Friday night felt like a Super Regional.
Saturday afternoon was as satisfying as any regular season win I can remember.
Sunday? I don’t even want to talk about it.
But talk about it we must, as TCU Baseball let an opportunity to be in control of their own destiny go by the wayside in dropping two of three to #6 Texas on their home field, despite a raucous crowd in full support of the home team in a near-capacity Lupton Stadium over the weekend (I don’t want to hear anyway say 50% — if you were there or you watched it on TV, you know damn well they didn’t turn anyone away).
The weekend was ultimately disappointing for a lot of reasons; to be clear, there is no shame in losing a one run game Friday, and Sunday, when the Horns blasted three homeruns in a series of 10 at bats, well, that’s the way baseball go.
But... and it’s a BIG but, TCU is still a game up in the Big 12 standings with both teams having one series remaining — the Frogs will travel to take on the 7-11 Wildcats while Texas hosts a West Virginia team that has been kind of a mess all season. Sure, playing on the road is tough, but also:
So, yeah... a sweep is not out of the question.
If the teams were to be tied at the end of the regular season, they would share the conference trophy but the Longhorns would be the #1 seed in the tournament. But if TCU can maintain that one game lead, they’ll take sole possession of the crown and be the #1 seed in OKC.
So, while the weekend was not what we wanted it to be, all is not lost. The host site announcements will come sometime today, and Fort Worth is assuredly going to be on the list. And TCU Baseball should follow as a top eight seed later this month, after the conference tournaments are completed.
Not a Ray of sunshine
Johnny Ray has been a much different pitcher at home than on the road in 2021, but Sunday’s start might as well have been away from the friendly confines. Coming into the season, the redshirt sophomore was expected to be the team’s ace. Instead, he has struggled in conference play, making it into the sixth inning just three times and through the sixth just once (against Kansas).
Ray has an ERA over five (5.48) and has allowed 11 home runs already this season, including three in a ten batter span Sunday. After the game, Jim Schlossnagle said that Ray would not be in the weekend rotation for the ULM series, and is likely relegated to the bullpen for the immediate future. Sunday could be the last time we see Ray start for TCU, and this could well be the beginning of the end for the ace that never was.
The Horned Frogs lost Gene Wood after an awkward slide back into the bag Friday, and Conner Shepherd took over for the remainder of that game and all of Saturday. Austin Henry took his usual position as the starting first baseman against lefties Sunday, but Wood was sorely missed in the 2+ games he was out of the lineup.
Shepherd and Henry combined to go just 2-10 over the weekend with three strikeouts, failing to provide the pop and two out consistency that Wood has been known for over the course of his TCU career. Wood has an undisclosed shoulder injury, and the length of time he will be out remains to be seen.
Also conspicuously absent from the lineup Saturday and Sunday was Hunter Wolfe, who was replaced by Porter Brown for the final two games of the series. We are big Porter fans around here, and seeing him hit leadoff was something we have been asking for for a long time. Brown was 2-4 Saturday, and his base hit brought in the only two runs of the game. But he was 0 for everything Sunday (like the rest of the lineup), and not having Wolfe long term could be an issue. I have no idea if Hunter is injured, in the doghouse, or just got a matchup break, but here’s hoping he’s back soon.
Have we solved the lineup?
As previously mentioned, seeing Elijah Nunez dropped from 1 to 8 in the order was, in my opinion, a great move by Jim Schlossnagle.
Nunez, who has a very mature eye in the box, had really struggled at the top of the order coming into the weekend, and went just 1-5 Friday with a strikeout in that role. He had a big hit Saturday and ultimately scored the first run of the game, and looked much more comfortable in the eight hole. Nunez’s speed and ability to draw walks is a big threat in the bottom of the lineup, and if he can turn things over and start rallies from deep, that becomes a big boost for the TCU offense.
My ideal lineup would be:
Porter Brown (LF)
Zach Humphreys (C)
Brayden Taylor (3B)
Hunter Wolfe (DH)
Phillip Sikes (RF)
Gene Wood/Conner Shepherd (1B)
Gray Rodgers (2B)
Elijah Nunez (CF)
Tommy Sacco (SS)
I think Luke Boyers is going to be a really great player for the Horned Frogs and is a great defensive player. But he just hasn’t been the same at the plate since returning from injury — he was just 1-8 on the weekend and has an OPS of .736 on the season with 33 strikeouts. Boyers feasted on inferior pitching early in the season and has a .301 average to show for it, but has struggled against the better opponents he has seen since returning from injury. I still don’t understand why Schloss didn’t asked Boyers to bunt Sunday when he came on with two on and nobody out in the bottom of the second in a 3-0 game. The Texas third baseman was playing back, Boyers is a great athlete... but instead the AB ended in a momentum killing double play and it was all downhill from there. I am not a big BUNT AT ALL TIMES PERSON, but even I know that was the exact right thing to do in that moment.
Haylen Green and the bullpen of our dreams
Haylen Green’s return to action was absolutely the bright spot of the weekend, and the Frogs’ heart and soul was everything we wanted him to be in Saturday’s 2-1 victory. Talking to himself before every pitch, slapping his hand against his heart and yelling “I’m back, I’m back” after getting out of a sticky situation in the eighth, and roaring with delight after a strikeout secured the victory.
Having Haylen available may well be the difference between winning and losing a Super Regional series, and his return was absolutely an emotional boost to the team — and the fan base. We also got outstanding work out of the pen from Marcelo Perez (one hit and two strikeouts in 1.2 innings), Garrett Wright (2.0 innings of one hit ball with four Ks Sunday), Jacob Meador (one hit and 4 Ks in 1.2), and Drew Hill — who allowed one run on five hits in three frames with six strikeouts, though he did take the loss. Luke Savage didn’t have his strongest appearance of the season (three earned runs on four hits with three Ks across 2.2), but I would still be 100% comfortable with him starting next weekend.
The starting pitching, other than Austin Krob, really struggled over the weekend, but if you tell me that Russell Smith, Krob, and Savage are the rotation going forward with Hill, Perez, and Meador in middle relief and Wright and Green available to F things up, I feel pretty good about the Big 12 Tournament and the Regionals. Don’t you?
Ducks on the Pond
TCU’s offense came in leading the country in runs scored, but anyone that has consistently watched them play, especially in conference, has still been concerned about the number of runners that get stranded on base in big situations.
TCU stranded six runners Sunday (which doesn’t seem like many until you realize they only had 11 on base the entire game), four of their seven on Saturday, and 11 Friday. When you face good pitching, which the Frogs absolutely did over the weekend, you absolutely have to take advantage of your opportunities. Far too often, the Frogs would have a runner in scoring position with less than two outs and leave them 90’ away nonetheless.
It’s a concern I have had throughout the season, and something to watch as the postseason draws near and pitching and defense rule the day.
The Frogs are scheduled to play UTRGV tomorrow, Tuesday at 6:30pm... but, I have heard that the game has been cancelled, and also it is no longer listed on the Vaqueros schedule. So that’s a wait and see for now.
TCU Baseball gets a break from conference play next weekend, hosting ULM for a three game set. That’s followed by a home date with Texas State and the regular season finale — Kansas State in Manhattan, KS.