Just as it does in most college sports, when conference play starts the standings, which typically become inflated against nonconference opponents, begin to settle more into their natural order. That’s exactly what we are seeing, now two weeks into the Big 12 portion of the 2014 schedule.
Although it is still way too early to draw any kind of creditable conclusions as to what the 2014 season ultimately will unveil, we are starting to see some of the early front runners drop back a little and, similarly, teams that started out more slowly beginning to pick up steam and move up into the pack.
The Kansas Jayhawks, projected to finish last in the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll, started out the season like a ball of fire, winning their first nine games and 11 of the first 12. By contrast, the team the coaches’ singled out as the favorite to repeat its 2013 conference crown, the Kansas State Wildcats, didn’t earn its first win in 2014 until its eighth game of the season.
Things have changed since then. The Jayhawks have fallen back to the pack, having gone a more normal 5-8 since their opening sprint out of the gate. And the little team that can out of the Little Apple has seemingly found its stroke an d stride, improving to 14-9 overall through games on Sunday.
As I was saying, though, it is still early in the college baseball season. Baylor and Texas Tech have each played two series in the conference. Everyone else has played just one Big 12 opponent, except West Virginia, which doesn’t begin its conference schedule until this weekend. The Mountaineers (12-8, 0-0) will host league-leading Baylor (13-10, 4-2) for three games to be played in Charleston, S.C.
In conference games this past weekend, Oklahoma (18-7, 2-1) took two of three at home against defending-champion Kansas State (14-9, 1-2). The Sooners pounded out a combined 33 hits in the first two games of the series, winning 11-5 and 11-2, but their bats were silenced in the series finale on Sunday in a brilliant three-hit, complete-game 5-0 shutout pitched by K-State redshirt-freshman starter Nate Griep.
Baylor (13-10, 4-2) the conference champion in 2012, took two of three from Oklahoma State (16-8, 1-2) in Waco to take over first place in the conference standings, and Texas Tech (19-7) evened its league record at 3-3, winning two games at TCU over the weekend.
In nonconference action over the weekend, Texas (19-6, 1-2) swept three games from Columbia, giving up just four runs total in the three games, Kansas (16-8, 2-1) won its three-game series with another Ivy League opponent, Columbia, taking the first two games before falling in the series final, and West Virginia dropped two of three on the road at North Carolina-Wilmington.
The Mountaineers lost a 2-1 heartbreaker in their series opener against North Carolina-Wilmington, dropping a 2-1 decision in 10 innings. West Virginia ace left-hander Harrison Musgrave gave up just one earned run on five hits in a nine-inning, seven-strikeout performance.
Oklahoma catcher Mac James leads the conference in hitting with a .422 batting average, a .490 on-base percentage and a .642 slugging percentage. He is followed by second-baseman Billy Fleming of West Virginia (.413) and Texas center-fielder Mark Payton (.405), last year’s batting champion.
The pitching stat leaders are Baylor left-hander Brad Kuntz, who is 4-0 after six starts, and right-hander Austin Stone, also of Baylor, who has a 3-1 record and an ERA of 0.97 in six starts.
Texas and Texas Tech have the most wins at this stage of the season, both with 19. Oklahoma is right behind with 18.
There should be further settling in the standings after this weekend. In addition to Baylor at West Virginia, Oklahoma travels to Kansas to take on the Jayhawks, Texas is at Texas Tech and TCU goes to Oklahoma State. Kansas State is the only team playing outside of the conference this weekend. The Wildcats will be at Creighton in Omaha for a three-game series.