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Monday Morning Manager: Horned Frogs, we have a problem?

TCU Baseball looked overmatched by... ULM(?) over the weekend, but it’s not necessarily a cause for a concern.

TCU Baseball vs Texas (5.8.21)
Zach Humphreys and Haylen Green are the unquestioned leaders of TCU Baseball, and will need to get their team up off the mat before the final series of the season.
Melissa Triebwasser

So, that wasn’t the tune-up we were looking for, was it?

After getting their you-know-whats handed to them by Texas a week ago, TCU had a chance to recenter over the weekend with the Warhawks in a town, a .500 baseball team, but one who owns wins over #4 Ole Miss, #14 Oklahoma State, and Alabama.

Slouches? No.

A team you expected to come in and basically dominate #6 TCU for most of the weekend? Also no.

But that’s what happened, as ULM no hit the Frogs until the final out of the ninth inning Friday, jumped all over Austin Krob (to the tune of seven runs in the first inning) in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader Saturday, and led for most of the finale before succumbing 6-4.

It was, shortly, ugly.

Russell Smith made the start Friday night and wasn’t particularly sharp, allowing four runs on seven hits with two walks in 5.1 innings. Drew Hill allowed just one hit but walked a pair in one inning of work, but if you want a silver lining, Augie Mihlbauer finally looked like the guy we remember from way back in 2019, striking out five in 2.2 innings while not allowing a hit, and though he did walk two, that kind of effort in relief is exactly what TCU needs the talented lefty to do come Big 12 Tournament time.

Offensively, well... woof.

The Frogs scratched across three runs on just one hit, all in the ninth inning, as only Tommy Sacco’s two out base hit saved TCU from being a part of college baseball history. A great defensive play kept the Frogs from tying things up on the game’s final play, a wild ending to a crazy game that somehow was almost a win for the home team.

Saturday was much different, as Austin Krob, who at times has looked like TCU’s best starting pitcher, got absolutely blown up from the start, giving him his first L of the season. The Warhawks struck for seven runs (six earned) on seven hits with one walk before Krob could notch the fourth out, striking for three in the first and four in the second — thanks to an inning-opening error and four consecutive hits including a triple. Chuck King relieved Krob and struggled as well, allowing four runs on five hits as the Warhawks pounded the ball all over the yard on their way to 13 runs on 14 hits despite 13 strikeouts.

The Frogs struck back, climbing within one when Zach Humphreys scored on a wild pitch in the fifth. But ULM scored four in the following frame to put things out of reach, as TCU lost the game and the series.

In what became a familiar refrain, the finale started off poorly as well, as Luke Savage — replacing Johnny Ray in the rotation — allowing two runs in the top of the first. But he settled in from there, pitching two more scoreless innings before ceding the rubber to River Ridings, who earned the win with four innings of scoreless ball while allowing just one hit. Garrett Wright and Haylen Green closed things out with clean work.

So, the question becomes, how worried should we be?

Outside of Friday night, the TCU offense was okay, even with Hunter Wolfe and Gene Wood still on the shelf with injuries and Elijah Nunez exiting the lineup after a lower body injury in the opener. The Frogs did manage just three extra base hits all weekend, though — two doubles and a Phillip Sikes home run, as their power drought continues. But, let’s take into account the situation too: after three near-sold out crowds for a massive rivalry series against Texas, getting up for ULM when you’re 18-22 is probably a challenge. These are still young people, and probably came into the weekend with their tail between their legs a bit (and not having a Tuesday game to shake out the doldrums certainly didn’t help), and the two losses did nothing to effect their status at the top of the standings. But a team that two weeks ago was leading the country in runs and was in the top five of several categories, has fallen out of the top 20 in doubles and to fifth in runs scored in a six game span. They continue to struggle against lefties, and until Wolfe returns to the lineup, that is going to likely remain an issue. We did get to see a lot of subs over the weekend, though, with Kurtis Byrne, Rhett Maynard, and Bobby Goodloe earning starts and performing well, as the Frogs’ depth continues to be one of its greatest strengths. But we can’t overstate how important a healthy lineup is for the Frogs if they want to meet their ultimate goals.

All that to say, sure, this weekend was a capital B bummer. But TCU gets Texas State in the final home game of the regular season Tuesday — a team that they have beaten 10-0 and lost 11-1 to — before heading on the road for what could be a Big 12 Title securing series at 8-13 in conference K State. I fully expect the Frogs to bounce back and look more like the team we have seen the first 10 weeks of season than the one that has scuffled over the last two.

If you need to be further talked off the ledge, join me in being reminded of the 2016 team (thanks, Jacob Sailors). That team, who finished 49-18 and with a Big 12 Tournament Championship, lost series to Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor, and six of nine conference games before... sweeping Kansas State in their regular season finale. They beat up on the Bears and the Cowboys in the first two games of the Big 12 Tournament, dropped a 2-1 decision to Texas in game three, then beat the Horns 8-2 to stay alive. Facing a WVU team that had to win the tournament to make the postseason, they outlasted the Eers 11-10 in ten innings for a wild championship victory. They dominated the Regional round, defeating ORU, Gonzaga, and Arizona State by a combined 19-4 before taking two of three from the Aggies in College Station to advance to the College World Series,

So yeah, I wouldn’t be too worried. Every team has a slump. Maybe TCU had theirs at the exact right time.