When spring rolls around each year, you are assured of hearing two things in Texas. The first being the talk of will we finally have a wet enough rainy season to end the drought that our great state seems to be constantly stuck in. The second is the sounds of the ballpark; the crack of a bat, roar of a crowd, and the countless renditions of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" sung from every big city and small town across the land. I’m not going to be much use when it comes to rain predictions, but I will be able to show some watch points for each Big 12 team. As always, I will start with our favorite team, those from Raiderland.
#10 Texas Tech (14-5 overall): Under skipper, Tim Tadlock, the boys in Scarlett and Black are looking to improve on last year’s run to the College World Series. Texas Tech plays extraordinary ball at Dan Law Field in Lubbock. Since the beginning of 2014 the Red Raiders are 45-5, 12-1 this year. The road seems to bring Tech back down to Earth with last year’s Big 12 road record finishing at 4-9. Bring that road record up to .500 and Tech will be in contention for the Big 12 regular season title, even if the home winning percentage slips a tad bit.
In conference, look for Tech to lean on their offense to win ball games. Our Red Raiders own the Big 12’s highest team batting average, sitting at .293. They have scored 120 runs, and have knocked 13 balls out of the park. Do not take my saying that Tech will lean on the offense as a slight to our pitching. The Red Raiders currently have a team ERA of 3.20. Outside of a few moments in non-conference play, our pitching has looked pretty solid. For a team coming off a CWS berth, they need to assert themselves as a top 3 Big 12 team at season’s end.
#1 Texas Christian University (14-2 overall, 3-0 Big 12): Like Tech, TCU is coming off a College World Series berth. The preseason consensus favorite to win the Big 12 regular season title has lived up to the hype so far. Led by a brilliant pitching staff that is currently sporting a 1.61 ERA, TCU actually has already opened up their Big 12 season, completing a weekend sweep over Baylor. Of their 16 games, TCU has played 10 games of error-free baseball. If a team can play error-free ball with a pitching staff as good as TCU’s is, they will be tough to top. TCU is, rightfully, the front-runner to defend their Big 12 title.
Kansas State (10-9 overall): Since winning the 2013 Big 12 regular season baseball title and hosting a Super Regional, the Wildcats have fallen on hard times. Last year, K-State went 25-30 and finished last in the Big 12 with a conference record of 5-19. The Wildcats have some pretty great hitters in their lineup; four of their everyday players are hitting above .300. However, of their 3 main starting pitchers, only one of them has an ERA below 4. In a Big 12 that currently has 4 teams in the Top 30 national rankings, K-State seems destined for another down year in conference play.
Baylor Bears (6-12 overall, 0-3 Big 12): No team ever likes to start conference play by being swept. However, it might make it a little easier knowing that you lost 2 of the 3 games by only one run to the #1 team in the nation, TCU. That’s about all the good news, I have for Baylor. Their pitching staff currently possesses a 5.55 ERA. Their bats do not help out very much with an average of .244, and they only have 4 home runs in 18 games. Baylor is in the running for Big 12 bottom feeder.
West Virginia (8-8 overall, 1-2 Big 12): West Virginia could be the team that surprises members around the Big 12 this year. In 16 games, the Mountaineers have already knocked 18 balls out of the park. Led by their top 2 starters, Ross Vance and Chad Donato, who both have ERAs below 2.8, this team could start strong in many games. Where the WVU games most likely can be lost is once you go into the bullpen, with many of their members sporting ERAs over 3.3. Look for WVU to finish around .500 and mid-pack in the Big 12.
#23 Oklahoma State (13-6 overall): The Red Raiders and the Cowboys both accomplished a first in program history last year; both hosted a NCAA Super Regional. Unlike Tech, the Cowboys did not advance to the College World Series. However, Tech and OK-State should be around each other in the standings at all times this year. The Cowboys’ pitching sports an ERA of 2.65 and their batting average is .289. I’m very interested to see how OK-State performs against Big 12 opponents. Of their 13 wins, 5 have come against Alcorn State and Grand Canyon. Not exactly teams that give you a good idea on where the teams stands. They should be one of the top four teams in the Big 12, along with TCU, Texas Tech, and the next team on the list.
#14 University of Texas (13-7 overall, 2-1 Big 12): The final of three Big 12 teams that scored a 2014 College World Series berth is looking for more. This year’s CWS will mark the tenth anniversary of UT’s last CWS title. I know the folks in Austin would like to celebrate that by adding another one. They may have the pieces to do it. Their batters are hold a .275 average and their pitchers are pitching to a tune of a 2.69 ERA. That 2.69 ERA is fantastic, but it’s even more fantastic when you look at their pitchers who have appeared in at least five games. Of those 11 pitchers, 8 of them have an ERA below 2.69. Wow. The Longhorns may be best equipped to battle TCU for king of the Big 12 mountain.
Oklahoma Sooners (15-8 overall): There is a lot to like about the team from Norman. In their 23 games, OU has hit 22 homeruns and are collectively batting .282. Their pitchers have thrown to an ERA of 2.74. They have a lot of experienced players, with the majority either being juniors or above. In their 22 games, they have scored 7 or more runs 11 times, going 10-1. In the games that they score 6 or fewer runs, they are 5-7. With some of the best college pitchers in the Big 12, teams will probably not be able to score 7+ runs consistently. Look for the Sooners to be mid-pack in the Big 12.
Kansas Jayhawks (8-12 overall): Kansas is coming off their 5th NCAA baseball tournament appearance. They have not started the journey to be invited back very well. The reason for their slow start boils down to pitching. Last year, their pitching ERA was 3.59. This year, heading into conference play, the Jayhawks have a cumulative ERA of 5.97. Ouch. Unless Kansas can turn around their pitching woes, they will not have to worry about an invite back to the NCAA tournament, but worry about staying out of the Big 12 cellar.
Iowa State- IT’S TOO COLD FOR BASEBALL. No team.
*All rankings are based upon the March 16 ncaa.com rankings.
Prediction: This is TCU’s regular season title to lose. They are number one in the nation for a reason. However, Texas Tech, UT, and Oklahoma State all should give TCU a run for its money. I would not be surprised to see any of those four teams win the regular season title. What do you think? Either comment below, or tweet me at @ConnerCrisp. Thanks for reading and GUNS UP!