There's just something great about something new: New car, new shoes, new haircut, new pants, new socks (the best), a new razor-whatever. There's just something to be said about the joy of starting something new, whatever it is. The same goes for TCU baseball; it's the message we'll beat until season's end. But even though this team's sans Cody Jones, Preston Morrison, Riley Ferrell, and so on, this is an invigorating squad in 2016. Despite having yet to sweep a series this season, TCU baseball is still off to a brilliant start for 2016. Skoug, Barzilli, and the overall youth have given a refreshing start to this new era of Schlossball.
Why did Bud Selig–"maybe"–overlook the steroid use of the early oughts? Because offense is a helluva lot of fun. Richard Linklater, whose next movie Everybody Wants Some comes out here pretty soon and who played briefly at Sam Houston State, said that pitchers are-and I'm paraphrasing- the intellectual ones who dream of writing novels in the offseason, which is quite an odd paradox considering Linklater himself wasn't even a pitcher. Pitching certainly does have that mystique. Mystique can only go so far though, and as we've learned last year, the Frogs can certainly go 30 innings and still have the best pitchers in college zipping darts. But without some offense, it's excruciating to watch- especially as a fan.
No real shots fired, but there were points in 2014 and 2015 were you knew certain parts of the lineup, barring an outlier game, weren't going to get it done and you were already looking ahead to the next inning. That doesn't exist in 2016. The lineup feels like 9 guys around a campfire passing around lighter fluid. Maybe Luken Baker has an off day; no problem, because everyone's favorite non-Hemsworth Aussie, Cam Warner shows up. Connor Wanhanen needs a day off? Michael Landestoy is going to go drive in a handful of runs for you. Even stuff from non-everyday guys like Mason Hesse, boasting a .346 BA, has been outstanding. Watson doesn't do well one day? He'll go drill a triple and a homerun the next. The time bomb of energy on this offense parallels that of the pitching-the past two seasons especially.
Few could argue that #LuptonMagic isn't a real thing, and having an offense blows new pixie-dust on the TCU baseball paradigm. Once this team gets into conference (and the kids are back from partying with James Franco in Florida), this stadium and this team is going to get loud. Sure, people love great pitching, but people love scoring more. We know, and have seen, this crowd and team feed off each other. We have yet to see however, the extent to how the offense will play a role in that- and that's scary for other teams, but exhilarating if you're wearing purple.
The Frogs broke the Friday curse in solid fashion as they ripped open the series with a big 8-3 win. Saturday was, in many ways, a hint at what's to come this season. Not necessarily in terms of a team that's going to have to fight and take games to extra innings, but more so a team that can be down 3 runs, only to go up 5 in a wink. And should disaster strike and they lose the lead, this is a smart, disciplined team that'll battle to take it to extras, one that's going to find a way to win with plate discipline, power like we haven't seen since 2010, and a strong backbone from their bullpen. I don't think it's fair to say the Frogs should've lost Saturday; they had one, arguably two, bad innings. But they battled back after one of them, broke open a big lead, a lead which they unfortunately blew. Still, with patience at the plate and a literal walk-off, they won. USC has 20 hits in that game, whereas TCU had 12 and got 12 runs out of it, proving once again how much of a stride they've taken from last year just in terms of capitalization.
Perhaps no one demonstrated the brilliance of discipline better than Evan Skoug. While the focus this season has been on Luken Baker and Elliott Barzilli, it's the returning catcher that's the true backbone of this team. This weekend reminded Frog fans just how smart of a baseball player Evan Skoug is. He doesn't get jumpy and rarely makes an unintelligent decision- both are things you really want to see from your catcher. Skoug's dynamite weekend surged his BA to .380, slugging to .660 and he currently leads the team in OBP at .492.
Elsewhere, Elliott Barzilli and Josh Watson continue to be fantastic. Watson has my favorite swing on the team, and he may end up getting a home run in every series the Frogs play. It would certainly be a feat for Watson, who currently leads the team in home runs with 4, to finish the season as the leader, and thus beating Luken Baker and Evan Skoug. And a quick tip of the hat to Barzilli's glove, because while a boasting a BA over .400 certainly deserves praise, I also think it makes people forget just how good of a fielder he is.
Rex Hill has shown glimpses of being brilliant. But when Traver comes back- which should be in the next couple of weeks, possibly after the West Virginia series- I don't think it should be entirely out of the conversation to put Hill in the Tuesday slot. Even though that would mean three right-handers in your weekend rotation, those three consist of Mitchell Traver, who's arguably the ace of the team despite having yet to pitch in 2016, Brian Howard, and of course, Luken Baker who's leading the team in ERA at 0.84.
The biggest qualm with Hill is that while his K/9 ratio is high, it's not worth (a) the low amount of innings the Frogs get out of him and (b) the amount of runs he gives up. Hill could have all the strikeouts in the world, but it doesn't matter if you can't get outs, and it especially doesn't matter if you're inconsistent. His main problem is that he's throwing too high in the zone, the Saarloos/Schlossnagle system is designed for throwing the ball low. It's great to have a starting lefty in your weekend arsenal, but you saw what USC did to to him in 4 innings of work. Hill had an era over 4.00 in JUCO coming into to TCU and right now he's sitting at an ERA of 4.91. That especially becomes a concern as we inch into conference play. We're not out on Hill. The move to midweek benefited Tyler Alexander last year and there's no reason to think it couldn't work for Hill.
While Sunday's game was a dumpster fire, it's the only bad loss this young team's had all season. This isn't football, bad losses are going to happen and won't hurt you. I mean, TCU finally jumped into D1Baseball's Top 10.