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Monday Morning Manager: So what if it’s lonely at the top?

The #3 Horned Frogs hold sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with the team chasing them coming to town Friday.

TCU Baseball at UTA (4.27.21)
It was four games of smiles for TCU Baseball last week, as the Frogs beat UTA and swept WVU on the road.
Melissa Triebwasser

It doesn’t feel like the TCU offense did all that much in their three game sweep of the West Virginia Mountaineers over the weekend, but the unit that leads the country in runs scored and triples and has the second most walks, the third most hits, and the fifth most doubles of any team in College Baseball found a variety of ways to score in support of a rotation and a group of relievers that were, for the most part, dominant against the struggling Mountaineers.

The Frogs scored eight, five, and nine runs in Morgantown, while the pitching staff allowed just six all weekend, as TCU Baseball was able to take and hold sole ownership of first place in the Big 12 standings with their three wins. Only Friday seemed to go as planned though, as it was a battle to the end in Saturday’s 5-3 win and TCU didn’t score Sunday until the seventh inning.

But, in a rare change of pace, TCU’s bullpen was beyond reliable, backing up performances by the starting rotation that were good if not exceptional in each win. The bullpen was responsible for 11.2 innings over the weekend, picking up two wins (Drew Hill and Luke Savage) and a save (River Ridings) in the process. They allowed just two runs on seven hits across the three games, striking out 15 Mountaineers and issuing just a single free pass. That’s exactly what Jim Schlossnagle and Kirk Saarloos want to see.

Let’s Talk About Defense:

Holy cow, did the TCU defense make some plays this weekend.

Zach Humphreys threw out three base runners, Phillip Sikes gunned down a runner trying for third on a fly ball to right, and Elijah Nunez did this:

... and that doesn’t even account for Gray Rodgers and Tommy Sacco who made so many plays in the infield that I started to take them for granted.

We thought this team had a chance to be elite defensively, but they hadn’t really shown it up to this point. This weekend was one that proved that this TCU lineup can make it really hard for opposing offenses to get big innings going by the way they range all over the field.

Speaking of Lineups:

Jim Schlossnagle made some interesting lineup changes over the weekend, most notably moving Zach Humphreys from the cleanup spot to second. But he continues to let Phillip Sikes, arguably the team’s best hitter, languish in the sixth hole, meaning that he has double digit fewer at bats than Elijah Nunez despite hitting 126 points higher than TCU’s lead-off man. I don’t claim to be an expert here, but don’t you want to get your best hitters the most at bats possible?

Several of you have made this complaint across multiple platforms and I don’t disagree: Elijah Nunez is a plus defender is centerfield and one of the best in the Big 12 at drawing walks, but he was much more effective at the plate when he was lower in the lineup. I want to see more of Sikes and Rodgers, both of whom are riding hot streaks, and more of Porter Brown, who has had multiple hits in half of the games he’s started this season. The depth and flexibility of the roster is a great problem to have, and the fact that we are picking nits at this point is absolutely a baseball version of a first world problem.

We did finally get Conner Shepherd on the field Sunday, as he pinch hit for Austin Henry — in the middle of an at bat, no less — and stayed in defensively at first base. Having fought injury and gotten stuck behind Brayden Taylor has probably been a gut check for the senior, but he continues to make sure he’s ready whenever and wherever his name is called. Shep had a critical walk and a big time double Sunday, as one of TCU’s sweetest swingers seems ready to contribute more going forward.

Haylen Green Where You At:

Drew Hill and Luke Savage were darn near unhittable over the weekend, and Chuck King and River Ridings provided quality innings in relief over the weekend.

But... uh... where is Haylen?

TCU’s best reliever, someone who Schloss has used as a closer often, was nowhere to be seen this week, and for the first time in a long time, didn’t get a single inning in a weekend series.

There hasn’t been word of injury (but that’s not surprising), but if Green is out for this weekend’s series against Texas, that’s absolutely cause for concern. Here’s hoping team leader Haylen just got a little extra rest or time to work on something, and that there won’t be anything keeping him from competing against the Longhorns.

Big 12 Update:

TCU is the first team to sweep the Mountaineers this season, and the Horned Frogs are in the pole position going forward.

The Horned Frogs are the only team to sweep WVU and hold a two game lead over Texas.
Jacob Sailors. (@jdsailors)

Next Up:

It’s what we have all been waiting for: Texas.

The Longhorns come to town needing a series win to enter into a tie for the regular season title and a sweet to take first place. Both programs will have just one conference series remaining after their matchup, with TCU hitting the road to take on Kansas State and Texas hosting WVU to finish out the regular season. The winner of the weekend certainly controls their own destiny when it comes to the regular season title and the number one seed in the conference tournament later this month.

TCU sits at #3 in the latest D1 Baseball poll, while the Horns dropped to sixth after dropping two of three to Texas Tech in Austin. This top ten matchup should be a blast.