go it done.
I don’t think of Haylen Green as a closer — though he is certainly capable of locking down close games in the ninth inning — he’s too valuable to use in that singular role. I have liked what I have seen out of River Ridings and there are a ton of guys with potential, but I really need to see two players consistently come out of the pen, throw strikes, keep opponents off the basepaths, and shutdown innings. The pen allowed 12 runs in three games, with only King and Green keeping the Sooners scoreless in relief Sunday.
That’s something to keep an eye on for sure.
The Frogs stay on the road for four more. They travel to Stephenville Tuesday for a 3:00pm start before heading west to Lubbock for a highly anticipated series against a top ten Texas Tech team. The Red Raiders are stinging a bit after dropping their series at Kansas State, and you can bet that Rip Griffin Park will be absolutely rocking next week. Though the Red Raiders will certainly see their current #4 ranking fall, this is a critical battle for two teams expecting to be in the mix for a Big 12 title and Regional hosting privileges. The race to the number one spot is going to be very crowded, and the Frogs need to keep winning to maintain their pole position. Should be a fun weekend in West Texas.