Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman
The Longhorns will face the Aggies in a series matchup for perhaps the last time. Who has the edge? Head inside for the details.
In a baseball season of fluctuating results and mixed expectations, the No. 20 Texas Longhorns (23-14, 10-4) again will look to send off No. 9 Texas A&M (28-12, 9-6) in triumphing fashion on the diamond.
Fresh off a 4-2 win over Central Arkansas Wednesday, the three game set with the Aggies—which will be the last time these storied programs meet as members of the Big 12—will begin Friday in College Station before moving to Austin for the final two games over the weekend.
With a trip to the College World Series on the line, and a slim chance to claim its seventh Big 12 regular season title since 2004, Texas has plenty of motivation with just 12 games remaining this campaign. Although the Longhorns began the year with a rocky 7-8 nonconference mark, they have yet to drop a series in the Big 12.
The early shortcomings of a shaky pitching staff and inconsistent bats have left Texas with ground to make up and just nine conference matchups to do so. With Baylor sitting atop the conference with a perfect 18-0 mark, the margin for error is blatantly thin for the Longhorns if they intend to catch up.
All eyes are set on this weekend where three wins over the Aggies would create some much-needed momentum heading into the final two series against Missouri and Baylor.
Last week, the Aggies moved dramatically in the wrong direction.
After climbing up to No. 2 in Baseball America’s Top 25, Texas A&M dropped five straight contests, including a three-game sweep to Baylor. This coming after the Aggies had won 14 of their last 16 games.
Whichever team is to challenge the Bears for the Big 12 title, this weekend’s series could be the fuel that ignites any move to the top of the conference.
The final Lone Star Showdown in baseball begins at 6:35 p.m. central Friday.
Friday: Nathan Thornhill v. Michael Wacha
Saturday: Parker French v. Ross Stripling
Sunday: Dillon Peters v. Rafael Pineda
The Longhorns have done a fair share of work on the mound by committee. Peters is a new face in the weekend rotation after Ricky Jacquez—and Thornhill for that matter—struggled to maintain consistency from the rubber.
But the real strength of the Texas staff is in the bullpen. With Corey Knebel and Hoby Milner posting 1.61 and 1.37 ERAs respectively, and John Curtiss starting to come on, the Longhorns should feel very comfortable with leads going into the late innings.
In the batter’s box
Offensively, we are starting to see the Longhorns’ bats come alive. Sophomore sensation Erich Weiss is leading the charge with a .340 batting average (.435 in the Big 12) while fellow sophomore Mark Payton holds up a very respectable .312 clip for the year. In limited at bats, freshman Taylor Stell has built up a .346 average, presenting a consistent option at designated hitter.
Make no mistake, though. This is still an Augie Garrido-led club where small ball will win games. With only 12 home runs for the entire Texas club, and opponents clobbering 19 dingers, the Horns will be looking to keep to its standards.
But what Texas lack in deep balls, it make up in contact. The team is batting at a .271 average while the opposition maintains just a .233 clip. Kudos to the pitching staff for that advantage.
Still, the Aggies are no slouches in the box either, boasting six players with a .300 average or better, including Tyler Naquin who is batting an astounding .403. When the Aggies get on base, they can score runs with ease. As a team, Texas A&M has knocked in 227 runs compared to Texas’ 174.
The Longhorns have prided themselves in their pitching staffs throughout history. This weekend, the hurlers may once again be the difference.
Coach Garrido announced after the Central Arkansas game that freshman utility Taylor Stell has a meniscus injury. His defensive contributions this weekend is definitely in question, but his impact with the bat is far less uncertain.
All rankings according to BaseballAmerica.com.