In the long and distinguished history of Big 12 baseball, Texas and Texas A&M have never finished 1-2 in the conference standings. That’s all set to change this weekend, when the Horns (38-12 /17-7) and Aggies (37-6 / 18-6) play a split series. The three games will also decide the Lone Star Showdown, where the Aggies currently hold a 9.5 to 8.5 lead. In other breaking news, Seal Team 6 killed Bin Laden.
I started off under the premise that the Aggies need this series more than the Horns. That’s inaccurate. The Ag’s need this series, but so do the Horns – the reasons are totally different.
Going back through 2000, Texas A&M has a 147-152 record in Big 12 play. That glorious mark includes six seasons where the team finished at or below .500. "WHOOP!"
Texas swept A&M last year and it got ugly for the Farmers. After scratching out an extra-inning win in Austin in the series opener, the Longhorns annihilated A&M by a cumulative 22-0 in the two games in College Station. "A!"
To be relevant in the Texas-Rice-TCU discussion, A&M needs to win the regular season Big 12 title regularly. To get more traction with recruits and high school coaches, Rob Childress and the Ag’s must beat Texas more often than twice in fourteen tries.
For A&M, this weekend’s Texas series is about trying to clear a single hurdle before they can rightfully enter themselves in the race. Meanwhile, in the next lane over is a racer that has lapped the field.
Since 2000, the Longhorns have won more national championships than the Aggies have won regular season conference titles. For Texas, this weekend’s series has nothing to do with the opponent. A series win means another Big 12 title…which makes a national seed likely…which may make a significant difference in returning to Omaha.
Horns vs Aggies is a classic case of Forest vs Trees.
The interesting twist is that this year these teams are a virtual reflection of one another. The Aggies’ head coach, Rob Childress, recently said, "When you pitch and play defense you are going to be in every game. The offense is going to go up and down. Tonight, if we hit them where they're not we might score seven or eight runs but we didn't, we hit them where they were. We pitched and played defense…" Sound familiar?
Regardless, A&M just swept Nebraska and are winners of four straight in Big 12 play and 6 consecutive overall. In conference games, Aggie ranks 1st in the league in batting average (.296) and 2nd in ERA (2.56). By any measure, this is a very strong team – top to bottom this is Childress’ best club since arriving in College Station.
How the Farmers handle the pressure of the series is a major storyline. Augie Garrido preaches staying in the moment and in last year’s sweep the Ag’s were not ready for the stage – 7 errors in three games. That’s a "moment" alright.
The recipe for a series win by the Horns is the same one they’ve been using all season: Ride Jungmann to a win, then limit the opposition offensively and scrape together one more win in the next two games.
Actually, this series brings to mind one of my biggest concerns about this Texas club and postseason play. This roster is built for a series win. That’s good news this weekend and should be applicable in a Super. But in the conference tournament, a Regional or in Omaha, there is greater risk of exposure of the team’s weaknesses.
I do expect the Longhorns to use that formula and get a 2-1 series win this weekend. If you’re interested in a key to watch this weekend, keep a close eye on plate discipline. Texas A&M’s order is full of aggressive bats. On one hand that’s enviable, on the other, the club strikes out more and walks less than Texas.
Managing the strike zone will be just as important when the Horns are at the plate. The Stilson – Wacha – Stripling triumvirate are all strikeout pitchers and rank near top of Big 12. That means that Texas will need to capitalize on offensive opportunities and not whiff away men on the base paths.
Three-game set starts tonight at Olsen Field before coming back to The Disch for Friday and Saturday games. Should be high quality hardball and a great measuring stick for both teams. While Aggie measures their height compared to big brother, Augie Garrido will be gauging how his club stacks up against the Virginias and South Carolinas of the national landscape.
Any Farmer that says otherwise is delusional.