With three more Big 12 baseball weekends remaining after this one, it appears that Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech are safely in the conference postseason tournament. The real battle is between five schools for the final four spots, which should make the closing weekends of the regular season quite interesting considering that only one game separates positions five through nine in the league standings.
Going into this weekend’s action, defending regular-season league-champion Kansas State is in danger of being left out of the eight-team conference championship next month.
The Wildcats, four games over .500 at 23-19 overall this season, but just 4-8 in the conference, are literally fighting for their conference-championship lives. What’s more, coach Brad Hill’s guys have probably the most difficult schedule remaining, with three of their four remaining Big 12 series against teams currently among the top three in the league.
Kansas State closes out the regular season with back-to-back home series against conference league Oklahoma State and former league-leader Texas. Both of those teams are ranked in the top 25 in the nation in all four of the college baseball polls. Before that, however, the Wildcats have business to take care of in consecutive road series at West Virginia this weekend and at TCU, currently in second place and riding a five-game winning streak, the weekend after this one.
All of this to say that Kansas State’s road trip to West Virginia this weekend is vitally important to the Wildcats’ postseason chances There are still a number of games remaining after this weekend, but if K-State doesn’t take at least two of the three games against the Mountaineers, winners of three of their last three games, its fate may be all but sealed with nine of its final 10 games against the top three teams in the conference.
To make matters worse, the Wildcats record on the road in 2014 has been abysmal. They’re 5-13 away from home in all games and just 1-5 in the Big 12. Last season, by example, when Kansas State won its first Big 12 regular-season title, the Cats had the conference’s best overall road record at 13-10, and they were 7-5 in league play.
Kansas State will be heading into the West Virginia series with some momentum, something that has been few and far between this season. The Cats won two of three over Baylor at home last weekend and shut out Cal State-Bakersfield 13-0 in a nonconference game on Tuesday.
Scoring runs has not been Kansas State’s problem this year. The Wildcats are third in the league in run production. Their problem lies in not being able to prevent opposing conference teams from scoring more runs, plus the Cats rank last in the league in fielding percentage and are tied with Baylor for the most errors in Big 12 games.
Kansas State’s pitching problems could be further exposed this weekend, with West Virginia boasting two of the top four hitters in the conference, including the league’s top hitter in junior center- fielder Bobby Boyd, who is batting .388 through all games and has a .411 on-base percentage. Wildcat pitchers are giving up an average of a league-worst four earned runs a game, and they have yielded 21 home runs, also the most in the conference.
My prediction: West Virginia will win two of the three games, pushing Kansas State deeper into the Big 12 cellar. Depending on what happens with Texas the rest of the regular season, we could be looking at a year in which Kansas State, last season’s champion, switches places with Texas, which finished ninth in the league a year ago.
On Friday, I will preview the remainder of the conference schedule for this weekend.