What’s that old saying? “Things aren’t always as they appear.” That maxim certainly applies to Big 12 baseball this season.
In their preseason poll, Big 12 coaches projected West Virginia, making its first-year debut in the Big 12, to finish last. So much for that prediction. The Mountaineers are currently tied for first place with preseason favorite Oklahoma and Kansas State, all three with 11-7 records in the conference.
Meanwhile, Texas, the second-place finisher in the conference last season and picked in the preseason poll of league coaches to finish third, is currently all alone in the Big 12 cellar with only six conference wins in 21 league outings. The other Big 12 newcomer, TCU, a perennial national power in baseball in recent seasons, hasn’t fared much better than the team from Austin this season. The Horned Frogs are under .500 overall, at 23-24, with just a couple of weeks left in the regular season, and are only 8-10 in conference play and in seventh place in the league standings.
To pull from another time-worn sports cliche: That’s why they play the games.
The 2013 Big 12 baseball race is one of the closest in quite a few years, with the top six teams in the nine-team league separated by just .061 percentage points as of today.
Here is how this sports blogger ranks the nine Big 12 teams – not based on absolute wins and losses but rather on which teams are theplaying the best and with the most momentum at this stage of the season – with just a handful (or two hands full) of games to go in the regular season. Bear in mind that the top eight teams qualify for the Big 12 Championship later this month in Oklahoma City.
Big 12 Power Rankings
1. Kansas State – Already 10 games better this season than last in the overall win column, the Wildcats have two big series remaining with Kansas and Oklahoma.
2. Oklahoma – The Sooners are still nationally ranked in the top 15, but since losing starting pitcher Dillon Overton, they’ve struggled in two of their three weekend games.
3. Kansas – The Jayhawks can make a huge statement this weekend by taking the Sunflower Showdown series from archrivel Kansas State, but they’ll have to do it with pitching.
4. Baylor – The Bears have just one Big 12 series remaining before the conference tournament and it is against eighth-place Texas Tech. Watch out for the Bears jumping over the three or four teams currently above them and defending their conference title.
5. Oklahoma State – OSU is just 9-8 in league action but 34-12 overall, the best record in the conference. With the Bedlam series with OU and West Virginia left to play, the Cowboys have a chance to swap places with one or both.
6. West Virginia – The Mountaineers took two of three from league-leading Oklahoma last weekend, but their remaining six conference games are on the road, at TCU this weekend and then at Oklahoma State, where the Cowboys are 22-6 this season.
7. TCU – The Horned Frogs finish out at home with series against West Virginia and Texas on successive weekends. The Frogs should take four of the six games.
8. Texas – The Longhorns have dug themselves too deep a hole. Now they are in danger of being left out of the conference postseason tournament. They will need at least two wins on the road at TCU the weekend after next to avoid the Big 12 cellar.
9. Texas Tech – It’s going to be very close between Texas and the Red Raiders in the race to avoid last place, and Baylor will get to cast the deciding vote when it visits Tech on the regular season’s final weekend.
Big 12 Baseball By the Numbers
1 - If good hitting wins games; good pitching wins championships, Texas is doing its best to disprove this long-held baseball principle. The Longhorns have the best pitching staff in the Big 12 this season, but their inability to score runs has plummeted them to the bottom of the league standings.
3 - Kansas State won two of three games from Texas last weekend. That series win was only the third time the Wildcats had won a series in Austin since the Big 12 came into existence (in 1996).
3 – Number of walk-off wins last week by Kansas as the Jayhawks posted a 5-0 record for the week.
7 – Number of individual offensive categories in which Oklahoma designated hitter Matt Oberste leads the conference through all games (batting average, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, on-base percentage).
9 – Number of home runs by Kansas as a team this season, the fewest in the conference.
14 – Current active hitting streaks by both Matt Oberste of Oklahoma and Kansas State’s Austin Fisher.
35 – Junior outfielder Mark Payton of Texas has reached base in 35 consecutive games, the best in the conference this season.
21 – Total runs scored by West Virginia in winning its series with Oklahoma last weekend. The Mountaineers have now won three consecutive series in Big 12 play.
104 – Strikeouts this season by Oklahoma right-randed starter Jonathan Gray, fourth-best in the country, an average of 10.4 per game. That’s 30 more than the next best strikeout pitcher in the conference.
Keep up with all the news and the latest sports developments regarding the Big 12 Conference at Talking12.com.