There is a valid argument to be made about the 2011 Texas baseball team and it has painfully real ramifications - Is this team still improving and yet to reach their peak? Or are they already bumping the ceiling and showing warning signs of an early postseason exit?
It’s mid-May, and I’m still unconvinced that I know the correct answer. I’m also unconvinced that next weekend’s A&M series will unequivocally answer the question. I’m also unconvinced that releasing his new book in mid-May was good timing on Augie Garrido’s part.
I'm also unconvinced that Rafa is heterosexual, but that's a different post.
The Aggies are a good team, but if the Horns come out of next weekend with a 2-1 series win, what do we really learn? Carrying out the hypothetical: Texas wins the regular season Big 12 title.
Forget the conference tournament, with a series win, the Horns put themselves in a great spot for a top national seed. There are a boatload of unremarkable postseason resumes across the country and a regular season Big 12 title + Texas tradition + one of the premiere college baseball facilities in the country + the new ESPN deal + Augie Garrido + Taylor Jungmann……you can see where that’s headed.
With a series win, Texas proves to be good enough to beat the Big 12. Except on Saturdays.
But is a win, or even a sweep, a sign that the Longhorns are peaking at the right time? Or is it a mask that temporarily disguises a few consistent and fatal flaws?
IMPROVING & PEAKING
At the end of March, Texas lost a series at Oklahoma State. As tempting as it was to glean conclusions from that, it should be noted that the Horns only drop a series once every two years. At the time, it also may have been the best possible outcome for this team.
Since losing the Oklahoma State series, Texas is 19-5. .790 baseball is pretty good.
Furthermore, the Texas offense was, um….er….“pedestrian” through the end of March. As the temperature started climbing steadily, so did most offensive stats. The team is currently hitting about 40 points higher since April 1st.
Interestingly, this is the third consecutive year of post-March offensive improvement. By most measures, the 2011 offense was worse through March than the 2009 or 2010 versions. The measurable improvements have compensated for the difference though, with 2011’s numbers being stronger than the past two years.
A lot of credit needs to go to Tant Shepherd and Paul Montalbano. Shepherd has emerged as the middle-of-the-order guy that was missing over the first two months. Montalbano has been very strong in relief duty since Cohl Walla was injured. Both are Seniors. That’s clutchiness and leadership – two things a team needs in June.
If the offense flounders, there’s always Taylor Jungmann. Kid is so good that it’s prudent to discuss how his name fits with the Burt Hooton’s of the Longhorn history books.
SMOKE & MIRRORS
About the time that I convince myself that this team is grooving, reality rears it’s head and I argue myself to the opposite end of the spectrum. Normally this happens in the form of a defensive lapse or a black hole on offense.
In 2010 it seemed to happen on Sundays. This year Saturdays are the outliers.
Augie Garrido said, “I have confidence in this team’s ability to score enough runs when it’s matched up with the kind of pitching and defense we have.”
I do too. But my confidence feels hollow still…and it’s May. It’s nearly crunch time, so the time to be looking for answers is yesterday, not today.
And it’s not talent or a gap in the roster that worries me. Sure I’d prefer one more lefty in the bullpen. Yes, I think the lineup could be improved with a couple of specialized batsmen. But that’s nitpicking – this team is going to win 40 games.
It’s the intangibles that are preventing me from buying in at this point. I don’t have confidence that this team knows how to perform for a month straight with a championship focusednessest.
Is it a lack of leadership in the dugout? Is it overconfidence in the pitching staff on behalf of the offense? A book tour? Are the Disch-Falk Diamonds busy with Spring finals?
The Horns are going to pound Southern this weekend. I also expect them to win the A&M series and after that comes a fairly meaningless Big 12 tournament.
After that I can’t tell what’s coming next. Is this 2005 or 2008?