This week, Big 12 teams reach the midpoint of the 2013 conference season, and there are a number surprises and intriguing story lines that underscore what a difference a year can make.
For one thing, watch out for the Kansas Jayhawks. A year ago, Kansas finished seventh in the conference race with a 7-16 mark in league play and 24-34 overall. Coach Ritchie Price’s troops have turned things around this season. The Jayhawks have won two of their first three series against Big 12 teams this season and are 5-4 in the league and in fourth place this week in the conference standings.
Kansas has already taken two of three against TCU and always-tough Oklahoma State. The Hawks lost their series at league-leading Oklahoma, but still managed to salvage one game, one of only two Sooner losses in nine conference games so far. The biggest difference for Kansas this season over the past two years is that they are winning games on the road. The Jayhawks already have five roads wins this season (three in Big 12 plays). Two years ago, KU won only sfive road contests the entire season, and last year, its road wins totaled just six of 16.
The Jayhawks are also swinging the bats much better than their league-worst .246 team batting average last spring. They’re hitting almost .40 points better than a year ago, and the pitching staff has improved the team ERA from 4.37 to 3.50, almost a run less per game.
Kansas has a tough test this weekend with a three-game set at home against Texas that should tell a lot about how much better this team appears to be from the lineup the Jayhawks put on the field a year ago. Texas is struggling a bit this season, with losses in six of their nine conference games. Kansas was swept by the Longhorns last season at Texas and has won only twice in the last 12 regular-season meetings between the two teams. Five seasons ago, however, when KU hosted Texas in Lawrence in 2008, the Jayhawks swept all three games from the Longhorns, who were conference champions that year.
After Texas, Kansas has road series with last-place Texas Tech and at West Virginia. Don’t be surprised to see the Jayhawks, the team that the rest of the Big 12 used to regularly feed on, holding down second or third place by the end of the month.
A few more fascinating facts and figures that tell the story of Big 12 baseball in 2013:
- The Oklahoma Sooners are ranked eighth in this week’s Collegiate Baseball poll and 10th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Oklahoma State is 22nd in the Collegiate Baseball rankings.
- Kansas State swept Texas Tech in three games last weekend in Manhattan. This is the second season in a row that the second-place Wildcats have taken all three games from the Red Raiders and the ninth win for K-State in the last 10 meetings between the two schools.
- Kansas State leads the Big 12 this season with a .330 team batting average in 34 games. That ranks third in the country. The Wildcats also rank fourth in the country in hits (372) and 10th in on-base percentage (.413).
- Texas closer Corey Knebel is tied for the Big 12 career saves total with 36. That is six fewer than the all-time saves leader at Texas (Huston Street had 41). Street played at Texas before the Longhornsbecame part of the Big 12.
- Oklahoma designated hitter Matt Oberste had his 30-game hitting streak snapped last Friday, preventing him from breaking the record for the longest hitting streak in Big 12 history. Two other players also hit safety in 30 games (Gene Alvarex of Texas Tech in 2002 and James Blair of Baylor in 1997, the first season for the Big 12).
- Baylor’s 8-0 shutout victory over West Virginia last Saturday ended an eight-game winning streak for the Mountaineers. Baylor also won on Sunday, giving WVU a two-game losing streak.
- OU’s Matt Oberste leads the Big 12 in home runs (8), runs batted in (40) and total bases (94) and is second in the conference with a .414. He is on pace to become the first player to win the triple crown (leader in batting average, HR and RBI) since Kansas’ Tony Thompson captured the honor in 2009.
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