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Monday Morning Manager: We are the (co) Champions

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So why doesn’t it feel good?

TCU Baseball vs Texas(5.7.21)
Jim Schlossnagle has just a couple of days to get his team turned around, or a promising season could go quickly by the wayside.
Melissa Triebwasser

Texas stole our lunch money.

Our mojo.

Our bats.

Our pitching.

Our championship.

Well, maybe they didn’t steal it, maybe it feels more like we gave it away. Because that’s exactly what the Horned Frogs did in the bottom of the ninth Saturday evening against a very average Kansas State team, turning a four run cushion with arguably the conference’s best reliever on the mound into a painful three run loss that left TCU tied with Texas atop the Big 12 standings.

Many TCU fans — and pretty much the entirety of Longhorn Nation — want to give the title to Texas outright, and there’s a good argument for doing so: afterall, UT came to Fort Worth and took two of three for the Frogs in impressive fashion, bludgeoning the home team in a finale that left no doubt as to who the cream of the conference crop was. On top of that, TCU has limped (at best) to the finish line, dropping their last three series of the season, including an inexcusable 1-2 weekend at home against ULM and of course the epic collapse in the Little Apple.

But do we really want to let three weeks define the season of a team that looked like a lock to be a national seed just moments ago?

I don’t think so.

Here is what I want folks to remember: this TCU Baseball team swept Oklahoma State and Baylor at home — two teams likely to be in the field of 64 — and swept Oklahoma (a fringe playoff team) and WVU (who started the season in the top 25) on the road. Against Texas and Texas Tech, a likely and a potential national seed, they dropped a one run contest and a blowout in going 2-4 against the duo. Dropping a 1-0 decision to Kansas, and the mess from Saturday, well... maybe that’s just baseball, right?

Ultimately, TCU went 17-7 against a conference slate that is going to have five teams in the postseason field and three hosting Regionals. The last three weeks notwithstanding, this is a really good baseball team, that (hopefully) just hit a wall at a really bad time.

Here’s what we know:

TCU Baseball is really young.

The Frogs have started as many as three true freshmen in the field this season (Elijah Nune, Brayden Taylor, and Luke Boyers) and have used first year pitchers at an impressive clip (River Ridings, Garrett Wright, and Luke Savage). Several other players are getting their first full season of experience and playing significant roles: Porter Brown, Jacob Meador, and Rhett Maynard, and even more “experienced players” are hardly veterans — Marcelo Perez, Austin Krob, Russell Smith, and Johnny Ray all all just sophomores by designation.

Not many of the everyday guys or primary pitchers have played an entire season with TCU, and that 50 game mark hits different for some.

The wall is real, and it’s possible that some of these guys have hit it, Hard.

Elite pitching is absolutely TCU’s kryptonite.

The Frogs’ once potent offense has struggled of late, something that could be a combination of a long season taking its toll and some elite arms mowing down the TCU offense at an impressive clip. These types of pitchers are super prevalent throughout a season, but TCU is going to have to be able to touch up elite arms like Ty Madden, Pete Hansen, and Jordan Wicks if their pitching doesn’t find its footing once again.

The rotation is a problem.

Russell Smith and Austin Krob have both been better than good this season, combing to go 13-4 on the season with sub-4.00 ERAs and 83 and 79 strikeouts respectively. But the Frogs do not, in my estimation, have a reliable third starter at this time.

Johnny Ray was supposed to be the ace, but whatever happened against Texas has rendered him untrustworthy since. After allowing four runs on five hits with three home runs in his previous start, Ray gave up four runs on four hits with two home runs across four batters faced Saturday against Kansas State, eliminating the four run lead TCU had handed him in the opening frame.

Charles King was excellent in eight sparkling, scoreless innings of relief, and is likely the best candidate to fill the open starting role come the Big 12 tournament. Luke Savage, who looked unbeatable early, could also give it a go. TCU should have their full compliment of arms ready for the week after limiting the pen over the weekend, and critical long and middle relievers like Marcelo Perez, Drew Hill, River Ridings, Jacob Meador, and eventually King, should be good to go. And I don’t know about you, but I still want the ball in Haylen Green’s hands in the ninth inning as often as possible, no matter what happened against K State.

If TCU wants to make it deep in the Big 12 Tournament and survive a Regional, someone is going to have to step up. Hopefully King’s outing is a sign of things to come.

Porter Brown should be the starting left fielder. Period.

What more does this man have to do? Porter was a casual 5-8 with five RBI and two home runs in his two starts over the weekend, but was still pinch hit for in a critical situation Friday. Sure, he had a mental error defensively on a ball, and I would venture to say that Luke Boyers is the better defensive player overall. But Brown has 11 multi-hit and 8 multi-RBI games this season — in just 22 starts — and has earned the lead role with a .349 average and .512 slugging percentage. TCU’s offense is better when he is in the game, and he’s earned the right to stay there.

Like it or not, TCU Baseball are Big 12 Champions.

Let’s not lose sight of this fact. The Frogs earned one of those fancy bowls and will proudly display it in the beautiful Hall of Fame within Schollmaier Arena. And they should! Who are we to downplay a title that falls within the rules and regulations of the conference and diminish the hard work the players and coaches put in throughout a grueling year of pandemic baseball? What these young men have gone through — alongside the men and women of the support, coaching, training, and maintenance staff — is commendable. And after losing so much of their season last year, and not knowing what 2021 would bring, there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating a group of people who fought and battled and overcame.

So, what about these Schloss to A&M rumors?

Well, I hate to end on a dour note, but there is serious smoke coming out of College Station when it comes to Jim Schlossnagle’s candidacy in regards to replacing Rob Childress. The Aggies are going to throw a Brink’s truck at Tim Tadlock (oh, the deliciousness of Texas Tech losing Chris Beard to Texas and Tadlock to A&M in the same year) and maybe Tony Vitello of Tennessee, but you can bet they’ll keep a close eye on the man that knocked them out of the postseason multiple times during TCU’s four year Omaha run. Would Schloss leave? He was close just a few years ago, and there are plenty of folks saying he’s ready for a change.

Let’s not be naive and think that losing an all-time great in Fort Worth would be no big deal; TCU Baseball was a nothing program for a long time before Schloss arrived and has done nothing but win, and win big, since. He’s brought them to five College World Series, won seven straight MWC crowns and three in the Big 12. He’s recruited at the highest level and changed not only the outlook, but the landscape of Lupton Stadium.

If he wants to go, let the man chase his bag. But don’t think for a second that TCU will seamlessly move on from one of the all-time winningest coaches in college baseball history.

Up Next:

TCU will face Kansas State Wednesday afternoon with first pitch scheduled for 12:30pm. The game can be watched on ESPN Big 12 Now.